SF Ballet – Next 90 Festival – Program A

San Francisco Ballet 90th Anniversary Season
Program A

January 20, 2023

Strange and Wonderful

Opening night for SF Ballet’s season brought new works to the Opera House stage.
As promised, there were new choreographers and intriguing dimensions to Program One. The San Francisco Ballet is moving into new dimensions.

Robert Garland’s “Haffner Serenade” to music by Mozart (Serenade #7in D Major) was a ‘sweet’ work for “pas de deux” Julia Rose and Esteban Hernandez accompanied by eight dancers, four men and four women who provided the charming but simple interludes before and during as accompaniment to the the “pas de deux.” It is not a distinguished work but it served as the opener. All the dancers were capable, but they were not challenged by the choreographic patterns nor steps. The costumes, men in green and women in pink, did not provide visual delight.“Resurrection” is a challenging work, depicting a dominant woman Queen (described in print as austere and malicious) who kills her partner and “uses her powers of persuasion, beauty and magic…to find a suitor to love and assist in rulership of her tribe.” Jamar Roberts, choreographer, (formerly of the Alvin Ailey Company) is quoted as saying that a choreographer should think like a novelist.

The story of “Resurrection” is novel, dramatic and often painful as the Queen (danced by Doris André) more or less ‘creates’ her suitor (Isaac Hernandez) into the man she desires. Wanting Zhao and Aaron Robison are active candidates in the narrative accompanied by eight “members of the tribe” Although it is a fierce, dramatic work, full of aggressive movement and strong expansive gesture, this reviewer found it dramatically unconvincing. It is a challenge, as one friend remarked, to “create a story that is politically correct and also “Kafkaesque”.The set, a series of wonderful arches by choreographer and designer Jamar Roberts was most attractive and intriguing. “Resurrection” is set to Mahler’s “Totenfeier.”

One of the new dimensions of “Resurrection” is that NO women in the group wore point shoes. This is a challenge for the dancers as well as for an audience for whom ballet’s history of the last hundred years has required ‘pointe’ work. Without ‘pointe’ the dancers seem to have stronger torso and arm gestures; but that might also be part of this powerful new ballet’s choreographic strength.

Madcap” the closing work on the program, choreographed by a woman, Danielle Rowe, was also a challenging new adventure. To a series of songs by composer Par Hagstom, Ms. Rowe (a former dancer with the Nederlands Dance Theatre) has taken the ‘anatomy’of the clown and dissecting it as inspiration for movement.” Starring as The Clown is the wonderful Tiit Helimets, whose dramatic ability enables the work to be sustained throughout the many episodes of humiliation and recovery. Other characters are The Oracle (Jennifer Stahl) the Juggled (Max Cauthorn, Alexis Valdes and Wei Wang), The Red Nose (Davide Occhipinti, Henry Sidford), The Mirror (Sasha De Sola), The Kid (Parker Garrison) and a chorus of “Mom Pa-Pa’s).

Madcap” is a delightful yet painful portrayal of what is usually portrayed as a rollicking good time at a circus or carnival. Rowe has stripped the surface and brought forth the complexity and the grotesque beneath the joviality. Again, we the audience are brought to see and experience dimensions of ballet that have been rarely presented.

This challenging program will be repeated at the Opera House through February 11 to be followed by more and other innovative events throughout the “next@90 festival.”

Conductor Martin West and the SF Ballet orchestra continue their outstanding musical skill to accompany the ballets. New director, Tamara Rogo is to be congratulated on her plans for the “next@90 festival”.

See: sfballet.org/events for further information.

SF Ballet – Next 90 Festival – Program B

San Francisco Ballet Program B
Sunday, January 29, 2023 2 pm
Opera House, San Francisco

“New Ballets:” some dimensions not yet presented!

Program B, for which, alas, this reviewer had to miss opening night, was repeated on Sunday, January 29 as a matinee. Of the three works on the program, two were distinguished by innovative choreographic dimensions and some technical surprises.

Choreographers Bridget Breiner and Yuka Oishi contributed the most interesting works: that by Val Caniparoli, a veteran SFBallet member and choreographer, was pleasant, charming and alas, used much the same dance vocabulary and choreographic organization that the audience has seen, liked and applauded.

Breiner’s ballet “The Queen’s Daughter” takes off on the Salome legend, focussing on Salome’s relationship to her mother, childhood jealousy and her ultimate act of heroism, at least as recognized by Herod’s court. (The actual Bible story can be found in the New Testament and online in “WomenInTheBible.net”.) For this performance, Jasmine Jamson danced the daughter, seeking attention from Herodias (Elizabeth Powell) and from her father Herod (Miles Thatcher). The “Prophet” was danced by Max Cauthorn. All used gesture, movement and mime effectively: Cauthorn was outstanding with his ability to remain dramatically effective with strong, simple gesture.

The score for “The Queen’s Daughter” was the violin concerto of Benjamin Britten.

Bolero” by Maurice Ravel is noted as an “iconic” piece. It is well known and often heard. For the ballet, the choreographer Yuka Oshi has created new visual and kinetic dimensions to what is often considered a ‘trite’ repetitious tango variation. Her work is dominated by six dancers, (for this performance) Wona Park, Julia Rowe, Gabriela Gonzalez with John-Paul Simoens, Cavan Conley, and Joshua Jack Price and ten others in a ‘corps’. (Some of these principle dancers are members of the corps de ballet and not listed as soloists!). The movement is innovative in the use of hand gestures, group activity, spacing and unusual relationships in “pas de deux”. There is a remarkable development in the choreographic development. Oshi says, “I wanted to go from the most micro to the opposite scale…which meant movement to suggest cell division and floating astra bodies.”

For some audience members the fantastic projections on the screen behind the dancers, which moved and changed as much as they did, was disconcerting. This reviewer found it exciting to observe as the projections resonated with the dance.

Program B opened with eight dancers speaking to the audience in “Emergence,” a ballet by veteran dancer and choreographer Val Canipoli to “Concerto for Cello and Strings” by Dobrinka Tabakova. The dancers briefly said they were ‘emerging’ from the pandemic limitations’ and were now free to dance. “Emergence” was a delightful opening number but it did not expand the dancers’ vocabulary. The eight performers were: Jihyuan Choi (apprentice), Isabella Devivo, Jasmine Jamison, Norika Matsuyama, Ruben Citrus Nieto, Lucas Erni, Andris Kundzins, and Lonnie Weeks. Clearly this work gave some of the younger, less seen dancers an opportunity to shine.

Conductor Matthew Rowe served the orchestra with its usual accomplishment. Martin West, the ballet’s excellent music director lead the group in the music for “The Queen’s Daughter”. Cordula Marks was the violin soloists.

The “Gala” events are concluded at this time, Most of the choreographers were selected by Helgi Tomasson before he left as SFB director. The Ballet’s continues with selections well known to its audience for the rest of the season. We anticipate great performances and good memories of the “Next 90 festival” of 2023.

SF Ballet – Next 90 Festival – Program C

San Francisco Ballet: Next 90 Festival Program C
Wednesday, January 25, 2023
San Francisco Opera House 7:30 PM

Technique vs. Drama: Which is the dominant force?

The Next 90 Festival at this season’s opening events brings never seen choreographers as well as old friends to the stage. For Program C, the audience was introduced to Nicolas Blanc’s “Gateway to the Sun”: Claudia Schrier’s “Kin” and SF Ballet’s choreographer in residence’s Yuri Possokhov’s “Violin Concerto”. Of the three, for this reviewer, “Violin Concerto” was the most successful as dance. The other two, although performed with the superb technical excellence SF Ballet members have achieved, lacked a dramatic ‘through line’ and were dominated by a “now” need for technical display. Choreography in these two first works used constant lifts and some floor work.

Claudia Schrier’s “Kin” opened the Wednesday evening performance. To music by Tanner Porter, costume design by Abigail Dupree-Polston, scenic design by Alexander V. Nichols and lighting by Jim French, Schrier creates a work that moves swiftly across the stage space. She says, “Kin features two female dancers among a cast of sixteen, who are enveloped in a shifting power dynamic, pressured by the limiting nature of time.” Featuring More André, Wanting Zhao, Isaac Hernandez and Aaron Robison and a “corps” of 13 dancers, the ballet moves swiftly displaying lively patterns and endless lifts. The “two female dancers” André and Zhao, approach each other throughout the work; their relationship is implied but never developed. As much as I can appreciate the dynamics in “Kin” and impressed by technical excellence by all the dancers, I failed to feel the work makes a signifiant impact to the festival.

Gateway to the Sun” choreographed by Nicolas Blanc, chose the poet Rumi’s lines who composer Anne Clyne excerpted for her score for cello and orchestra. The poet, danced by Max Cauthorn enters and leaves the stage as he embodies the poem. Sasha De Sola, Wei Wang, Jennifer Stahl and Luke Ingham are the featured dancers with Cauthorn. Again there is a “ corps” of eight dancers who provide the energetic environment for the “poet’s” wandering. Against the backdrop by Katrin Schabl (lighting by Jim French) which resembles an Egyptian pyramid setting, Cauthorn seems to wander among the dancers several times, illustrating the poet’s lines. Finally, as the. poem reads, “Dance when you’re perfectly free,” he opens extended arms to the audience. Although the work is poetic and intriguing, the soloist’s dance does not fully develop against the activity of the the other soloists and the corps.

It is with great pleasure that Yuri Possokhov, SF Ballet’s choreographer in Residence returns to the Opera House stage with Balanchine’s “Violin Concerto” (music by Stravinsky). Possokhov says, “My memory of Balanchine comes back, of course, but this impulse gives me the chance to express myself.” Set for seven couples and one lead ballerina, as the “Muse”, Sasha Mukhamedov (in a brilliant red costume) seems to oversee the principal dancers (Wona Park, Joseph Walsh, Julia Rowe, Esteban Hernandez, Carelo Mayo and Cavan Conley) in a lively romp, executing lively dance locomotor phrases across the stage.

Cordeula Marks played the Concerto splendidly as Mathew Rowe conducted. To enlighten the audience, (who may or may not know the composer), Alexander V. Nichols illuminated the backdrop with photos of Stravinsky. The costumes were by Sandra Woodall. Possokhov’s work was a delightful finale to the Program C Gala.