SF Ballet – Program 3

SF Ballet Program 3
February 15, 2020
War Memorial Opera House,SF

Talent…Terpsichore Trauma

The SF Ballet displays no end of technical ability. It is gratifying to see both young and ‘older’ dancers in such fine shape, amazing audiences night after night with their skills. The SF Ballet Orchestra, under conductor Martin West produces marvelous music.

Although Director Helga Thomasson, has, year after year, enlisted choreographers from around the world to refresh the company’s repertory, the choreographic offering are often limited. For Program 3 of the 2020 season, a new work, “The Big Hunger” by Trey McIntyre, left audiences in confusion, while “The Infinite Ocean” by choreographer Edwaard Liang (from the 2018 Unbound season) was inventive and pleasing.

The set of “The Big Hunger” is one then another “No Exit” sign. Before it, three couples dance ‘pas de duex’ each proclaiming more and more difficult organization. Sasha De Sola and Max Cauthron executed the first; Sasha Mukkhamedove and Steven Morse the second. The duets grow more and more brutal. McIntyre says (in program notes), “Eventually all those things just crumble into a pile.” Yet the dancers’ skill prevails.

Most disconcerting is the appearance of lines of ‘goon’ men with floppy wigs on their heads who enter and exit at intervals through the “Exit” openings. The wigs changed from red to black. There is another duet for Cavan Conley and Lonnie Weeks in long grey coats, an added sequence which does not clarify the scenario. This reviewer is used to theatrical complexity, but neither the sequences nor the plot elements satisfied. What saved the piece was the extraordinary performance of Prokoviev’s Piano ConcertoNo.2 in G Minor, Op. 16, Yekwon Sunwoo, pianist. McIntyre has perhaps attempted a scenario that he cannot realize despite the dancers’ skills.

The Infinite Ocean” was seen in the Unbound program of 2018. The dancers face a blazing orb (scenic design by Alexander V. Nichols, lighting by James F. Ingalls). On stage an uphill riser provides an ultimate exit. Intense duets executed by Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helmets, then Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno. The work is informed by a message choreographer Edwaard Liang received some time before from a dying friend:  “I will see you on the other side of the infinite ocean.” The message is philosophically compelling, but Liang is able to realize the choreographic challenge.

Program 3 ended with “Etudes” a study in ballet technique. It is an old work first performed by the Royal Danish Ballet in 1948. It could most profitably offered as a “curtain raiser” in a short program. In “Etudes” we see the entire process of ballet training; the long sequences at the barre; romantic quotes from “Les Sylphdes”; and bravura skills from men jumping, women turning and the corps in perfect coordination.

Misa Kuranaga, Max Cauthorn, Esteban Hernandez and Cavan Conley as soloists kept the audience applauding after the execution of each powerful skill. Yet, since the evening demanded so much, it was more than enough.

The 2020 season will offer two familiar ballets, “Midsummer’s Night Dream” (Balanchine) and the brilliant “Jewels” (Balanchine). These are greatly anticipated as skillful choreographic works that provide great satisfaction with the ballet art form.

Joanna G. Harris

The Infinite Ocean” Ballet by Edwaard Liang