Alonzo King Lines Ballet & Peter Sellars

Alonzo King Lines Ballet & Peter SellarsTHE CONCERT
June 7, 2024 7;30 PM
San Francisco Symphony Hall

Yes…but: Staging and Music Lack Correspondence

The directors listed above, King and Sellars are both noted for their talents and many productions, King in the dance world and Sellars as a dramatic director. To this production conducted by the notable musician, Esa-Pekka Salonen, these notables brought their staging and dramatic interpretation.

The opening night’s event began with Ravel’s Ma Mére l’Oye. (Mother Goose, 1911). The work consists of seven sections, all clearly listed on the program. Eleven dancers (and one soloist) danced in brightly colored (primarily yellow) dresses and pants, some with transparent tops over the upper body. Although the program lists titles for all sections, (e.g. Pavane, Tom Thumb, etc) all the choreography seemed similar, i.e. large fluid upper body gestures, endless turns, extended leg extensions and continual falls and acrobatic activities on the ground. There were a number of beautifully done duets and solos, but the dynamics of the dance remained similar throughout the piece.

Neither the soloists nor unique dancers in the duets had program listing. When musicians have a special solo they are always noted.

In my choreographic training, we learned that there should be variations in style, gesture and certainly dynamic correspondence to the chosen music. Choreographer Alonzo King, though well reputed in the San Francisco dance community, did not seem to find those values in Ma Mére. The audiences was pleased with the dancers energy and skill and gave the dance and music tremendous, well deserved applause.

The notes to composer Arnold Schoenberg piece “Erwartung (Expectation), Opus 17 (1909), tells us that “the Unnamed Woman and the “expectancy” that pervades the work is the intense dread that The Women feels in the face of something that is never quite spelled out.” (Program notes by Jenny Judge.) Yet, in Sellars staging for the brilliant soprano Mary Elizabeth Williams, a stage ‘corpse’ is with her. Willams provides many gestures of love, dismissal, longing and relief. It is Sellars who has made these decisions for the singer, who is an excellent artist in voice and acting. This reviewer would have preferred to hear the singer without the dramatic activity. Brilliant as a vocalist, she did not always accomplish the stage action with ease or dramatic clarity.

It was drama enough to pay close attention to Salon’s superb conducting of the score. This production of “Erwartung” was a first San Francisco Symphony performance. The orchestra is very large and varied in the demands of its sections. It was dramatic to watch each section fulfill its part in this amazing, complex score. Bravo to all!

Conductor Salonen and the Symphony producers are to be highly complimented for the challenge of bringing dance and drama to the stage. Although artists of all dimensions have the right to produce events as created in their imaginations, it is important (to this reviewer) that coordination in style and intention be respected.