Some might say that George Balanchine‘s choreography is hip, and not just because he had an affinity for jutted torsos and angled limbs. If anything, Balanchine ballets aren’t your typical pretty girl, princely boy, safe dancemaking. Here in the U.S., Balanchine’s legacy gave way to a wilder ballet form than most Europeans were accustomed to, what with his penache for open hips and 180 degree grand battements (leg kicks!). Quickly, Balanchine, a Russian himself, became synonymous with American ballet, and when companies perform his work, it’s a testament to ballet’s own metamorphosis from an elite art form into something more unique and accessible.
San Francisco Ballet‘s Program 3, entitled Balanchine Masterworks, features three Balanchine ballets: Serenade, Stravinsky Violin Concerto, and Theme and Variations.The three are very different, yet much of the movement vocabulary derives from the same place, pulling from the ballet vernacular and Balanchine’s own reinterpretations and liberties, ones that feature curved backs and flexed limbs, precision, and a lack of plot.
The most accessible of three may be Serenade, which began as a dance piece for Balanchine’s students. As the rehearsals progressed, so did Serenade, and Balanchine weaved in pieces of the rehearsal, such as a fall and wavering attendance, into the work. It’s often said he lived by the mantra, “Use what you’ve got.”
And that’s what he’s done in Serenade, to great effect. The opening may be my favorite part: the curtain rises and the stage is filled with 17 women, adorned in ankle-length ocean blue tutus, looking toward their right arms raised high up on an angle with hands flexed. The stage basks in the blueness, and it’s more heavenly blue than Smurfiness.
Saturday afternoon, the dancers moved with crisp and quick precision yet with tender emotion. Elana Altman, debuting in the Angel role, towered over everyone, somewhat in height but more so in command and stage presence. This girl is like the Heidi Klum of ballet–all eyes zoom in on her.