The Olympics are over*, so it’s time to move my ass off of the ol’ Busvan for Bargains couch and fill up my dance card! Last week, I fox trotted to the Opera House to check out San Francisco Ballet‘s latest offering: Program 4, a mixed bill featuring a classic, a contemporary masterpiece, and an encore.
This evening, William Forsythe’s in the middle, somewhat elevated ranks #1 for excitement and spontaneity. With taped electronic music by Thom Willems reminiscent of Star Trek IV (the wailing alien rock thing, the one that wanted to obliterate the planet, remember?), instrumental Prince tunes, street drummers, and auto tune, the nine dancers, clad in forest green and black, dance off kilter with legs knocking their heads, on-a-dime turns, and crazy long balances.
There isn’t any plot, just the dancers walking around, Chorus Line-style, and randomly swiveling into their movement phrases. It’s almost like a battle: think Eminem in pointe shoes (oh gee, what an image), battling with his body instead of his mouth. Now multiply that nine times. Forsythe’s movement doesn’t work for the meek. The dancers are lit from above, and every muscle and movement is illuminated while the faces are shadowed. Who you are matters little. It’s what you (and in this case, Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, Katita Waldo, Lorena Feijoo, Davit Karapetyan, Vanessa Zahorian, Gennadi Nedvigin, Elana Altman, and Courtney Elizabeth) can DO that matters.
The title references two golden cherries that are lifted high above the dancers head (which are a reflection of the Palais Garnier, which houses the Paris Opera Ballet and which this ballet was created), but I also like to think that it references the dancers “centers,” so to speak: their chests (no, I don’t really mean boobs. OK, I mean boobs.). In ballet, a dancer carries herself lifted through the chest, and those in in the middle are lifted and proud.
And speaking of proud, another member of the press, a handful of rows in front of me, whooped out a few really loud “yeahs!” in response to quick feet and a “damn” when one dancer displayed her innate flexibility. I’ve sat behind this fellow before, and while I was shocked, it’s also what my (quiet, introverted, and civilized) gut was telling me, but this girl prefers to shout it out via Movable Type and not in the middle, somewhat seated.
Silver goes to the premiere of Michael Fokine’s Petrouchka, created in 1911 (Happy 99th, Petrouchka!) and staged here by his granddaughter Isabelle Fokine. Petrouchka tells the story of the puppet Petrouchka, made of sawdust, who comes to life. This 38-minute ballet includes four scenes, and by the end, Petrouchka is killed, but his spirit haunts the showman. Please note, I put my fear of puppets, clowns, and marionettes aside for this one, just for you, but I was gripping my date’s hand through much of the puppet portions, fearing that Chucky would pop out at any moment.
Pacal Molat danced Petrouchka with an easy brokenness: his feet turned in, shoulders slumped, and head tilted in sadness, but his channeling of multiple Johnny Depp characters (Edward Scissorhands crossed with Willy Wonka crossed with Sweeney Todd crossed with Sam from Benny & Joon) threw me for an unexpected loop.
Clara Blanco played the adorable ballerina (Hello, SF Ballet! Promotion here, please!) to Brett Bauer’s blueberry-tinged Moor. And the non-date sitting to my right, peering through his high-powered binoculars, rightly swooned over Street Dancer Frances Chung’s fouette turns. The orchestra sounded strong, and the costuming, on loan from Birmingham National Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet, had enough crazy (pink polka dots, bright yet not abrasive colors, slightly rotund coachmen–Garen Scribner is will never ever be portly- and a bear, oh my!) without going over the top. But a note to parents: this is a dark and creeptastic story, and you may want to leave the youngins at home.
By default, the encore of Yuri Possokhov’s Diving into the Lilacs takes third place. Lilacs reflects upon life in Russia as the seasons progress (and he won’t say more about the premise, wanting his dancers to find their own motivations).
Last year I enjoyed this ballet, saying that it supplied “subtle dash of royalness,” and this year, I saw more, specifically, references to Petrouchka (ironically, with Molat featured in this section) and later George Balanchine.
But this time around, I was less impressed. The duets take my breath away, especially the one carved around Yuan Yuan Tan and Anthony Spaulding. There’s a moment where she reaches around him, her legs dangling in the air as her torso presses into his shoulder, and I can’t tell if she wants to melt into or escape over him. It’s the corps de ballet of eight strong dancers the seem neglected, adding mass but no well defined weight to the work.
This program concluded last weekend, after which the Ballet will debut the hauntingly beautiful, non-Disneyfied story ballet “The Little Mermaid.”
* Oh, figure skating, how I’ll miss thee for the next few weeks! But thank goodness for the World Championships, where we’ll get more hot pink tassels, quad drama, questionable incestuous crotch grinding, and toe picks.