San Francisco Ballet in Edwaard Liang’s “Symphonic Dances.” Photo © Erik Tomasson.

“Oh my. I could have worn my Levi’s tonight,” one well-dressed woman exclaimed to another as they scuttled to find their seats before the curtain rose. Wednesday nights at the ballet showcase a unique combination of the debonaire and the serious-yet-comfy. And this program, Program 5 of San Francisco Ballet‘s 2012 season, reflects both styles of dress with seriously great dance and cool, calm sophistication.

What: San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5

Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco

When: Through April 1 (alternating with Program 6)

Tickets: Online, via 415.865.2000, or at the Ballet Box Office at 301 Van Ness Ave.

The next big thing is here at last: local-boy-turned-best-thing-since-sliced-Tartine-bread Edwaard Liang. He delivered with a brain burning “Symphonic Dances.” A premiere, it’s his first dance created for San Francisco Ballet, and it’s a wonder of effort.

Evoking images of comfort, interdependency, and passion, Liang weaves bodies through a dark spiritual quest for what lies in between the here and there. Dancers stretch their limbs out wide in X-formations, legs shoot apart in extended 180-degree splits, and hips slither in figure-eights.

Movement phrases exploring levels and directions jut off at unforeseen angles, embracing and testing the excess space as if stuck within a giant balloon that just wants to get a tad bigger. Will it hold or will it burst? Dancers sharply canon their arms and legs, with the women’s skirts rustling like cavorting flames brushing in the wind.

And there are beautiful moments of unexpected, simply delicious pause. Vito Mazzeo embraces Yuan Yuan Tan for a brief moment of respite and breath. Maria Kochetkova, back to back with Vitor Luiz, arches her upper torso skyward while her legs are wrapped around his waist.

The push-pull factor of small moments like these are jaw droppingly subtle, but they could be delved into more deeply without the sometimes clichéd corps swirling around. What of the space that lies between us? And what does this bubble of nothingness mean? I’m not really sure, but I think Liang may have some answers.

Set to music by Rachmaninov, “Symphonic Dances” is an introspective piece, and deserves to be seen several times to absorb all it has to offer. The placement on the program, though, doesn’t help. One suggestion for the future: make it the evening’s opener. After seeing Helgi Tomasson’s stark and exacting “The Fifth Season,” the dreamy wistfulness of “Symphonic Dances” may be overlooked. Place it at the top of the program to stand on its own.

“The Fifth Season” featured Frances Chung, a woman who continues to grow and shine as an artist. Her expressiveness transcends the steps, connecting them with some ooey, gooey wildflower honey magic. In the opening pas de deux with Davit Karapetyan, Chung reforms Tomasson’s choreography into something thirst-quenchingly good.

The closing piece of the evening, Jerome Robbins’ 80s hit “Glass Pieces” shows age in its costumes, but the work still has merit. Get past the unfortunate, shiny unitards and nips, and you’ll enjoy a melodious rendition of the churning, minimalist rhythms of Phillip Glass as contrasted and compared with the everyday worker bee. “Glass Pieces” reminds us of the power of repetition, group dynamics, and the impact of a few among many. It’s not quite Occupy Opera House, but still, it’s worthy of our praise.

This program features three stylized pieces of dance, and the orchestra, led by Martin West, sounded absolutely sublime. Go for the dance, and soak up the sounds.

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the author

Becca Klarin writes about dance. Her first stage role was at the age of four, where she dressed in a brightly colored bumble bee tutu and black patent leather taps shoes. She remembers bright lights and spinning in circles with her eleven other bees, but nothing more. Becca also has an affinity for things beginning with the letter "P", including Pizzetta 211, Fort Point, pilates, parsvakonasana, and plies.

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