San Francisco Ballet has its hands full, alternating two mixed-bill programs over the next week. This weekend marked the debut of Program 6, which I caught on Sunday afternoon.
The program opens with Act III from Rudolf Nureyev’s (after Marius Petipa) lush “Raymonda”. A condensed version of the original full-length ballet, this version showcases a gentle mix of lively and exacting folk dance with crisp technique. Awe-inspiring candelabras hang from above, and golden finery adorns every wall, archway, and nook. The music, by Alexander Glazunov, stirs the soul with sweeping bravado and soft lilts, feeling both familiar and regal; the orchestra sounded stellar at this matinee.
What: San Francisco Ballet’s Program 6
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco
When: Through April 3 (alternating with Program 5)
Tickets: Online, via 415.865.2000, or at the Ballet Box Office at 301 Van Ness Ave.
The ballet weaves Hungarian folk dancers, led by a principal couple, with the grand pas classique: a lead couple–Raymonda and her suitor, Jean de Brienne–with a supporting cast. Leading the Hungarian Cartege, Pauli Magierek and Ruben Martin Cintas confirmed that folksy can be suave. As Raymonda, Vanessa Zahorian first appeared a little chilly, but she soon warmed up; her variation of dragging piques, picture-perfect pirouettes, and exotic, draping arms drew gasps from the audience. She simply commanded the stage.
Matinees are always a great time to see the up-and-comers, and this Raymonda featured several corps de ballet dancers to keep your eye on. Specifically, Sasha DeSola melted into her variation, bringing forth polish and utterly sublime phrasing into her effortless solo. Nicole Ciapponi continues to surprise and delight, as she did in the technically tricky fourth variation.
But one of the highlights of any “Raymonda” is the timing. With up to 36 dancers on stage at one time, feet, heads, and arms must match. And often, this wasn’t the case. With a little more attention to detail, this ballet could make a larger, more lasting impact.
Yuri Possokhov’s “RAkU” returns to the program. Inspired by a the burning of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, Possokhov creates a dramatic contemporary-ballet-butoh-imagery-choral hybrid that affronts the senses. “RAkU” piles on the theatrics. It might be a tad over the top, but Yuan Yuan Tan delivers such a gut-wrenching performance that by the end, you won’t care about anything except jumping out of your seat to applaud like crazy.
The program also features the premiere of Ashley Page’s “Guide to Strange Places,” a visualization of John Adams’ music of the same name. Dressed in costumes with jewel-toned turtlenecks and black bottoms, and dancing in front of mysterious, can’t-be-named satellite imagery, the 18 dancers may be boldly going where no one has gone before. And the opening catches the eye, with Frances Chung and Pascal Molat, dressed in a deep, rich purple. Dancing in front of a scrim painted like a road to nowhere, they pulled each other through a quick-footed duet before the scrim opens to the rest of the piece.
What starts out as forward-moving soon becomes tedious: the choreography’s trajectory hits a snag. With a dependency on upright upper torsos, splayed limbs, and unison for the lead couples, Page’s trip feels stalled instead of all systems go. Adams’ score offers ups and down with bass drums, triangle, tuba, strings, horns, and oboe amongst other instruments, but the choreography didn’t match the variety or embrace the breadth that Adams offered. This enterprise didn’t engage me as much as I’d hoped it would.