San Francisco Ballet‘s top program this season just might be the all-George-Balanchine program. Balanchine’s style, characterized as neo-classical, shifted traditional ballet away from pretty movements and heavy theatrics. He created ballets that focused on the dance itself, invigorating his creations with intense musicality and a slant towards extreme or unconventional positions. With three remarkably different pieces reflective of Balanchine’s choreography, this program brings the company’s strengths to the forefront, allowing the dancers’ prowess of precision and nuanced portrayal to take center stage.
What: San Francisco Ballet’s Program 7
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave, San Francisco
When: Through April 18
Tickets: Online, via 415.865.2000, or at the Ballet Box Office at 301 Van Ness Ave.
“Divertimento No. 15,” an intricate tutu ballet, brings the full warmth and splendor of a sunny day to the Opera House’s stage. With bright, dainty costumes reminiscent of lemonade and bright skies (on loan from the National Ballet of Canada), the 16 dancers crisply sailed through Mozart’s swirling score.
This ballet challenges the dancers’ to move through various changes in the body’s direction while displaying solid balances and effortless air. One wrong move and the whole effect is a wash, but SF Ballet makes it looks easy.
On opening night, the entire cast danced admirably, and special applause goes to Sasha De Sola, a corps de ballet member who performed a principal role alongside four other veteran ladies.
De Sola has developed into a lovely, fresh, and polished dancer, one who obviously has a great love for her craft and dances with her heart and soul on her sleeve (even if it’s only a pancaked elastic strap with a sparkly drape). She exudes an effervescent musicality in whatever she dances, whether it be a supporting or leading role, and on this night, De Sola outshone several of her colleagues. Here’s hoping that the coming year brings a much well-deserved promotion.
© Erik Tomasson
The company rises to the sublime in the program’s finale, “The Four Temperaments.” This ballet takes three initial themes (via duets) and then spins them outward into four different variations (not to be confused with Balanchine’s other ballet, “Theme and Variations.”). With dancers clad in basic ballet gear of leotards and tights, the Four Ts (yep, that’s this ballet’s nickname) packs a wallop of a punch with expansive steps, jutted pelvises, and sudden, stop-on-a-dime changes in direction. The music, too, isn’t for the frilly, as Paul Hindemith’s score spirals forward with bold choices for piano and strings.
From curved upper torsos to quick, square arabesques that make a 180 degree turn (called a fouetté), the movement builds, both in complexity and depth. By the time you get to the finale with the entire ensemble, you may be out of breath, wowed by how such perfection can be both technically and emotionally exciting.
Part of that punch comes vis-à-vis the opening duets. On Thursday, the first one featured Kristina Lind and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira. Lind, another corps member, has also been highly featured as of late, and she doesn’t disappoint.
Statuesque and leggy with expressive feet, Lind has grown into a commanding lady worthy of prominent roles. Here in the “The Four Temperaments,” she extends her leg ahead of her, and you’re hooked. Later she holds onto Deivison while pointing and flexing her foot, and the small movements send shockwaves all the way back toward the balcony. Boom, you’re reeled in and sent on a ride with the rest of the company.
But the goods don’t stop there. Elana Altman and Quinn Wharton danced the second theme with refinement and a comforting, supportive awareness of the other. And Vito Mazzeo‘s Phelgmatic variation, later in the piece, came as something of an epiphany as he connected each step, no matter how unusual, big or small, as if they all belonged together, part of one harmonious, glowing strand of unconscious thought.
The program also includes “Scotch Symphony,” a genuine crowd-pleaser. Full of Scottish tartan and references to August Bournonville’s “La Sylphide,” this ballet adds a little emotional pull to the program with overprotective men in kilts and a blossoming romance. Yuan Yuan Tan and Davit Karapetyan, as the lead couple, may not be anything close to Scottish, but they were still enjoyable as two Scots head-over-pointe shoes in love.