Ballet is usually noted mostly for the classical works – Swan Lake, Romeo and Juliet, Giselle. And yet, at 75 years old, the San Francisco Ballet is still pushing the envelope by offering the New Works Festival: ten new pieces by ten internationally renowned choreographers in three different programs. Lucky and I had the fortune to attend Program A, which showcased works by luminary Paul Taylor, supernova Christopher Wheeldon and SF Ballet’s own Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov. The result was a mixture of styles which, while bold and unique, was ultimately hit-and-miss.
The program began with Possokhov’s aptly named Fusion, a piece that – yes you guessed correctly – fuses a variety of styles. Musically, the piece starts off with a rousing Indian number before switching to three jazz pieces by composer Graham Fitzkin. The costumes are also mixed, featuring four men in white, reminiscent of Sufi dervishes plus four couples dressed in colorful pantsuits. It’s hard to imagine how two seemingly different styles could be mixed, but Possokhov somehow pulls off the unexplicable. The result is an East-meets-West pairing is successful in using classic ballet movements in the context of contemporary elements. Technical and aesthetic beauty abound in the hands of this accomplished troupe of twelve dancers.
Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour is a beautifully danced complex piece with 14 dancers used in various combinations – first in an ensemble, then as couples performing five pas de deux, then returning to an ensemble performance. Technically speaking, the dancing was exquisite. However, it seemed to lack any real depth of meaning or soul. The accompanying music by composer Ezio Bosso was equally aimless. It were as if I were listening to a wonderfully gifted pianist play scales. Sure, the pianist can play it flawlessly, but in the end it is just an exercise without any meaning other than to show off one’s ability. I felt the same way about this piece. There was no cohesion among the different pas de deux. Rather, it felt like an exercise. The style was too classical to really feel new. I just could not connect with the dancers or the music.
The last piece of the performance was Taylor’s Changes, set to the music of the Mamas and the Papas. It was a rocking good time reminiscent of a time when hippies strolled down Haight-Ashbury during the ’60s. This piece had the opposite problem of Within the Golden Hour: interesting storyline but not enough technical ballet dancing. Perhaps it was because the dancers wore loose fitting clothing (some even had bellbottoms) that hid their sleek lines and graceful movements. Or perhaps there really just wasn’t all that much beautiful dancing involved. While it would have made a good stage production, there just didn’t seem to be enough ballet. Otherwise, the music and clothing (and occasionally the dancing) was fun (and for some, nostalgic).
There are two other programs currently alternating with this program during the festival’s run through May 6. Of note are the piece Joyride, choreographed by Mark Morris, music by John Adams and costumes by Isaac Mizrahi (Program B); and Double Evil, choreographed by Jorma Elo with music by Philip Glass. Unfortunately, student rush tickets are not available for any of the programs. However, affordable seats are available for as low as $15 for Standing Room Only and $20 for Balcony Side tickets.
San Francisco Ballet
New Works Festival
Thru May 6
Tickets: $15 to $265
Originally published: http://www.ucsf.edu/synapse/articles/2008/May/1/ballet.html