writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, San Francisco Bay Area edition

Seasons Change in San Francisco

Quattro Staggioni, Study in Motion, Tu Tu
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
San Francisco,  California
February 5 , 2004

by Ann Murphy
Copyright © 2004 by Ann Murphy
published 9 February 2004

It is busy around here. Full moon’s up, Venus’s gleaming in the sky and in the moonlight you can just make out the silhouette of the flowering cherry trees. By day, crocuses shoulder through the ground and magnolias are flouncy with flowers like Southern girls in pink party dresses. Into this still pale but fragrant February comes a week in which several men view the world: Helgi Tomasson, Yuri Possokhov and Stanton Welch in program II at the San Francisco Ballet, Stephen Petronio, with haunted new dances, then 84-year-old Merce Cunningham, making old work seem new and necessary.

Here are some notes about SFB.

After the reopening Tuesday of Quixote, which premiered last year, it made sense that SFB shifted to the present by Thursday. We can only live in a 16th century narrative so long, no matter how much genius is there to mine, or how much 19th century classicism can be culled from it. Program II was built with quintessential Tomasson style: a lyrical ballet of his own with gravity-rich chasing steps (sexier than chasses but with a similar purpose) and humorously sensuous hip swivels that echoed Paul Taylor, grafted on to clean, Balanchinian design called Quattro Staggioni with music by Vivaldi (of same name). That was followed by an austere world premiere by emerging choreographer and principal Yuri Possokhov called Study In Motion to Alexander Scriabin. The night ended with Stanton Welch’s 2003 Tu Tu to Ravel. The music was full of stunning motifs and rich chromatics. The dance tried to match. It didn’t always succeed.

For Quattro Staggioni, the dancers were decked out in attire that looked plucked from the Music Man, located by a park (I hoped it was Central Park then noticed the Italian cypress trees erect as cones). I hated Loquasto’s beautiful costumes with their empire waists and Edwardian sentimentality—specially Muriel Maffre’s hat in "Summer," an affectation handled with remarkable little affectation by the ballerina who had to walk genteelly about as she removed it with a pensive summer air. The elegiac setting was fine. But there was greater lyricism for Tomasson to be unearthed had he stuck to neutral, flowing shirts and pants, modern garb opposing the moody Baroque sound and dreamy 19th century vista.

From spring to winter the seasons flew: young love gave way to solitude, which slipped into ripe love and concluded with bravura dancing by a lone guy (Gonzalo Garcia at his impishly flirtatious best) with men in a chorus stomping around like Ukrainians at a celebration. Sarah Van Patten, in particular, conjured up magic around her with her 19th century European face, her soft technical clarity, her strong, well-proportioned body, and a persona that promises to develop ever greater chiaroscuro the more new challenges she’s handed. Vadim Solomakha and she didn’t completely click, though, although he has a dreamy 19th century air with deep-set Slavic eyes and strong technique. They were dancing love, but never seemed in love.

Quattro Stagioni was deceptively nuanced, although at times it was too slavishly tied to the music’s line and I wish it had veered off into the expressive undercurrents of the violin lead, played by Ray Malan. Nevertheless, there was a pentimento quality to the ballet as though we were looking through transparencies from the present, to the early 20th century, all the way back to Vivaldi’s Italy. It wasn’t completely convincing, but it accumulated a wistful power by its end.

Yuri Possokhov was ruthlessly, beautifully unsentimental in his elegant premiere Study in Motion, which used pure movement to reveal deeply nuanced romantic relationships. Four duos alternately reigned in a stage within a stage defined by billowing white rectangular panels through which the couples entered and exited. Inside this space, brilliantly designed by former SFB dancer Benjamin Pierce, there rose up an ever shifting world that changed again and again in color, emotional tone, interiority and exteriority. Dancers shaped themselves into sculpted modernist volumes, exchanged lyrical torqued phrases, suddenly dropped from entrechat into sumptuous grand plies, and engaged in heartbreaking efforts to fuse body to body. Darkly focused Lorena Feijoo and a moodily compelling Nicolas Blanc danced at the heart of this stuff.

Possokhov’s is a talent that is big and searching. It would do dance good if the young leading edge of the ballet world, where Possokhov resides, could communicate with the young leading edge of the modern dance world and vice versa. I imagine there’s a lot to be gained from such an exchange.

(And I look forward to an all-Possokhov program next year. I hope there is one.)

Finally, Mr. Welch, crafter of kitsch in tights. I think of him as making ballet junk food that holds a bit of protein, a bunch of cheekiness, a sweet fizzy taste, and a whole lot of empty filler, like Cheese Wiz. Last year I found Tu Tu to be one of the worst pieces of unintentional trash I’d seen in a long time, with its glosses on aboriginal and Celtic culture and some synthesis of a hot beach culture--shiny gold halter tops, tutu skirts that look like lampshades from an ItaloAmerican house in Queens, bits of jig rhythms tossed in between échappés, the high velocity of an aboriginal dance as envisioned by whites.

But something changed. Me or it. Don’t matter. Could be that the first two dances satisfied me enough or the Ravel was too yummy to mind the silliness this year, because mind it I didn’t. I even liked the kitschiness, thought that Holly Hynes’ costumes were exploring that which surrounds us—the irony of the ugly, the trite, the gaudy. But maybe what was really going on was that Julie Diana, Vanessa Zahorian, Joan Boada, Stephen Legate, Muriel Maffre and Ruben Martin were too charming to find even a B ballet worth carping about.

Photo: Ruben Martin in Stanton Welch's Tu Tu. Photo: Chris Hardy.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 6
9 February 2004
Copyright ©2004 by Ann Murphy




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