BWW Reviews: San Francisco Ballet's From Foreign Lands - Symphonic Dances - Suite en Blanc
San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands, photo by Erik Tomasson
Typically, a repertory program places its weakest link in the middle. It gives the audience motivation to stay in their seats until the end. The original order for this program had Suite en Blanc first, followed by From Foreign Lands and then closed with Symphonic Dances. No doubt this is why the program was rearranged to place Edward Liang's Symphonic Dances in the middle of this mixed repertory program presented by the San Francisco Ballet last Sunday. Kudos to Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson for recognizing that the program wasn't working and moving to change it. The new order led to a much better experience for the audience and heightened the expectation for the finale.
Symphonic Dances is by no means a terrible ballet but this is complex and rich music, Rachmaninov's last great work. The ballet doesn't measure up to the music due to its weakness of structure and a seeming poverty of ideas. Dancers come and go from the stage but we're not sure why. Ultimately this ballet fails to excite anyone. It also serves as a reminder that a choreographer should never have dancers get down on the floor without a very good plan to get them back up again, preferably with grace. It's too bad because the music was the best of the night. The New York City Ballet Orchestra, led by Martin West, conveyed all the power and drama of this richly textured piece. Ming Luke conducted the rest of the program.
Symphonic Dances had its bright points with fine work by Frances Chung partnering with Jaime Garcia Castillo and the regal dancing of Sarah Van Patten. Overall, the men of this company are really good and Liang's choreography gave them room to fly. Chung and Garcia Castillo match up well as partners. Chung's dancing is light and airy and their many overhead lifts were handled adroitly.
Van Patten is the one dancer that you wish every other dancer would watch because of the perfect formlessness of her port de bras. She does nothing that resembles a classroom form yet her arms are always pure balletic grace without ever crossing over into the realm of the mannered or affected. Everything she does is a pleasure to watch. In Symphonic Dances she is dominant after the fashion of Balanchine's great female roles. She asserted her power and authority repeatedly. As good as she was, it wasn't enough to compensate for the wrestling match that threatened to break out between Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz in the third movement's pas de deux. The hand changes looked like they needed a lot more rehearsal. Not a pleasure to watch.
From Foreign Lands, Alexei Ratmansky's set piece to Moszkowski's music of the same name, was positioned at the head of the program where it belongs. The music is European Romanticism before it is in any way ethnic just as the dancing is classical ballet before it is folkloric dances. This dance is a nod to classical ballet's penchant for celebrating its ethnic diversity through stereotypic faux folkloric divertissement in the nineteenth century. In Swan Lake the ethnic dances are tiresome because they seem to be taking themselves too seriously and they make an already long night at the ballet even longer. That's not the case with Ratmansky's ballet. It looks like fun to dance and the joyous energy radiates from all the dancers.