BWW Reviews: San Francisco Ballet Opening Night in New York
I was glad to see the San Francisco Ballet back in New York. As far as I'm concerned, they could visit more often than every five years.
So it is with some displeasure that I write about the company's mixed bill presented on opening night. The San Francisco Ballet's reputation for commissioning new works is highly commendable. Only a few other companies have the capability-and sheer will power, not to mention resources, to do this. I offer my heartfelt congratulations to Helgi Tomasson and his staff.
So let's get to the ballets, all New York premieres. Tomasson's Trio, set to the music of Tchaikovsky's, String Sextet, "souvenir de Florence," was a wonderful way to present the company. Polished, poised, technically beyond description, I was impressed beyond words. I wish I could say the same about the ballet. Here I don't blame Tomasson's choreography as much as I do the music he selected. In the best ballets that use Tchaikovsky's music, Balanchine's Serenade, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, and Theme and Variations, the music is like an undercurrent that thrusts and propels the dance forward. It's not a backdrop; it's a dramatic motivator, even if it's a so-called abstract ballet. But the Sextet is static and dull. It does not talk. Without a musical dialogue, there is no ballet. Even the beautiful dancing of Vanessa Zhaorian, Vitor Luiz, Sarah van Patte, Tii Helmets, Anthony Spaulding, Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin could not compensate for the ballet's blandness. I am positive that I am in the minority here, but the music was only used once for a John Taras ballet at New York City Ballet that was quickly dropped from the repertoire. I don't see Trio having a long life.
Christopher Wheeldon, who seems to be everywhere these days but Kazakhstan, choreographed Ghosts, a moody, ethereal ballet. With music by C.F. Kip Winger, who studied ballet and now has his own rock band, the ballet seemed headed for a shadowy, disconnected atmosphere, that place where everything is on the verge of eruption, but fails to do so. And that's exactly what we got.
The ballet had that whiff of eerie, sinister perfume, reinforced by the women's gray, silver like costumes and the men's see-through shirts. One thing I can never accuse Wheeldon of is boredom. He is that rare thing, an original thinker. His use of the ballet vocabulary, even when off-kilter, is always arresting. But there are times when Wheeldon's ideas don't fit the choreographic challenge he has set for himself.
The movements, from the grand sweep to the loving embrace, encompass a wide variety of moods and constant shifting of couples. The heart of the ballet, danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith was, to me, more of a muddle than an arresting pas de deux. There was no reason for it. While there is no program or libretto, my reaction was one of admiration for the sheer daring of the dance, yet confusion as to the reason for it. Was this a show-off piece or was it inserted to show flaunt Wheeldon's always interesting, but mind blowing dance games.
I have admired Wheeldon on many occasions, but I think he may be overextending himself in his choreographic pursuits. Sometimes reflection is needed, and I think this may be the perfect time for Wheeldon to step back for a while and re-consider what he has done and what he would like to attempt in the future. There are great things to come, but right now his choreography needs re-assessment; Mr. Wheeldon, I'm leaving this up to you.
The last ballet of the evening, Borderlands, left me thinking if I had ever seen this ballet before. I didn't think so, but I've seen a lot of William Forsythe ballets that seem to be interchangeable with those of the last choreographer Wayne McGregor. Was this a case of mistaken identity, or poor judgment on my part? Let's say that again I was facing the same problem I had all night. Why was this ballet done? Did it do anything to advance the stature of the company, or was it just another commissioned piece to show to future funders?. I felt the latter, and I only hope to see more inspired work in the future.
Photograph: Helgi Tomasson's Trio, © Erik Tomasson.