The San Francisco Ballet ‘Program A’ at The Kennedy Center by Carolyn Kelemen

San Francisco Ballet heightens dance expectations

Hoist the flags! Uncork the champagne! Let the balloons fly high and wide! The DC ballet season has popped! And it took the oldest ballet company in America to wait until November to present a fresh, vibrant, and colorful spectacle of dance.

The San Francisco Ballet arrived with two programs, the first offering four egalitarian dances for its weeklong engagement. With the exception of Sir Frederick Ashton’s 1977 Voices of Spring (from the opera Die Fledermaus), all the dances were created during the past year. The company’s commitment to new choreography was as clear as its presentation last night at the Kennedy Center’s Opera House.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s ‘Trio.’ Photo by Erik Tomasson.

Opening night revealed a smorgasbord of dance – modernistic, comedic and classic. This varied artistic feast for the senses was executed with the flair, elan and overall excellence that has become the company’s trademark.

The first of four was Trio, choreographed by Helgi Tomasson and set to Tchaikovsky’s vigorous Souvenir de Florence. What a way to kick off the evening!

Tomasson has held the position of artistic director for SFB since 1985. Before that he was a soloist with the New York City Ballet, coached by the late great master George Balanchine. There’s a lot of ‘Mr. B’s’ musicality in this piece.

There is no literary scenario – only pairs of dancers who fulfill the suggestion of character in the music. Costumed in autumn hues, designed by Mark Zappone, five women and five men made a joke of quick lifts, rollicking through difficult maneuvers and punctuating their movement with unpredictable steps at the end of each phrase.

A love triangle centered the piece, performed by Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets, and Vito Mazzeo. Each movement told its own lyrical story.

Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in Ashton’s ‘Voices of Spring.’ Photo by Erik Tomasson.

Ashton’s little gem, Voices of Spring, staged by Grant Coyle, danced to the strains of Johann Stauss, took us back to the era when the Pas de Deux reigned supreme, romantic but with a touch of irony. Maria Kochetkova, partnered by Joan Boada and The Kennedy Center Orchestra, under the direction of Martin West, were spot-on and would have made the Sir and the Royal Ballet proud.

Current choreographer du jour, Christopher Wheeldon closed the program with a kaleidoscope of color. His DC premiere of Number Nine features the majority of the touring company. Dressed in sunny yellow, the corps set the theme of frivolity, while the four couples, decked out in other vibrant colors, hues of purple, green and orange, varied it. It was nice to see Wheeldon branch out in a large ensemble piece and still keep the intimacy of the duets. Kudos to composer Michael Torke for his contemporary music and to Mary Louise Geiger for the bright lights capturing the dance moves.

Sarah Van Patten and Carlos Quenedit in Wheeldon’s ‘Number Nine.’ Photo by Erik Tomasson.

Nonetheless, it was Yuri Possokhov’s dramatic RAku that brought the audience to its feet and earns my persona accolades. Based on a true event – the burning of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion – the plot revolves around a noble couple (Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in the opening performance). From their wedding day to the spilling of her husband’s ashes, the dancing captures every detail of this epic tale.

We sighed as the bride’s kamona was lifted high above the rafters designed by Scenic and Projection Designer Alexander Vi Nicholas. We held our breath as the warriors – their bare legs slashing across the stage – captured her love. We fought back tears as the heroine writhed in agony, much like a Martha Graham character from the classics. Vocalists of the All Beings Zen Center Sangha carried the theme of love, war, and the eventual death.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Possokhov’s ‘RAkU.’ Photo by Erik Tomasson.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, with two-20-minute intermissions.

The San Francisco Ballet dances through Sunday, November 18, 2012 at The Kennedy Center’s Opera House – 2700 F Street, NW, in Washington, DC. Program A repeats tonight at 7:30 p.m. Romeo & Juliet rounds out the too-short engagement. The tale of the star-crossed lovers will be danced Friday through Sunday, both matinees and evening shows. For tickets, call the box office For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324,or purchase them online.


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