America's oldest ballet company has some pretty springy legs.
San Francisco Ballet's first two performances of its two-week visit to Lincoln Center included seven works never before seen in New York. That's not to say they were all good, but there were enough good ones to hope that San Francisco Ballet will make L.C. a regular residency – fall, late summer, it wouldn't matter.
The company reintroduced itself on Wednesday evening with a ballet by Helgi Tomasson called Trio – which had four movements – perhaps so-named because it was the trio of dancers in the 2nd Movement, Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets, and Anthony Spaulding, who best inhabited the gorgeous melodies of the violin, viola, and cello in the romantic interlude section of Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence. Van Patten's expressive eyes and dramatic lines told quite a story as she was tugged emotionally and physically between Helimets and Spaulding. The piece as a whole was pleasantly musical and even more pleasantly unfussy in its patterns. The women's long flowing dresses by Mark Zappone contributed much romance to the ballet.
Christopher Wheeldon's Ghost included ideas that we've seen elsewhere in his work and had a patchwork quality to it as opposed to a seamless quality. But his choreography certainly set well on Sofiane Sylve and Yuan Yuan Tan. Ms. Tan, in her PdD with Damian Smith, created exquisite curving shapes with her upper torso and arms. It was nice to see James Sofranko in the cast. Haglund remembers when Sofranko was a student at Juilliard and danced frequently with a frizzy-haired young girl named Annie. That was quite a Juilliard class.
The final dance on the opening night bill was Wayne McGregor's Borderlands. Whenever Haglund sees anything by Wayne McGregor, he's reminded that there is something worse than Jorma Elo. Highly skilled classical ballet dancers snapping their joints and rolling their torsos in McGregor's tourettes-ography gets old almost before it gets started. If the modern dance audience likes it - fine; but don't try to legitimize this stuff by exploiting ballet dancers and their audience. As the dancers snapped their joints, glowered at the audience, and walked casually from position to position in their very revealing tight little dance briefs, Haglund's mind began to wander. He remembered that it's almost time to get the new kitten neutered; five months is the recommended cut-off age.
Thursday evening's performance included Alexei Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands. Beautiful, if hyper-detailed, it sticks fairly closely to the classical and employs traditional national themes of Russian, Italian, German, Spanish, Polish, and Hungarian. The highlight of the piece, and maybe the highlight of the first two nights, was Sofiane Sylve in the German section with Luke Ingham, Luke Willis, and Shane Wuerthner. Always a gorgeous dancer while at NYCB, Sylve looks even better after five years in San Francisco. Her confidence, statuesque beauty, and unforced, bold technique are much missed in these here parts.
Beaux by Mark Morris set to a concerto by Bohuslav Martinu seemed to come with instructions for the cast of nine male dancers to mark their movements like pedestrians instead of dancing them. The MM aficionados in their MM t-shirts loved it. The costumes by Isaac Mizrahi were unitards with a camouflage design in non-camouflage colors of pink, yellow, orange, and brown. One of the main motifs of the piece had two dancers lifting another dancer horizontally with arms outstretched like wings and carrying him around the stage "flying." Okay.
The final two pieces on Thursday's program were unexpected delights. Yuri Possokhov's Classical Symphony and Edwaard Liang's Symphonic Dances proved that in ballet it's more important to get the choice of music right than it is to get the choice of steps right. Both choreographers chose fantastic music that the audience members could instantly organically relate to and feel within their nervous systems. Possokhov chose Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 in D major ("Classical") and devised a lot of creative classical patterns but couldn't resist throwing in a hip-hop roll or two for Maria Kochetkova's benefit. While her featured solos and PdDs on both nights were impressive for their punch & role, spin & glower, and cutesy, there was little in her dancing that was classically pretty. That probably didn't matter to Kevin McKenzie who was positioned in the front row of the first ring on Thursday night. When Kochetkova shared the stage with the dramatic and stately Sofiane Sylve and the elegant and lyrical Yuan Yuan Tan in Laing's ballet, she all but disappeared. It was hard to take your eyes off Sylve who was stunning even in the smallest moves, and Tan whose grace flowed like a cool rippling brook. While the last several minutes of Liang's ballet lost focus, what led up to the end included inventive group formations, an achingly beautiful PdD for Tan and Luke Ingham, and Sylve smoldering in a PdD with Tiit Helimets.
The H.H. Pump Bump Award, a black crepe and gold leather strapped stiletto from Christian Louboutin, is bestowed upon Sofiane Sylve for remarkable performances in Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands and Liang's Symphonic Dances.