Sunday, April 15, 2012

SF Ballet: Balanchine (I'll Never Quit You)

This week SF Ballet is presenting their "All Balanchine" program featuring Divertimento No. 15, Scotch Symphony, and The Four Temperaments.  I saw the program Friday night and it was stunning.  Many dancers and dance-makers nowadays like to make shallow complaints about "Balanchine being overdone" or "not finding a connection in the work."  To those naysayers, I say, that is ridiculous.  I'm not saying everyone needs to love the work as zealously as I do, but the beauty and genius of his choreography is unmatched in its ability to transcend.  Helgi Tommason, the artistic director, did a wonderful job choosing three ballets of very different styles and qualities that showed the breadth and depth of Balanchine's oeuvre.

The program opened with Divertimento No 15 set to Mozart.  This ballet is often described as "crystalline," everything about it is so pure and clean and void of any superfluous accents or nuances that can often stifle movement.  Every movement appears completely necessary for the dancers and for the music.  My favorite SFB prima, Maria Kotchetkova, shined in this work, performing the most difficult petit allegro with effortless energy that allowed the audience to let the movement and music wash over them and not focus on the demanding technical execution.

I knew very little about Scotch Symphony before the program.  It is the first of Balanchine's non-narrative works I've seen that uses a backdrop.  While the ballet is plotless it draws influence from the Romantic ballets, specifically La Sylphide as well as the military marches of the Highland Scots.  I was particularly impressed by the variation for the Scottish girl in the beginning who  dons red pointe shoes and performs the same choreography as the men before  breaking away into her own solo.  Akin to the Romantic ballets, much of Scotch Symphony is a romantic pas de deux; while the two leads had strong chemistry, I was slightly disappointed in Sarah Van Patten's performance.  I wanted her to be more generous.  Otherwise the ballet was tender and humorous and featured some very impressive Bournonville-esque footwork.

The program ended with The Four Temperaments, long hailed as Balanchine's neoclassical masterpiece.  This work is so beautiful and profound that I almost hate to try to attach words to it.  The "Melancholic" variation has always been one of my favorite Balanchine solos (something I've always wished I could dance) and Jaime Garcia Castilla danced it exquisitely.  His body moved seamlessly between languorous back arches to lofty leaps.  The choreography and the non-costumes of practice clothes are unforgiving to anything less than perfection, and luckily every member of the ensemble delivered.

Also, of all the programs I've seen this season, the orchestra sounded particularly luscious for this program, adding, I'm sure, to the post-performance elation I felt walking out of the Opera House.

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