Monday, October 21, 2013

San Francisco Ballet at Lincoln Center

In Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands, Sofiane Sylve gets some helping hands. Photo: Erik Tomasson
When a fine company like San Francisco Ballet comes to New York's Koch Theater for a major two-week run of five programs, we New York dance narcissists can see not only what's happening in the genre on the other coast, but we can also use it as a lens through which to view our own microcosm of ballet—in this case, work by two "local" renowned choreographers, Mark Morris and Alex Ratmansky.

General observations on the overly-stuffed repertory program C (Oct 18):
  • SFB's dancers looks terrific, including a couple favorites who left NYC (Sofiane Sylve and Simone Messmer)
  • The repertory by NY regulars Ratmansky and Morris felt less satisfying than their usual work
  • The ballet by SFB's resident choreographer, Yuri Possokhov, was more in tune with the dancers, no doubt owing to mutual familiarity and the rehearsal time
  • Edwaard Liang's offering was far too long for this program
  • All four dances used music that, despite avoiding clichéd choices, were somewhat difficult

Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands
  • Music by 19th-century composer Moritz Moszkowki—rhythmic, marchy
  • Costumes—lovely knee-length, varied hue tulle skirts that looked to be composed of layered handkerchiefs
  • Structure—six sections named for nationalities, though few ethnic influences could be read
  • Standout section—ex-ABT soloist Simone Messmer was ported, held aloft, cosseted, tossed between men in clever ways; gold-hued outfits complemented the warm tone of devotion (Sylve is pictured in this section, above)
  • A new-old move, something Ratmansky is so good at—piqué turns from walking on pointe. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but I've never seen it before. Several such moves compound, by degrees, to turn Ratmansky into an innovator.
  • I missed his signature stroke of humor and everyman flavor in this fairly earnest, if lively, dance

Benjamin Stewart & Pascal Molat in Beaux. Photo: Erik Tomasson
Mark Morris' Beaux
  • The nine men wear Isaac Mizrahi's day-glo camouflage print unitards to match the set, strongly evoking Stephen Sprouse's Andy Warhol printed camo fabric
  • To music by Bohuslav Martinu, including prickly harpsichord passages, and a gripping interplay between harpsichord and piano
  • The movement slides indecisively between ballet and Morris' pedestrian best
  • In my head, I could hear Morris shouting "just walk" to these highly trained ballet dancers, but the need to shift between formal and relaxed made these moments feel perhaps more forced
  • Not a "manly man" or "drinking scene" mens' dance (the kind where tomfoolery borders on fighting), but there were repeated spread-eagle jumps, bold geometric formations, and teams "flying" a plane-shaped man onstage  
  • Facing upstage in a line, arms and legs spread, the men stand adjacent, with one facing front—Morris is either bold enough to quote Paul Taylor's Arden Court without shame, or has never seen that modern dance staple
  • I felt that the dancers lacked the confidence in the movement to really own it—a bit of a surprise in a Morris dance, when typically attitude is a major characteristic. Then again, perhaps it was the longer viewing distance or the distracting overall busyness of the dance.
Hansuke Yamamoto & Maria Kochetkova in Classical Symphony. Photo: Erik Tomasson

Yuri Possokhov's Classical Symphony
  • To Prokofiev's Symphony No. 1 in D Major, with an odd dollop of Romeo & Juliet
  • Seems that the resident choreographer's familiarity with the dancers' strengths and personalities allowed him to wring the best from them. They danced with conviction, precision, and charisma
  • A mens' section was nearly all grand jetés—striking, but I can imagine their shins were aching
  • Great velocity and technical challenges expressed in rapid spins and fouettés with the front leg in a low attitude; other handsome shapes included wide fourth position on pointe, upper body torqued in opposition  
  • Mustard disc tutus by Sandra Woodall lent a contemporary flair

Edwaard Liang's Symphonic Dances
  • Like the Possokhov, this dance simply takes the music's bland title (here, Rachmaninov)
  • Three couples are featured, and more prominently the women in each duo:
  • The elegant Yuan Yuan Tan, who elongates every line to the max
  • Sofiane Sylve, whose plushness and verve are still missed at NYCB (to me, she filled the role taken up after her departure by Sara Mearns—a larger woman with a slightly dangerous, magnetic presence)
  • Maria Kochetkova, a detailed, compact dancer with great charm
  • While the women wore flattering Juliet-length dresses, the men were dressed in unitards with strange yoke placement and short-cut trunk legs (by Mark Zappone)
  • At 40 minutes, it felt twice as long as it needed to be, other than to fit the music, and some of the partnering felt overworked
The run continues through next weekend, and includes Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella.

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