• Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet (© Erik Tomasson)
  • Pascal Molat in Tomasson's Concerto Grosso. (© Erik Tomasson)
  • Gennadi Nedvigin in Possokhov's Magrittomania. (© Erik Tomasson)

A Farewell at San Francisco Ballet

Celebrating Principal Dancers Joan Boada, Pascal Molat, and Gennadi Nedvigin

Helgi Tomasson, Artistic Director
War Memorial Opera House
Apr. 17, 2016
Sfballet.org

They call themselves “The Three Musketeers” because they have traveled a long road together at San Francisco Ballet, and before SFB, with Jeunes Ballets de France. The first one picked up the second to arrive at San Francisco International Airport, and the second picked up the third. One might dub them the three most virtuosic dancers of this, the oldest ballet company in the United States. So, you would imagine that their retirement after the better part of two decades, during an era when ballet has taken a quantum leap in popularity, would occasion pomp and circumstance, hearts and flowers, and purple prose oratory. But no: it was strictly dancing, save for a few pithy and teary filmed tributes, and a dozen or so flowers thrown onto the stage before the curtain rang down.

The evening opened with one of this reviewer’s favorite short comic pieces, Renato
Zanella’s “Alles Walzer.” Molat made his debut in the piece in 2008, with Nicolas Blanc, a French compatriot with a buoyant comic gift. Both Nedvigin and Boada have also danced it, but, at the top of the piece, when Molat, to cue the orchestra, shouts out “Maestro!” a grin begins spreading across your face. It’s too short because you want them to go on forever, tag teaming their jumps, turns, and mugging, one onstage when the other is off. A given that comedy’s success depends on timing, this piece long ago convinced me that its magic has more to do with the onstage dancer feeling ridiculously great camaraderie with the dancer who is off.

“Les Lutins,” reads bittersweet. It arrives just days after its choreographer, Johan Kobborg, has been unceremoniously stripped of his position as Artistic Director of the Bucharest Opera and National Ballet. It reminds us of the fragility of the career dancer, no matter how revered he or she may be, including the three we are celebrating. Though “Les Lutins” is also a comic piece, the inspired combination of dance, dance theater, and onstage live music is no joke! Roy Bogas is on piano, and violinist Cordula Merks is messaging sight gags with the three dancers, Nedvigin, Dores André and Esteban Hernández, who wander onto the stage. The dance threesome threads hilarity into astounding combinations. The musicians are their allies every inch of the way, playing selections by Antonio Bazzini and Henri Wieniawski. Merks’ fingers work a deftness that mirrors the dancers’ fiddlesticks footwork. Nedvigin ends on a single note that has him kicking a foot at the cheeky violinist. Hernández resurrects this when he aims a foot at Nedvigin’s posterior, and André, balanced above his head, aims a kick at Hernández, who has just lifted her!

“Concerto Grosso” to music by Francesco Geminiani after Corelli, is a favorite Tomasson’s men’s piece. It’s for five dancers, each in a different colored leotard. Premiered in 2003, it has had featured casts of notable SFB dancers over the years, and during an intermission, critics could be heard exchanging reminiscences about its very first cast. What was significant about Pascal Molat, in red, dancing in tonight’s cast, is what was the subtext of the evening, whether in Esteban Hernández’s onstage relationship with Nedvigin in the earlier piece, or the promise pledged by the work of Lonnie Weeks, Max Cauthorn, Diego Cruz, and Hansuke Yamamoto, in this one: that the style and technique which have always marked the work were in no danger of being lost as a new generation moves to the fore.

“Two Bits,” a 1998 Tomasson piece, brought Nedvigin together with the zesty Vanessa Zahorian. She makes her tango-inflected entrance dressed in red and black. The open-shirted Nedvigin’s cooler head prevails in fighting her fire with deliberate, slow-paced poses and pyrotechnic turns. They dance a snazzy pas de deux, offset by rapid chaínés that resolve with Zahorian jutting out a come-hither hip, all to Carlos Gardel-styled rhythms by composer Aaron Jay Kernis.

Lorena Feijóo and Clara Blanco have praised Boada as the partner they couldn’t feel more secure with. Reciprocally, he found the partner he could entrust his spiffy technique with, in order to securely mature in the direction of showing feeling and affect onstage. That partner is Maria Kochetkova, and she, reciprocally, offered him her onstage heart. Here they partner in the “Balcony pas de Deux from Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet.” Enchantment pours out of every pore when they sweep each other off their four feet, skimming the stage as a cloud might float across the heavens. The high point of this interlude was Kochetkova taking an elegant backbend as Boada pushed her straight up into the air in a one-handed presage, while his feet moved along a wide figure eight. It’s a lift that makes you believe that these two could push stardust away.

Pascal Molat shows a less stagy, more contemplative aspect in “Excerpt from Borderlands,” by modernist Wayne McGregor. In this short segment, he rises from the floor, as if waking from an unresolved dream, and along a sustained note that takes on various tones, the most pronounced of which comes from an organ. His solo seems to give life to the several characters who might have populated his dream. His conflicted self winds around his spine, or curls into his body, or in a more light-hearted moment, throws out a wavy-gravy arm, whose hand shakes off any remaining demons or premonitions.

The evening concludes with its three honorees dancing “Excerpt from Magrittomania,” a beloved work by the dancers’ retired colleague Yuri Possokhov, currently San Francisco Ballet’s resident choreographer. Seen dressed in white shirts and black suspenders, what unifies them opens our eyes to exactly how they differ. Boada’s low center of gravity could account for the surety his partners sense in his daring, and fearless risk-taking. Nedvigin represents the Golden Mean of dancers, possessed of what the Cubans refer to as “condiciones,” perfect turnout, soaring elevation, with quadruple tours that land on a dime—the requisites of classical mastery. He is just as easy with contemporary works, such as Paul Taylor’s “Company B.” Molat is the Everyman of the three, “an explosive dancer, an athlete born to dance,” avers SFB ballet master Anita Pasciotti, in one filmed tribute, and a company patriot, Tomasson, unblinking, tells the camera.

“The end of an era,” my evening’s companion says wistfully, as we greet the darkness filling the evening sky. My thoughts match his, focused on the coming and going of dance generations, and Virginia Johnson’s observation that “Dancing is like writing on sand.” Bidding farewell to Boada, Molat, and Nedvigin summons all of ballet’s mixed messages. They line a long corridor of time, sealed by indelible and particular memories. What good fortune to have been able to write them down, and see them immortalized on paper or in pixels.

Toba Singer, author of “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” (University Press of Florida 2013), and “First Position: a Century of Ballet Artists” (Praeger 2007), writes for international dance journals and websites, and has served as an advisor to the San Francisco Museum of Performance and Design. She was the University Press of Florida author representative at the 2013 Miami International Book Fair. “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” was nominated for the Latin American Student Association Bryce Award, the de la Torre Research and Dance Scholars Award, and the Commonwealth Club California Book Award.