Sarah Van Patten & Pierre Francois Vilanoba in Tomassons’ The Fifth Season. Photo by Eric Tomasson
Choreography: Mark Morris
Composer: Lou Harrison
Music: Trio for Violin, Cello & Piano, (3rd movement) “Dance (for Violin),” “Rhapsody (for Piano),” “Song (for Cello)”; (4th movement) “Allegro”
World Premiere: May 10, 1995–San Francisco Ballet
Carousel (A Dance) – San Francisco Ballet Premiere
Choreography: Christopher Wheeldon
Composer: Richard Rodgers
Music: Carousel Waltz, If I Loved You (1945) arranged and orchestrated by William David Brohn
World Premiere: November 26, 2002—New York City Ballet, New York
Fancy Free –San Francisco Ballet Premiere
Choreography: Jerome Robbins
Composer’ Leonard Bernstein
Music: Fancy Free (1946)
It was New York City Ballet all over the place in San Francisco on Tuesday night, but, for once, without a moment of Balanchine. Jerome Robbins may have been Mr. B’s second fiddle for decades, but the second choreographer also changed the face of dance in America, just differently.“Fancy Free” (1944), his wartime saga about three sailors on leave in a much-more innocent New York City, was later turned into the show, “On The Town”. Sixty years later, Robbins’ replacement at the NYCB, the uber-talented Christopher Wheeldon, created “Carousel (A Dance)” based on the story as well as the music to that Broadway classic. San Francisco is only the second place the work has been performed. And then there is Helgi Tomasson, who was in tights for both Balanchine and Robbins, back in the day, and is, of course,now running the show and choreographing at SFB. The only piece on this program without a direct NYCB link was Mark Morris’, but it was just as well. A ballet like “Pacific” undoes the notched-up Balanchine thing, and forces the dancers back down to earth. For all his time as a hired-hand for classical ballet companies around the world, in the last 10 years, Morris still makes barefoot dance.
Helgi Tomasson as artistic director keeps bringing in young hotshots to build works on his company. Wheeldon was typical of them–up-and-coming, not-yet-hot, still affordable. Now, all that has changed, and he is the talk of the dance world. iWheeldon’s has walked away from his plum position at NYCB in order to of start his own ballet company. In New York.
No doubt Mr. T scouts talent for the good of the company, brininging excitement to the repertoire–but the byproduct of his exposure to all this is a change in his own choreographic voice–he seems more willing, these days, to stray from the classical idiom. The year-old piece, “The Fifth Season,” seems much more inventive and lush than techniquey and stiff, like many of his other works-almost like a Wheeldon piece. Program 5 was the kind of repertory concert that makes you wonder why anyone would ever want to sit through a full-length ballet again. Here were four strong pieces that offered diversity, had a programming arc, distinctly varying flavors, styles, music, choreography, and even intention.
Christopher Wheeldon is emerging as a master of his generation in a similar way to Mark Morris’ domination of his. Unlike Morris,however, Wheeldon’s works have the indelible mark of someone who understands a woman in toe shoes; about the dynamics of partnering, the imagery of weightlessness; the striking ability to add a flavor distinctively modern to each work. "Carousel (A Dance)", was created as part of a Richard Rogers centenary for the new York City Ballet. It isn’t the kind of music Wheeldon would ordinarily gravitate to, and neither is the narrative element. The kind of story-telling Wheeldon comes up with, however, is at once as clear as a picture, but also muddled-up, contemporarized, twisted around into something overtly sinister, like the death-paen that is the underlying theme of the musical. In Carousel romance is tragedy, and when idealized love is expressed in a central pas de deux for two incompatible characters, it is as moving as all get out.
Tomasson has outdone himself in “The Fifth Season”, an 06 reprise. From the sculptural scenic hangings (designed by Sandra Woodall) to the interesting score by Karl Jenkins, to the choreography each section is a poem, separate but linked thematically to the whole, with detailed and fully-realized performances by groups of two and four and 10. It is a work structured formally, but one which seems to open within for a less presentational, more modern feeling. Tomasson’s choices seemed more sculptural than step-oriented, but clearly, Jenkins’ score clearly inspired him . “Fifth Season” has an ebb and flow, with lush orchestral coloring but also plenty of air, room to let someone try something new. Loreno Feijoo and Davit Karapetyan make a striking match, all expression and attack. Sarah Van Patten was cooped up with three men in a tango section, to spectacular effect, and Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets, who are called upon to play the classical leads in much of the company repertoire, looked here like dancers on a busman’s holiday. It was an exciting, thoughtful combination of virtuosity and talent.
“Fancy Free” the 1944 ballet which spawned “On the Town”, the Broadway show and then movie, is a lot more cartoonish than anything Jerome Robbins did in, say, “West Side Story”. Here, the three sailors move in jerky bouts , a constant competition for what–sex?Leonard Bernstein’s classic orchestral score) is accordingly jumpy and full of punchy rhythms and garish color. Garrett Anderson, Gonzalo Garcia and Pascal Molat were charming in roles that required them to become testosterone epitomized. The female passersby looked sexy in their 40’s styles, with their hips accentuated, their perfectly pointed feet in platform shoes.
“Pacific”, to Lou Harrison’s music for violin, cello and piano, is not Morris at his most ebullient and transcendant. With eight dancers all in flowing skirts (and no shirts for the men), there is a kind of laboratory theme and variation going on, male/female duets with very little touching, awkward, jerky petite allegro work at the beginning, and some group sections too late. The piece never coalesced into the kind of kinesthetic satisfaction Mr. Morris’ usual devotion to music offers a viewer. This had a kind of Cunningham-like disjointedness at times, a sense of structural randomness, which stood in direct contrast to the visual imagery suggested by all that flowing material and the sunset color scheme. At the end of the piece, the group comes together into a single line, for the first time offering a solid image, albeit one that waved and vascillated. Morris’ choreographic Muse seems to have done the same thing in this piece.