San Francisco Ballet – Continuum, Jinx, Paquita

Written by:
Suzanne Weiss
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For the seventh program of its 70th anniversary season San Francisco Ballet offers something old, something new and something borrowed and returned in tip-top condition. Last things first. The final dance on the bill, Natalia Makarova’s makeover of Marius Petipa’s Paquita has generated a lot of buzz this season–almost as much as the San Francisco revival of Don Quixote (same choreographer and same composer, the rather undistinguished Ludwig Minkus who seems to be enjoying a huge local renaissance). Makarova was a memorable Paquita herself, first with the Kirov and later for New York City Ballet. She first re-staged the work in 1980. For this production she has added a pas de trois and, sparked by the irrepressible Lorena Feijoo, a happy addition it is.

Paquita is a full-length story ballet, like Don Quixote, about the impossible romance of a gypsy lass and a nobleman. When it is discovered that Paquita really is a princess who was kidnapped by gypsies in her youth (of course, weren’t we all?) true love triumphs and the celebration divertissements begin. This portion is what Makarova mounted and it is a showcase for leaping danseurs and pretty girls in tutus. There is the obligatory adagio for the lead couple and some fancy footwork for the female corps. All very happy, very classic Russian ballet and very well done. Yuan Yuan Tan took the title role, with Vadim Solomakha as her beloved.

Which brings us, in a somewhat awkward segue, to the something old. Lew Christensen’s Jinx first premiered in San Francisco in 1949, a couple of years before its creator took over the helm of the company in collaboration with his brother, William. All due respect to these two gentlemen, but this is a dance whose day is done. It’s a silly, melodramatic variation on Petrouchka, an excuse to trot out a bunch of circus performers who go through their paces to Benjamin Britten’s Variations On A Theme Of Frank Bridge, a somber pre-World War II piece that seems better suited to something other than a circus. Then again, this is no ordinary circus. A mournful juggler (the wonderful Yuri Possokhov who unfortunately spends most of his time brooding atop a stack of boxes) yearns in vain for the lovely wire walker (Catherine Winfield). After a series of mishaps – a fall here, a stumble there — the company turns on the sad clown, thinking him the jinx of the title. The Ringmaster (Val Caniparoli) beats him to death with his whip. His ghost returns to haunt the circus. And that one’s been done better elsewhere. Perhaps it would be better to leave Jinx packed up in the San Francisco Ballet’s trunk of memories.

Something new always is refreshing and Christopher Wheeldon’s Continuum, which premiered in San Francisco last season, was the best of the bunch. An ensemble “leotard ballet,” reminiscent but not imitative of Balanchine, it is inventive, clever and wondrous to watch. The dancers are mostly spotlighted on a black stage, highlighted only by Natasha Katz’s neon stripes. They crawl like insects, roll like children. In Wheeldon’s dance lexicon the arms speak as eloquently as the feet. There is a circle dance for the male dancers, two pas de deux in slo-mo, a presto solo. Each of the dancers – Julie Diana, Kristin Long, David Arce, Gonzalo Garcia, Tan, Muriel Maffre, Damian Smith and Benjamin Pierce – moves impeccably and each shines, whether alone or in ensemble. It’s music in motion and the music is the engine that drives the whole thing, Gyorgy Ligeti’s challenging piano works, well played by Michael McGraw and Daniel Waite. Ligeti’s music is important in Wheeldon’s work. He has used it in three of his ballets. It perfectly complements his movement or, if you will, the other way around. However you look at it, this is a terrific piece of dance.

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