Spellbound
Esteban Hernandez and Max Cauthorn in the "Jockey Dance" from Bournonville's From Siberia To Moscow // © Erik Tomasson

Spellbound

San Francisco Ballet 2020 Opening Night Gala

Helgi Tomasson,
Artistic Director

War Memorial Opera
House

Jan. 16, 2020;
reviewed Jan. 16, 2020

Sfballet.com

Two elements in the gala’s ceremonial intro nearly upstaged the nativist spit and polish of “Men’s Regiment from Stars and Stripes.”  First was Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s paradoxical pitch to set aside our points of view in the service of affirming that “We are all Americans,” (which all present decidedly were not, and vive la difference!) It followed the Black-Tie cocktail-enhanced more-carousing-than-rousing singing of the national anthem (“Oh gosh, darling, they’re playing our song!”) Fortunately, Sandra Jennings’ smart staging restored dignity to the premier Balanchine work, justly decommissioned by its winking off-center hip thrusts and then medaled by Lucas Erni’s superlative solo.

It’s hardly a well-kept secret that Australian-born Danielle Rowe is the best leavening agent to arrive in San Francisco since sour dough. The inspired pairing of Joseph Walsh and Dores André in Rowe’s metronomic work “For Pixie,” each of them outfitted in Lauren Strongin’s intricate black costumes, streamed a patina of candor and sophistication into the gala evening program, matched only by Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno’s “Pas de Deux from Swan Lake,” choreographed with like expository genius by David Dawson.

Val Caniparoli’s “Foreshadow,” against a white drop hosting transient shadows, and inspired by the Anna Karenina story, placed a sentient yet undulating Jennifer Stahl as Anna Karenina and a vibrant Elizabeth Powell as Kitty on either side of Tiit Helimets as Count Vronsky. The épaulement-activated choreography swirled vertiginously, begging for a pause, or failing that, a backward glance, as surely as its heroine might have wished for before she cast her fate onto the tracks.

“Jockey Dance” was a gem plucked judiciously from the August Bournonville archive. Staged to limpid effect by Ulrik Birkkjaer, in Jens Jacob Worsaee’s complementary period costumes in red and white, it was done great comic justice by the co-dependent duo of Max Cauthorn and Esteban Hernández, inviting comparison with Pascal Molat and Nicolas Blanc’s masterful 2008 “Alles Walzer” by Renato Zanella.

Each act was anchored by a classical ballet war horse. Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco delivered a rote performance of the “Pas de Deux from Le Corsaire,” while Wona Park showed masterful command of technique in “Grand Pas Classique.”

Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets shone in a bracing and glittering “Diamonds,” with vigorous support from the soloist cohort. Partnering Yuan Yuan Tan, Vitor Luiz bid San Francisco Ballet farewell  in an unceremonious “Pas de Deux from Bells,” by Yuri Possokhov.

The “Pas de Deux from Hurry Up We’re Dreaming,” elicited boisterous cheers from the Opera House assemblage. Danced with aplomb by Sarah Van Patten and Henry Sidford, “Hurry Up We’re Dreaming” leans more on its Indie Pop soundtrack than its choreographic merits.

Myles Thatcher’s World Premiere “05:49,” deftly danced by Sasha De Sola and Benjamin Freemantle, lacked purpose or nuance.  Generally relying on emotive clichés and contemporary ballet tropes, it failed to make any meaningful visual or emotional impact.

Mathilde Froustey’s zest for speeding to the conclusion of a phrase might suggest her as the indicated Juliet in “The Balcony Pas de Deux from Romeo and Juliet,” especially in Helgi Tomasson’s version, which repeats mindless rushing from stage left to stage right and back again, interrupted solely by nose-to-nose huddles with Romeo (Joseph Walsh, here.) There is no danger that they will break the fourth wall by letting the audience in.  Tragically, the speed demon capture leaves no quarter for developing the character of Juliet, eponymous for youthful rebellion and certitude of commitment. Walsh’s Romeo is more successful because he has time to draw on his inner bold, independence-craving persona. When they bid farewell, we know no more about them than we did at the top of the scene.

Though a patchwork spectacle, the good news is that San Francisco Ballet has ultimately succeeded in its asserted goal; surpassing the $3 million fundraising benchmark.

Singer & Son

(Toba Singer’s commentary is in Roman; James Gotesky’s in Bold)

San Francisco ,
Singer & Son James Gotesky and Toba Singer announce the launching of Singer & Son, a joint arts writing venture. “Singer & Son” looks forward to covering arts events in the San Francisco Bay Area and arts venues around the globe. Using a “Siskel & Ebert” format, each writer will share his or her appreciation of a performance or event. Singer & Son will also conduct interviews and co-author feature articles. Toba Singer author of “First Position: a century of ballet artists” (Praeger, 2007) and “Fernando Alonso, the Father of Cuban Ballet” (University Press of Florida, 2013), was nominated for the LASA (Latin American Student Association) Award, the de la Torre Research and Scholars Award, and the Commonwealth Club California Book Award. She has been Artist in Residence at Santa Fe College, and was the University of Florida Author Representative to the 2013 Miami International Book Fair. James Gotesky danced with Boston Ballet II, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and was a Soloist with Houston Ballet. He writes for The Advance, an online music magazine, and has taught at Houston Ballet Academy and Conservatorio de Danza de Mexico. In 2010 he was named Eligible Bachelor No. 13 in Forbes.com 100 Most Eligible Bachelors In the U.S. For more information: singerampersandson@gmail.com