San Francisco Ballet
Made for San Francisco Ballet: Trio, Ghost in the Machine, Within the Golden Hour
San Francisco, War Memorial Opera House
13 April 2017
You could interpret “Made for San Francisco Ballet,” the seventh program in the company’s 2017 season, as a passing of the torch. The three works on the bill – artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s Trio, Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, and Myles Thatcher’s Ghost in the Machine – are recent or brand-new, yet they represent three successive generations of artistic legacy at the Ballet.
Tomasson, now in his 33rd season as director and principal choreographer, created Trio in 2011, using Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence as his score for waltz, adagio and allegro pas de deux for different couples, backed by a corps of 10. Alexander V. Nichols’ luminous mica-toned backdrop and Christopher Dennis’ dynamic lighting set a warm mood.
Vanessa Zahorian, who will retire shortly after a 20-year career in San Francisco, danced with refreshing carefreeness in the elegant waltz, squired by Jamie Garcia Castilla; in the closing allegro, Maria Kochetkova and Angelo Greco made sprightly fun of fast but whippet-thin choreography. In between, soloist Lauren Strongin broke hearts as the beloved of Daniel Deivison-Oliveira; an avatar of death, Aaron Robison came between them and gradually stole her away (shades of Jerome Robbins’ In Memory of…). Strongin has shone all season long in emotional roles, both abstract and narrative, expressing genuine feeling through supple pointe work, a liquid physique and soulful immediacy.
Tomasson has commissioned eight works from Christopher Wheeldon, and the company has four additional Wheeldon works in its repertory. Within the Golden Hour is among the most popular, created in 2008 for SFB’s New Works Festival and Wheeldon will add another arrow to his SFB quiver with a commission for 2018’s Unbound: A Festival of New Works.
Wheeldon combined string compositions, in various lengths and moods, by Italian double-bassist Ezio Bozzo with an andante by Antonio Vivaldi, played by Cordula Merks on violin and Yi Zhou on viola. Wheeldon set about making the music visible through dance, and his choreography for five couples is stunning at times. Golden Hour is sublime in its moody central pieces, some a mere minute or two long – just enough time for a movement idea to materialize, reach its peak and leave you wanting more.
The pinnacle were Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham, entwined in a mesmerizingly slow moving sculpture, like a lava lamp that’s almost, but not quite, warmed up. Duos and quartets of men and women enter and exit for brief interludes of plies, floor rolls, pencil turns, cactus arms and echoes of folk dance. Sasha De Sola and Myles Thatcher danced a pizzicato cha-cha and whimsical waltz steps; Frances Chung and Deivison-Oliveira paralleled more than they partnered.
Golden Hour’s ensembles don’t match the incisive quality of the duets; their bland pleasantness obscures the brilliance of those little gems. In fact, the work could be cut to two-thirds its length and offer purer satisfaction. The same could be said of Ghost in the Machine, a world premiere by 26-year-old corps de ballet dancer Myles Thatcher, and his second regular-season commission for San Francisco. Like the other two works on the bill, it clocks in at 30–40 minutes and could be more powerful at half its length.
Underneath Nichols’ neon-strung canopy, five couples act out a largely ensemble work of combative urgency, apparently inspired by our current political climate. Their aggressive energy is underscored by a jukebox of seven orchestral pieces by minimalist composer Michael Nyman; drawn from a variety of sources, they whipsaw between slow, fast and pounding tempos.
Thatcher is an inventive young talent, and he created a context in which ensemble sparring, bicep curls and a marching phalanx segue seamlessly into a silhouetted Van Patten crossing the stage in fourth position, doing little other than shifting weight from one foot to the other, in no hurry at all.
The stark simplicity was refreshing, and daring enough to make you hope Thatcher would have gone further in that vein. To fill the full half-hour, though, he turned to some contemporary tropes, like non-sequitur running and multiple canons – he’s really good at devising them, but might consider that layering movement onto every note of music can fill time without expanding a work.
The dancers Thatcher chose are capable of anything he might ask of them – including Joseph Walsh, Isabella DeVivo, Dores Andre, Julia Rowe, Jennifer Stahl and Ingham, across both casts – and it’s exciting to see that he now has access to every rank of dancer. Up-and-coming costumer Susan Roemer created garments that suggest futuristic haberdashery.
The SF Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Martin West and Ming Luke, got enthusiastic applause, but deserve extra recognition for performing such disparate works with mastery and verve.