San Francisco Ballet has dropped into Sadler’s Wells with an embarrassment of riches – this third evening of London premieres comprised three pieces that ran the gamut of emotions, but the overall impression was of the wholly American spirit of the company – peppy, vivacious, determined and running at full-tilt.
Stanton Welch’s Bespoke, set to Bach’s Violin Concertos in A Minor and E Major, presented six couples enraptured by dance. Angelo Greco started off working through classical floor exercises, alone and superbly controlled, then bounded into life as the other dancers joined him, all in love with the adrenaline rush of their physical prowess and the release of dancing, executing neoclassical leaps and twirls with a champagne-bubble effervescence. But a dancer’s worst enemy is time – they suddenly halted en masse, straight arms ticking like the hands of a clock; what they loved most was going to be taken away from them. Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno’s mournful adagio was a lament for what they were about to lose; he held her as, with back to the audience, she performed a ramrod-straight pendulum swing – time was ticking. Raised up in his arms, she threw angry fists at the sky. A last burst of infallibility by all 12 was followed by each couple in turn sinking to the floor. It was simple, verging on simplistic, but danced with such passion – particularly by Greco, who illuminates the stage – that you couldn’t help but be moved.
Liam Scarlett made Hummingbird for the company in 2014 and it certainly showed the dancers’ extraordinary robustness. John Macfarlane’s set was a rolling canopy of Turner-like brushstrokes of blues and greys, which rolled back to meet a volcanic-grey ramp. The piece moved round three distinct duets, constructed on Philip Glass’s Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra.
First was Greco and Sasha De Sola in denim blue; fast, flashy, full of vim and come-hither twinkles – there were moments of musical-theatre showstopper pizzazz as the other dancers fell into step with them. Yuan Yuan Tan’s anguished appearance, dressed all in white, brought everything to a halt – her duet with Luke Ingham was a very different affair. There was something deeply disquieting about their meeting; Tan was tossed and dragged through a technically dazzling but frankly terrifying array of lifts and holds. Ingham seemed to be both her tormentor and comforter – Tan’s hunched grief was painful, but Ingham seemed equally broken. Then the mood lifted again for Dores Andre and Joseph Walsh; their segment held flashes of rock’n’roll boisterousness within its neoclassical rigour. Having expected something that would bring a compounding clarity to the piece, I was left a bit confused. But no question, this was a hugely committed and beautifully danced performance.
Finally, Justin Peck’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming filled the opened-up bare stage with a tumbling, restless, athletic energy, aided by the 14 dancers all wearing white plimsolls. Much bouncing ensued; there was almost a Disney fizz to some of the performance. The music was from the album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by the electronic band M83 and the piece followed an arc of imagined dream states for children, teenagers and mature adults. As a child’s voice recounted a dream about a magic frog, the ensemble adopted a sunny playfulness, cycling through high-energy combinations that kept your eyes darting across the stage. A floaty duet perfectly captured a sense of teen angst – but when we reached the mature dream phase, I couldn’t help thinking that only in America would this be represented by giddy, spinning optimism. However, the dynamic urban snap, crackle and pop of this 30-minute piece, and its sense of buzzing community and camaraderie were beguiling.