Critical Dance

The following is an article from our special section, San Francisco Ballet in London.

A Preview of San Francisco Ballet's Season in London, Summer 2001
Stuart Sweeney summarizes the programs to be performed at the Royal Opera House
July 24, 2001

From now to the end of November, London dance fans hardly have a chance to draw breath. Later in the year, we will see the 2001-2 Royal Ballet season with Don Q, Onegin and much else. In addition, Dance Umbrella has an exceptional programme this year with Ballett Frankfurt, Mark Morris, Alvin Ailey and other top companies from around the world.

For the present, as the Kirov Opera vacates the Royal Opera House after an unspectacular season, the Royal Ballet is back in-situ to be followed by London's first sight of Sylvie Guillem's production of Giselle for La Scala. Then to conclude the ambitious Hochhauser season at Covent Garden, we will have the great pleasure of three mixed bills from one of the most exciting companies in the world - San Francisco Ballet.

It's almost two years since the company was last here, when they made such an impression on dance fans in London. They were at Sadler's Wells for just a week, but inspired programming gave us a splendid overview of the Company. We saw an unconventional Gala which went way beyond the usual rep for such evenings and allowed us to see all the Principals and most of the rest of the dancers. Next, there was an excellent mixed bill with Jerome Robbins' The Cage and Mark Morris's Sandpaper Ballet delighting everyone and showing the variety of work that the Company can offer. Finally, we had no less than four casts in San Francisco's distinctive production of Swan Lake by their Artistic Director, Helgi Tomasson. I saw two of these casts and, reading reviews of the others, it was clear that all were from the top draw. Overall, we had been expecting SFB to be good, but they took our breath away.

[Editor's note: Follow these links to David Dougill's overview of the Gala and Mixed Bill and Nadine Meisner reviews of two of The Swan Lake casts.]

And so the conquering heroes return, this time to the Royal Opera House. Again, it's an ambitious programme with three Mixed Bills rather than the full-length ballets that we are accustomed to in programmes from the Hochhausers. I am delighted, as it gives us the chance to savour some recent commissions by the Company together with an opportunity to widen our knowledge of the work of Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine.

We rarely blow our own trumpet here, but in the two years since we established we have a wider range of international reviews of all dance forms, both from the newspapers and from our own readers, than any other website that we are aware of worldwide. Nowhere is this more evident than in the San Francisco area and thus we have several reviews of nearly all the dances to be performed in SFB's London season. Using this database, I have put together an introduction to the pieces on view. I suggest that you read through to the end of the preview and then link to those pieces that particularly interest you. I’d be delighted if you read them all, but there’s about two hours reading here.

Programme 1 reflects the principal themes of the season with exciting new works and key pieces from the 20th Century. Mark Morris is one of the most successful and imaginative choreographers around today and he reaffirmed his strong link with the Company with a new piece, A Garden, set to music by Richard Strauss after Francois Couperin.

Magrittomania must give the Company great pleasure as it is a critically acclaimed creation that is a result of SFB's Discovery programme with pieces made by their own dancers. As the picture shows, it is a witty take on the surrealist world of Belgian artist Magritte. Yuri Possokhov, the choreographer, is also a superb dancer who we will see during the week.

One of the shortcomings in ballet programming in the UK, is the relative shortage of dances by Jerome Robbins. The first of the two of his works in the season is Fanfare, described by one reviewer as a "ballet-vaudeville."

The programme is brought to a close with one of Balanchine's most famous creations, Symphony in 3 Movements, of which our own Azlan Ezaddin wrote, "The intended sexy slinkiness of Symphony in Three Movements, danced to Igor Stravinsky's composition, is apparent immediately."

Programme 2 opens with Christopher Wheeldon's Sea Pictures. Here in the UK we have been hearing great things about this local boy who is proving so successful in the US, so it will be very good to see this recent work.

Bugaku is one of Balanchine's most controversial pieces, so it will be especially interesting for those of us who will be seeing it for the first time.

The programme closer is Glass Pieces, the second creation in the season by Jerome Robbins. Octavio Roca, writes, "For all its mad rush, it strikes a note of solace, of acceptance and of joy."

Programme 3 opens with Night, another home-grown product, this time from SFB Principal Julia Adam, who has won much respect for her choreography as well as her dancing. The season brochure describes Night as "...a contemporary odyssey into the dream world."

Next comes Prism by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, which was first performed to critical plaudits by New York City Ballet. I note that Tomasson has modestly included only one of his works in the season.

Finally, London gets a second chance to see the delicious Sandpaper Ballet by Mark Morris - Yummie!

With San Francisco Ballet's visit, Londoners will experience a concentrated primer in American Ballet with masterworks from the past 50 years and the cream of the new generation of choreographers performed by this terrific company. I can't wait.

Programme 1: Fanfare, A Garden, Magrittomania, Symphony in 3 Movements – 13 & 17 August

Programme 2: Sea Pictures, Bugaku, Glass Pieces – 14 & 15 August

Programme 3: Night, Prism, Sandpaper Ballet – 16 & 18 August

To book, ring +44 (0) 7304 4000 or visit the website

Please visit our special section, San Francisco Ballet in London, for reviews, interviews and more previews related to San Francisco's Summer 2001 tour to London.

For the latest news, reviews and gossip, please visit our SFB in London forum.

Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.

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