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San Francisco Ballet

‘Le Quattro Stagioni,’ ‘Study in Motion,’ ‘Tu Tu’

by Toba Singer

February 7, 2004 -- War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

The music, “Le Quattro Stagioni,” was composed by Antonio Vivaldi to celebrate the four seasons. The algebraic title summons the unconscious to plug in the relevant data. Instead, mine plugged in memories of “Our Gang” episodes where Spanky and the kids are urged by a ditzy female music teacher, chirping “’Tis Spring, ‘Tis Spring,” to dance interpretations of that season. In order to humor the earnest spinster, they improvise their little hearts out, but then that calls up yet another “Our Gang” memory, when Spanky’s father sternly insists that Spanky “eat and like” his Mush (Spinach? Turnips?), and Spanky replies miserably, “I’ll eat it, but I won’t like it!”

In this instance, it’s lucky that the usher has supplied a program because without one, it would be a challenge to match the dance sequences to their corresponding seasons, except for the last one, where Joan Boada, sleek in gray and black, is clearly Winter’s black ice. The scenery, a meadow of scrubby evergreens and Live Oaks, makes us think “California,” but gauzy empire costumes accented by hair garlands on the corps women make us think, “Copenhagen” or “Vienna Woods,” compounding our confusion of time and place.

A drape of scrim is hung from rings like a shower curtain pulled three quarters of the way across the front of the meadow. The light on it changes with each season, but that doesn’t help us to guess the right answer. So we hunt for clues in the choreography. Every step danced by a woman is “pretty,” and since all the seasons have their pretty aspect, it’s very hard to say that, for example, the “high five” meeting of hands in the air off the top of a jump says “Yay, it’s Spring!” or “Yay, it’s Summer!” The same for the dippy one-legged pliés. Are the corps women dipping their toes in water? Or is it mud? Or slush? We consult our program, and it turns out that ‘tis Spring, a season danced gleefully by Vanessa Zahorian and Peter Brandenhoff.

The corps execute a lot of turns in passé (March winds?). Brandenhoff’s arms are frequently extended as he moves across the stage as if to say, “Here, let me show you what’s next on the horizon.” The women don’t seem to care about what the skies portend, content to joyfully skip and cavort with their competitors for future seasons’ soloist contracts. It’s like some frightful European fairy tale: Everyone looks like a Nordic or Anglo-Saxon prototype instead of who they are or you are (unless you happen to be a white girl with a wardrobe full of gauzy, ruffled, empire dresses, and a few dirndls thrown in for Sunday Best). The remaining seasons make you wish you were a groundhog whose shadow is in cold storage. Autumn features a clean, though gloomy pas de deux by Sarah Van Patten and Vadim Solomakha, and Boada’s Winter shows off his glacier-melting hallmark ménège.

Happily, the next piece is by Yuri Possokhov, who not only never disappoints his audiences, but could be lauded as the most astutely creative U.S.-based choreographer of his generation. In “Study in Motion,” he has made brilliant choices. The costumes, designed by San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Benjamin Pierce are simple, yet ingenious: for the women, there is a white band across the bodice and white briefs overlaid by a drape of white, transparent organdy-like fabric, cut with a ruffled slit from above the knee to the hip. Every dancer looks fabulous. The costumes move faithfully with the work, and never distracts the eye. The men wear plum-colored tights and tops. With panels repeating the white fabric of the costumes suspended from squared-off rods marking a stage within the stage, the set affirms the costumes in mood and color.

Red lights offstage open the piece, the white panels backlit with a bright white light. A dancer emerges from the darkness, and it is Lorena Feijoo. Her partner, Nicolas Blanc, lifts her, sets her to rest, and sweeps her along the floor. The remaining dancers enter: Yuan Yuan Tan partnered by Damian Smith, Vanessa Zahorian (for Kristin Long) partnered by Pascal Molat, and Katita Waldo partnered by Peter Brandenhoff. Yuan Yuan Tan rotates her hips (my, how we’ve grown!), unfurls her famous extension, is swept along the floor, folds into a lift at waist height, and then suddenly rises above her partner’s head. The three-tier lift doesn’t make you think of a wedding cake (even with Tan in white) so much as something Calder might have designed.

Katita Waldo is statuesque; Vanessa Zahorian is compact. They push against each other, but there are no "high fives" here to dumb down the counter-intuitive symmetry. Who would have imagined that these two dancers might mirror each other so stunningly? Tan, Waldo and Zahorian are placed on the floor and “swept” again by their partners. Feijoo enters. She is minimalist, clean and therefore, white hot. The men glide into a stylized "Kingdom of the Shades" series of arabesques that takes them offstage as the audience marvels at the innovative locus of movement.

They and the music (by Alexander Scriabin) seem to peel off like stitches sliding off knitting needles. We see the laws of motion annotated by weight tilting legs upward. Placement is the crucible of this piece. Absent good placement, there isn't the right momentum to motor the work. Possokhov has chosen and paired the right dancers to make it happen. After a little break in the music, we see Waldo and Zahorian in a duet that soon morphs into a pas de trois with Molat. As usual, Waldo's arms are generous and breezy, and Zahorian is showing arms we haven’t seen before.

When Tan returns, she drops into a sideways lift away from Smith, and is then somehow aloft, falling upward! The work awakens a dramatic sensuality in Tan, an intensity that in other work seems to be reserved for technical feats. Smith’s partnering of her invites comparisons to an installation. He admiringly races with the music to be there for her as she dances on three levels in the Possokhov-sculpted lifts. As she is finally pulled offstage by Blanc, she turns back toward Smith, and the duality of the moment stretches our sensibilities to reach what she is feeling.

Feijoo matches in strength the piano crescendo that returns her to center/center. She digs her pointe shoes into the floor as she reaches skyward. She has a back like engine shafting, so strong that it should have come with a 50-year warranty. Her certainty mints the authenticity of the piece in its closing moments.

Congratulations once again to Mr. Possokhov and the artists whose synergistic talents contributed to this work. Take it on the road, share it with the world!

“Tu Tu,” by Stanton Welch, returned to the stage as this program’s closer. At its center are Guennadi Nedviguine and Lorena Feijoo. Whatever was broke and kept Mr. Nedviguine from dancing is now fixed, and he returns triumphant! Along with polished, present dancing, there is a warm, generous stage personality that probably comes easier to you when you’re no longer in pain!

Welch’s eclectic choreographic choices bring out the very best in Katita Waldo and her partner, Hansuke Yamamoto, as well as Julie Diana and Stephen Legate. Legate, who we don’t see much of anymore, shows us that he and Diana are consummate jazz dancers. The corps dancers resemble those oddly garish figurines that we see in amusement parks like Playland in Rye, New York, or at Mardi Gras, in New Orleans. Katita Waldo is both open and deliberate in the gorgeous legato she gives us. There’s a nostalgic quality to the partnering of Feijoo by Nedviguine. Given a choreographer and dancers who have had dancer parents, maybe there’s an element of "The Child Left-Out-Though-Fascinated" watching Mum and Dad’s two-two dance. Going to "that place" is aborted when Nedviguine chases Feijoo and suddenly and unaccountably stops on a dime.

The lighting introduces another mercurial element. Waldo’s solo draws the mix into a tunnel of pathos. We see the Degas-like sculpture of her line, una muchacha aplicada, who offers up “what the body knows” to the Dance muse. Her feet find depth in motion, the movement taking on a Graham-like intensity. Every sinew, wary-yet-determined, shows the way to retreat and go forward into an andante waltz. Yamamoto is a boy-man who embraces a range of male responses. He ends up spent and mellow, while Waldo is deeply pensive, revealing the core that Welch has unearthed in her. We are restored from this trip to tu tu intimacy by ritual bourées of the corps that spirit us back toward the outer shores of curtain calls and delirious applause.

Edited by Jeff

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