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San Francisco Ballet

68th Anniversary Gala--Hans van Manen's "Black Cake," Yuri Possokhov's "Magrittomania," Motoko Hirayama's "Revelation," Balanchine's "Stars and Stripes" & "Symphony in C," Helgi Tomasson's "Sleeping Beauty Grand Pas de Deux" and Gerard Bohbot's "Liebestod"

War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, CA
January 25, 2001

By Azlan Ezaddin

Waltzing into the black tie affair at the War Memorial House in my tuxedo and blue tie, I thought perhaps I might be entertained more by the lacey frills and the glittering jewelry of the patrons of the San Francisco Ballet than by the gala performance itself, which on paper didn't seem highly promising. In our bid to remain incognito however, my date -- in her purple blue satin dress in matching contrast to my steel blue dressings -- led me onward through the foyer and up the stairs to our safe haven in the balcony. Alas, this was not the night that my people watching skills would be put to good use.

It was to my immense satisfaction then that the show itself proved far more entertaining that I had envisioned. "Black Cake," by NDT choreographer Hans Van Manen who was in attendance for the West Coast premiere of his witty work with music by Stravinsky, Massenet, Mascagni, Janacek and Tchaikovsky, contrasted the talents of three very different principal dancers at San Francisco Ballet. The three pas de deux movements highlighted the athleticism and character acting of Cuban Lorena Feijoo, the comedic timing of Canadian Julia Adam and the cool classiness of French-trained Lucia Lacarra. It was in the first, ensemble, movement however, dancing in cocktail dresses and high heels side by side, that the differences in style were most evident. The high heels of course prevented the women from performing too many artistic feats, leaving the men, led ably by Roman Rykine, Yuri Possokhov and Stephen Legate, to execute practically all the turns and leaps. I'm not sure if I've ever seen a piece where the men spun more than the women. The finale, consisting mainly of the dancers teetering in drunken stupor with champagne glasses in hand, perhaps reflected the festive nature of the gala but could be misconstrued by some as condoning of alcoholism. To me, it was an anti-climactic ending and a joke that ran too long.

After the intermission in which no doubt much of the audience was inspired to sample the free champagne, we were offered vignettes from several different ballets, in typical gala fashion. And as with the typical gala that offers a smorgasbord of dance numbers, the result was mixed, which much of my limited criticism going to the programming and the casting. While Possokhov was brilliant in drawing from his Russian training to express the angst of Motoko Hirayama's solo work, "Revelation," and Lacarra and Cyril Pierre were exquisite in Gerard Bohbot's "Liebestod," having these two dark works one after another produced an atmosphere of angst that was almost unbearable, especially for those of us who did not partake of the champagne. As for casting, I would have wished that Julie Diana performed in a more exciting work than the obligatory classical tutu, the pas de deux from Helgi Tomasson's "Sleeping Beauty," opposite Pierre-Francois Vilanoba. This otherwise excellent SAB graduate, recently promoted to principal dancer, seemed a tad nervous and off the mark, with musicality taking a second seat to technique. The other casting wish list would be to have seen Kristin Long and Gonzalo Garcia switch parts with Vanessa Zahorian and Parrish Maynard in the 4th movement of Balanchine's "Symphony in C." Even though Zahorian and Maynard were beautiful and elegant, virtuosic principal dancer Long and soloist Garcia would have been more thrilling to watch as the first instead of the fourth couple.

Speaking of virtuosic, Tina LeBlanc and Christopher Stowell thrilled the audience with the right flair and exuberance required of the pas de deux from "Stars and Stripes," the other Balanchine work of the evening. The skill and talent of these two veteran dancers were brought to bear in a very satisfying performance. On the other end of the experience scale, Joan Boada and Guennadi Nedviguine, strutted their stuff in an excerpt from Possokhov's "Magrittomania." This delightful work, an homage to surrealist artist Peter Magritte and danced to an orchestration by Yuri Krasavin of music by Beethoven, was one of the hits from last season's young choreographers Discovery series.

At the end of a mostly entertaining evening, while most of the gala patrons made their way to the post-performance party, undoubtedly to sample more champagne, my date and I avoided the throng by sneaking down a not-so-well known stairwell whereupon we were discovered by members affiliated with the ballet company who were more than happy to share with us their own observations of the evening's performances. Withholding the names of the individuals to protect their identities, I can safely divulge that the consensus seemed to match my own general opinion of the evening's show. Somehow, that still always surprises me.


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Edited by Marie.

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