Critical Dance

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

San Francisco Ballet
Helgi Tomasson's "Quartette," Christopher Wheeldon's "Sea Pictures," George Balanchine's "Bugaku," and Jerome Robbin's "Glass Pieces"

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
August 15, 2001

By Joanne Brack

Well what a diverse and entertaining evening. As my first introduction to SFB I can’t think of a better way to have been baptized.

The first piece, Quartette was a pleasant introduction to the evening showing off the technical abilities of Katita Waldo, Lorena Feijoo, Kristin Long and Vanessa Zahorian. I was impressed by the musicality and also speed of these four dancers particularly during their solos. Well-coloured flowing costumes enhanced the clean lines of the dancers and the colour-matching of the lighting design on the cyclorama was very pleasing on the eye to me.

For me, the evening really got under way with Christopher Wheeldon’s Sea Pictures. An extremely evocative piece I was impressed by the momentum and fluidity of the partnering work with very imaginative and cleanly executed lifts. The company not only put across the multi-faceted movements of the sea extremely effectively but also presented a very clear narrative. The backstage technical departments I felt played a great part in enhancing the dancers' and choreographers achievements with this work – the beautiful still photographic projections evoking the sea, its beauty, its power and its ultimate devastation. I also thought the use of colour in this piece was very effective, the muted greys and sands of both costumes and projections intrinsically linking the performers and the backdrop and their inevitable culmination.

Joanna Berman is a lovely dancer, with wonderful technical ability, presence and emotion but with a lovely understated quality that worked very well for her role in this piece. Sea Pictures is a collaboration of song, dance and backstage elements working beautifully together and really I feel needs several viewings to completely appreciate how effectively are all working together.

After the interval we moved onto George Balanchine’s Bugaku. What a delight Lucia Lucarra is. What precision, what flexibility and what emotion. Lucarra has all of these in abundance and this role certainly highlighted all of these areas. Once on stage it was hard to look at anyone else, although the corps in their flowing white “trains” produced one of the most effective visual pictures of the evening.

The passion and emotion oozed from the stage during Laccarra and Legate’s pas de deux. What a role for me to see Lacarra in for the first time.

The final piece of the evening was Jerome Robbin’s Glass Pieces. Although I was very impressed with this work there was something that didn’t quite ignite for me to leave me with the same excitement that I felt for Bugaku and Sea Pictures, which is a pity as I am sure this piece had the potential to do this. I very much enjoyed the exuberance of the male ensemble in Rubric and this made a refreshing contrast to what had been up to now the ladies of the company’s evening. The pattern-forming and precision of lines, and of entrances and exits, was also very effective. And a mention should be made to lighting which I felt was first class all evening, particularly in this piece in which the contrast between a silhouette state to the bright starkness at the beginning and end of the piece was very effective.

This I feel was an excellent and varied programme, and a wonderful introduction to SFB’s repertoire.


By Stuart Sweeney

In Programme 1 it was the boys who made the biggest impression on me, but tonight it was the turn of the girls. Unfortunately it was a thin house – maybe 60% full – and the acoustic had an echo that I hadn't heard in the ROH before.

Quartette by Helgi Tomasson struck me as a charming, if slight, showcase for the four girls. Katita Waldo impressed with her control of changes of pace in Variation 1 and Loreno Feijoo brought great flair to Variation 2. Vanessa Zahorian danced the folk dance elements of Variation 4 with natural grace.

Christopher Wheeldon's Sea Pictures generated much emotion and the choreography held my attention. Julie Diana was dreamy as the loving second lead. Joanna Berman and Yuri Possokhov were a delight in the pas de deux. In her unflashy, but expressive style Berman was particularly impressive. The final section, after Possokhov is reported as drowned, seemed to lose its way. Despite Berman's efforts, Wheeldon's steps did not seem to generate much sense of grief and the work ended on a flat note.

I can see why Balanchine's Bugaku is a controversial work that could look like nothing at all. But we had Lucia Lacarra and I don't think I have seen another work by this strong ensemble company where one dancer has dominated the proceedings so completely. Lacarra was mesmerising in her precision and in the small, expressive movements of her hands, arms and head. The audience were very impressed and I don't think I will ever forget it.

Jerome Robbins' Glass Pieces is fascinating as the first dance work to minimalist music and the precursor to fine dances by Anna Teresa de Keersmaeker and others. The audience loved the dynamism of the final section and the slow central pas de deux with the wonderful Yuan Yuan Tan and the mighty Cyril Pierre. It never quite ignited for me, perhaps because the playing sounded a little mushy in this work which demands great clarity to bring out the dancey quality.

Overall another evening of fine, adventurous dance. Come on London, TV's not that good at the moment!


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Edited by Azlan Ezaddin.

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