San Francisco Ballet

'Allegro Brillante,' 'Concerto Grosso,' 'Polyphonia,' 'Elite Syncopations'

by Jeff Kuo

October 10, 2003 -- Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles

Set to Tschaikovsky's third and unfinished piano concerto, “Allegro” is shorter and smaller than its majestic cousin, “Tschaikovsky Concerto No. 2.” “Allegro's” ambitions seem smaller. Tiaras, glitter, and ballerina sheen prefigure in both, but only “Concerto No. 2” really retains the grandeur of the Russian imperial heritage. If “Concerto No. 2” concentrates the Imperial Russian balletic art, then “Allegro” distills it – making it curiously bland.

But, a distilled art is still a worthy one. Think of those ice cold flavored vodkas which I hear sometimes start a Russian feast. As the principal couple, Lorena Feijoo and Zachary Hench polish “Allegro's” considerable technical glories. Feijoo is blazing hot – the heat of vodka as it rumbles down the throat. Hench is believable as the Siegried-Desiree-Nutcracker Cavalier the male danseur part invokes. But, the real pleasure is in the supporting cast of soloists and corps. The purity of their line and technique is the best way to show off the company. They are Elana Altman, Emily Halpin, Sara Van Patten, Courtney Wright, David Arce, Brett Bauer, Chidozie Nzerem, and Kirill Zaretskiy.

“Concerto Grosso”

Maestro Tomasson's choreography has received mixed reviews over the years. I myself like the more chamber sized pieces. Elizabeth Loscavio in “Tuning Game” and “Yuan Yuan Tan” in “Nana's Lied” are precious memories while “Haffner Symphony” and “Criss Cross” less so. It's like if you wanted to see Tomasson's understanding of the deep structure of the balletic theater, you only had his restagings of the Big Ballets – “Swan Lake,” “Giselle,” “Romeo and Juliet.” Now, “Concerto Grosso” changes all that.

The theater of “Concerto Grosso” is simple – a tastefully restrained backdrop and five male dancers in monochrome tights: Pascal Molat, Garrett Anderson, Rory Hohenstein, Jaime Garcia Castilla, and Hansuke Yamamoto. They leap. They turn. They gambol and wabe: the pleasures of male allegro. Pure and unadulterated. Presented as solos and an occasional duo, the vocabulary looks like quotations straight from the classroom floor. But no class, I'm willing to bet, ever came close to outshining “Concerto Grosso.”

Perhaps I've just been insensitive to the fortunes of male dancing, always somewhat lost amid the clamor for ballerina fetishism, but maybe I'm not alone. I think somewhere Balanchine said, “Put 16 girls on stage and you have the world … put 16 boys on stage and you have nothing…”

One of the pleasures of a work like “Concerto Grosso” is, I think, Tomasson proving Balanchine wrong. Tomasson has risen to the challenge laid out by Petipa and Cecchetti in the “Bluebird” pas de deux on the one hand, and by Petipa, Chabukiani, and Nureyev in the “Corsaire” pas de deux on the other – how to showcase masculine virtuosity without the bestiary of the nursery or the bestiality  of the menagerie.

The answer is simplicity itself: the baroque concerto by Francesco Geminiani “after Corelli” provides the formal restraint to prevent the ballet from indulging in excesses of mere manly virtuosity. Not that there's anything wrong with indulging in a little San Francisco Ballet eye candy. David Finn's lighting is careful to sculpt pecs, abs, gluts, and etc underneath Sandra Woodall's costumes of matching tights and muscle shirts.


After the intermission, Christopher Wheeldon's “Polyphonia” begins unpromisingly with four pairs of dancers dancing with their shadows. Is it possible for anybody to dance with their shadows after Astaire's tribute to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson? However, soon Wheeldon's choreography follows the delicate traces of the score, a compilation of works for solo piano by Gyorgy Ligeti.

Ligeti is a good choice for a choreographer who has said, as Wheeldon has, that he needs to work with new music. Cage, Cunningham, even Gorecki would seem almost self-indulgent. I wish I had seen “Polyphonia” before “Continuum.” Its overall effect is refined and sophisticated in a quiet, pleasing way without the occasional discordant movements in “Continuum.” My favorite passage is a delicate pas de deux for Julie Diana and Ruben Martin to a Satie-like composition (is it the “Hopp ide tisztan, from Three Wedding Dances”?).

The other couples are: Katita Waldo and Yuri Possokhov; Lorena Feijoo and Gonzalo Garcia; and Kristin Long and Guennadi Nedviguine

“Elite Syncopations”

About the ragtime America so amusingly evoked by Kenneth MacMillan in this ballet, the question must arise: is this what the British thought of America in 1974 (the year “Elite Syncopations” premiered in London)? Why not? Don't Americans think of the British world primarily in terms of Jane Austen, Merchant & Ivory, and Richard Attenborough? “The Bridge on the River Kwai,” “Emma,” and “The English Patient”? If that's the case, I suppose "Elite" only serves us right.

The world of “Elite Syncopations” conjures a world of back alley dance halls, glamorous molls, cigarette smoking hoodlums, dance marathons, mismatched lovers, and, of course ... the disco globe. But this is no ordinary ragtime New Orleans. “Elite Syncopations” is Storyville by Toontown. It would take a Tom Wolfe to describe the fantastic costumes by Ian Spurling which practically make the show: it's the kandy kolored, tangerine-flake streamlined ballet.

I love the surprise when the curtain rises to reveal the stage sans wings and backdrop. With a little oo-la-la flair, pairs of girls dance cheek to cheek. If it isn't exactly a scene from the "Girls Gone Wild" video, it isn't exactly the world of Gatsby, O. Henry, or Taft either. The men arrive and they get down to the earnest business of honky-tonkin' ragtime style. Standouts are Stephen Legate, Rory Hohenstein, Pascal Molat, and James Sofranko in a comical men's pas de quatre (“Hot-House Rag”) that seems part George M. Cohan and part Gene Kelly. Katita Waldo is a charmer in “Calliope Rag.”

Julie Diana, looking particularly scrumptious in her white unitard with cherry stripes and Ruby Keeler bowler hat, twirls a cane and plays homage to the music hall tradition in “Stop Time Rag.” But, the audience favorite is the comically mismatched tall girl and short guy pas de deux “The Alaska Rag” for Muriel Maffre and James Sofranko. The mis-choreography practically begs for analytical comment – does Bergson have a theory to go with “The Alaska Rag”?

Final note: In contrast to the somewhat varied fortunes of the orchestra under the valiant Andrew Mogrelia, the band for “Elite Syncopations” supported the dancing ably under Michael McGraw in a flower cap, playing both a regular and a special rinky-tink piano.

Edited by Holly Messitt

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