Multiple Pas de Deux Add Up to a Long Evening

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The New York Sun

Despite showcasing many talented dancers, the San Francisco Ballet failed to put its best foot forward at its gala opening Tuesday night at the New York State Theater.

The program was long and seemed longer, in part because there was only one intermission. But the real problem was not the actual length; it was the choice of material. Rather than include tried-and-true warhorses, the company instead relied on work by international brand names of the last two decades and by the company’s resident choreographers, including San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director, Helgi Tomasson. And although he was a star of New York City Ballet for many years and now commands his company’s extensive Balanchine repertory, Mr. Tomasson chose to include only one Balanchine ballet. The procession of pas de deux after pas de deux made the evening seem as if it were an old-style Russian highlights program.

Live music supplied by the New York City Opera’s orchestra, conducted by Martin West, however, added definite spark to the performances. It was a relief to hear an orchestra perform the Schubert excerpt that accompanies William Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude,” which opened the gala. I cannot imagine why Mr. Forsythe insists that the Kirov perform this ballet to taped accompaniment. Live music makes “Vertiginous” sound more like a ballet, and somehow makes it look more like one as well. The dancers — Gonzalo Garcia, Guennadi Nedviguine, Kristin Long, Katita Waldo, and Vanessa Zahorian — were just as fast and furious as Mr. Forysthe might have hoped, and never appeared harried or bombastic. Later in the program, Mr. Garcia tore into an inconsequential solo from Lar Lubovitch’s “Elemental Brubeck.”


When I last saw the company here in 2002, the bar for the women was set stringently high by the inclusion of the Grand Pas from Petipa’s “Paquita.” The results were mixed, but one couldn’t help but admire the dancers’ willingness to take on the challenge of these supremely difficult variations. This time, the women were not really given a comparable variety of challenges; most of what they performed on Tuesday night was supported adagio.

There was an excerpt from David Bintley’s “The Dance House,” nicely danced by Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, Tiit Helimets, and Rory Hohenstein. Mr. Helimets later reappeared to partner Yuan Yuan Tan in the White Swan adagio from “Swan Lake,” in which Tan marred her Odette with a jarring habit of jabbing accentuation. In the closing moments, her petit battements seemed like they could shatter glass. She was far better when she reappeared later with Damian Smith in a duet from Mr. Tomasson’s “The Fifth Season,” which the company premiered earlier this year.

Mr. Tomasson has kept his troupe unpredictable and given it unique reclame by hiring distinctive dancers from all over the globe — Europe, Russia, Cuba — who provide infusions of style and temperament. Trained in France, Muriel Maffre joined the company in 1990, and never fails to make a memorable impression. Glamorous as always, she appeared in the pas de deux from “Reflections,” choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, a principal dancer, recently named the company’s newest resident choreographer. Damian Smith was a fitting consort for Ms. Maffre. Mr. Possokhov himse lf also performed an excerpt from James Kudelka’s “Terra Firma” with Ms. Long.


Cuban Lorena Feijoo, who joined the company in 1999, danced the Act 3 pas de deux from “Don Quixote.” It is obvious that Ms. Feijoo can go over the top, but also apparent Tuesday evening was her decision to refrain from doing so, even in this most proneto-garishness display piece. She didn’t hold her balances excessively, and she was sexy without being a steel-belted coquette. Restraint enabled her to suggest resources that remained untapped. Ms. Feijoo’s partner was Joan Boada, who moved just a bit too choppily, and is not quite tall enough to accompany her.

Mr. Boada looked better partnering Tina LeBlanc in the latest addition to the company’s Balanchine repertory, 1950’s “Harlequinade Pas de Deux.”Ms. Le Blanc demonstrated that a short dancer without overly long limbs could, without resorting to overreach, project the length and amplitude that is traditionally the goal of ballet movement. By her attention to detail, by not being too annoyingly soubrettish, by making sure that her movement wasn’t pinched even at its most pyrotechnical, she provided a high standard of artistry. Later, she returned to open the second half of the program in Mr. Tomasson’s “Chaconne for Piano and Two Dancers,”dancing opposite David Karapetyan.

The evening also featured two dancers in major role debuts. Molly Smolen, a new member of the company, danced the “Chopiniana” pas de deux. New York audiences may remember her from American Ballet Theatre a decade ago, and from her appearance here with the Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2004. Partnered by Ruben Martin, Ms. Smolen danced “Chopiniana” commendably, but there is no doubt in my mind that she can perform the piece far less primly and far more interestingly than she did.


Joseph Phillips plunged head first into his debut in the “Swan Lake” pas de trois, and he proved both intrepid and highly skilled. Still, at times he seemed flustered, though understandably so: The ballet’s original choreography has been tweaked by Mr. Tomasson and is sometimes torturously and pointlessly difficult. His colleagues Frances Chung and Rachel Viselli, however, were impressively virtuosic.

Mr. Tomasson’s choreography appeared to better advantage in his “Concerto Grosso,” a stag piece that didn’t offer the alpha and omega of male technique but nevertheless covered much ground. Pascal Molat was the centerpiece, and equally prominent was a male quartet: Garrett Anderson, Jaime Garcia Castilla, Rory Hohenstein, and Hansuke Yamamoto. Each looked excellent.

“No Other,” a duet byVal Caniparoli to Richard Rodgers featured Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba dancing agreeably, but the work seemed more like a marketing move than anything else. Yes, the company can exploit the musical comedy vein when it so desires.

The company made an odd choice in closing with an excerpt from Jerome Robbins’s “Glass Pieces,” since New York audiences have more than enough chance to see this work at NYCB. It’s not a bad ballet, though it’s certainly not deathless Robbins. But, the piece offered the company’s corps de ballet its only chance to shine and its dancers brought the gala evening to a dynamic conclusion.

San Francisco Ballet performs at the New York State Theater (Lincoln Center, 212-721-6500) through July 30.

The New York Sun

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