San Francisco Ballet’s Program 3: Distinctly SF Ballet presented three pieces by choreographers involved directly with the company: Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, Val Caniparoli, who joined the company in 1973 and continues as principal character dancer and choreographer, and Myles Thatcher, who joined the company in 2010 as a dancer. That each of these choreographers is a product of his times is clear in the pieces chosen for the program.
Tomasson’s On a Theme of Paganini opened the evening. Set to Rachmaninoff’s emotional rhapsody of 24 variations for piano and orchestra, the ballet uses this piece, which harkens back to late Romanticism, in all its lushness as a counter to the formalism of Tomasson’s neoclassical style. The ballet orchestra led by Martin West, with Roy Bogas at the piano, showed itself equal to the wonderful dancers and the choreography’s mix of sensuality and precision. The work seems to reference Balanchine’s Serenade when it opens with the entire corps standing onstage, the soloists in front. The soloists’ opening gestures are simple, right arm lifted, left arm lifted, flick of the wrist. The February 20 performance featured Ana Sophia Scheller with Angelo Greco and Esteban Hernandez in the spicier trios and duets, and Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in the central duet. Helimets danced exceptionally well, his movements so smooth they bordered on gentleness, and Yuan Yuan seemed to melt into every move. The duet was a dream of ballet’s romantic essence.
Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House was a dance reduction of five plays by Ibsen, and according to the program notes was meant to resonate with the playwright’s challenge to Victorian mores and the restrictive social roles assigned to women. The ballet began with five solos danced by the women representing the five female protagonists in the plays. Five men later accompanied them; their long gray frock coats offering a somber sameness to contrast with the beautiful costumes of the women, which combined black with subtly colored satin. The elegant set and costuming were by Sandra Woodall. Roy Bogas again featured on the piano with a string quartet from the orchestra to perform Dvoràk’s Piano Quintet in A Major. Though each dancer and couple had a set of gestures that represented their personality and their social dilemma, it was difficult to separate them one from the other. Even so, the dancing was exquisite. The five couples included Jahna Frantziskonis and Carlo Di Lanno, Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets, Jennifer Stahl and Myles Thatcher, Kimberly Marie Olivier and Luke Ingham, Ellen Rose Hummerl and Sean Orza.
Myles Thatcher’s very contemporary Ghost in the Machine closed out the night with vivid dancing set to music by Michael Nyman, a British minimalist composer known for his music to such edgy films as The Draughtsman’s Contract and Wonderland. Alexander Nichols did the sets, which consisted of a V-shape of parallel cables sweeping up to the flies where they met in a band of light. Lights projected onto the cables turned them red and various vibrant colors. The piece started out with a confrontation between two dancers, Julia Rowe and Solomon Golding. There was a constant shifting in and out of the group of ten dancers, and the dancing was fast, demanding, athletic. As the piece ended the dancers cohered. Standing in a line, one dancer hugged the dancer next before spinning off, running into the wings and leaving the second dancer to hug the third, on down the line. Undeniably of the moment, Thatcher showed in this third work for the company that he is very much the young choreographer on the move.