San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 opens



The incredible lightness of ballet

San Francisco Ballet opened its Program 5 on Wednesday with two repertory pieces: Jerome Robbins’ lovely Dances at a Gathering and Yuri Possokhov’s Swimmer. Pieces from two very different and far points on the contemporary ballet spectrum.

Dances at a Gathering ascribes to the school of minimalist production – with no props, sets or even story line. Only a sky-blue background with wisps of clouds that slowly and unnoticeably move across the field of blue serves as the ballet’s setting. The stage lights are bright and stay bright, illuminating everything with the clarity of a summer’s day.

The costuming by Joe Eula includes simple knee-length dresses for the women, and trousers and shirts for the men. Only the color changes. Providing the means for identifying the characters: Green, Pink, Blue, Yellow, Brick. Succinct descriptions.

The choreography is likewise direct, even casual, creating the absolute Robbins’ look – a form of dance that makes no attempt at bravura even while demanding precise technique. And proving, as we so often hope dance will, that gesture, even the most minimal gesture, has emotional meaning.

This is apparent in the first sequence, when Brown (Joseph Walsh) walks on stage, moving away from the audience into the open space which is the blue vibrance of light on the upstage scrim. The dance that follows is contemplative, rather than showy. And the emotion is epitomized in his final gesture, when the dancer lifts his hand to his temple and makes a small outward movement as if he were evoking a memory.

Even though they are assigned colors as their identity, each dancer has his or her emotional persona and each has a story to tell. These stories follow the line of the music, which is a series of Chopin piano solos, played with élan by Roy Bogas.

Mathilde Froustey (Yellow) rockets through delightful duets with Vitor Luiz (Brick), Lorena Feijoo (Green) is an indifferent then playful wooer of shy guys, Yuan Yuan Tan (Pink) girlish with Davit Karapetyan (Purple), Sasha de Sola (Blue) shy, Vanessa Zahorian (Mauve) intent. And the guys are equally endowed with personalities and fates. Steven Morse (Blue) and Carlo Di Lanno (Green) hanging with the other guys, flirting with the girls. Everyone changes loves and likes. And the whole piece has an evanescent and youthful lightness. It is charged with love.

Possokhov’s Swimmer is laden with production. With brilliant media work by Kate Duhamel, the ballet tells a complete narrative – with beginning, middle and end – based on a story by John Cheevers, which tells of a man who decides to swim home through the swimming pools of the neighborhood. Each pool he dives into opens another world and perception. Time passes and by the time he reaches home, his house is empty.

The individual “worlds” are added by Possokhov, each indicating a memory of his earliest contact with American culture. There is Lolita, the desolate couple from Hopper’s painting Nighthawks, Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, the iconic Hollywood Pool Party.

Although each of those allow for a specific dance, the most moving, gripping moments are when the Swimmer, danced this evening by Taras Domitro, dives into the water, performing his own breathtaking ultramarine-lit solo, suspended upside down in the midst of seething light, his movements reminiscent of swimming, but still undeniably dance.

– Jaime Robles


Program 6 begins April 6 at the Opera House with Prism by Helgi Tomasson, set to Ludwig van Beethoven. A new work for SF Ballet, Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas. And Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush©, set to the spirited Sinfonietta La Jolla by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů. For more information and tickets, visit

Photo: Kimberly Braylock-Olivier and Sean Bennett with the corps de ballet in Possokhov’s Swimmer. Photo by Erik Tomasson.