The wondrously shifting Kaleidoscope of SF Ballet

San Francisco Ballet Program 2: Kaleidoscope closes with Justin Peck’s gorgeously athletic “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming”, one of three short ballets that opened the program’s run on Tuesday. Dressed in shimmery athletic wear – shorts, T-shirts, tights and sneakers – the company dancers formed in circles and shifting lines on the darkened stage with curtains removed revealing the starkly black backstage. A line of small bright squares of fixtures pour light forward toward the audience illuminating the sheen of the costumes.

The dancers walk on stage. And walking – quick, determined, focused – becomes the glue throughout the piece that adheres movement to movement. The space-travel sound of MP83 provides the music but more importantly the beat of the dance. Highly synthesized, but with an underlying ostinato of driving rhythm, the music seems to propel the action differently than that of traditional classical music with its sweeping lyricism and ever-changing acoustic rhythms.

Dores AndréŽ and Joseph Walsh in Justin Peck‘s “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” Photo by Erik Tomasson.

Equally processed is the song “Raconte-moi une histoire”, which is part of the ballet’s music. The song is the soundtrack of a young girl telling the story of a magical frog that lives far away, and if you touch it everything around you changes: red becomes blue, mother becomes father. Ultimately, you become a frog, and those who touch you become frogs until everyone becomes a frog – jumping and swimming together. Awesome.

It’s not hard to equate this story of magic and transformation to this shimmery onstage world of dance, where the corps seems a mob of childlike dancers in a cosmically altered world. In the midst of the dance play, Dores André rises like a tutelary spirit. She is partnered by Joseph Walsh, and the two of them are a match made in dance heaven. Both have the same vibrant athleticism and the same powerfully expressive upper body and arms. Seeing them dance together is breathtaking. Though André seemed more thoughtful than ebullient, her overriding emotion in the work’s premier last May during SF Ballet’s Unbound Festival of new choreography by the company by outside choreographers, her duet with Walsh was totally slinky. Elizabeth Powell and Luke Ingham danced a lyrical duet that was both sweet and melancholic. Each season brings a different tone to such expansive choreography and such wonderful dancers.

George Balanchine’s “Divertimento 15” opened the program. Set to Mozart, this 1956 ballet is quintessential neo-classical ballet, just a hop, pirouette and rond de jambe away from the figurations of the Imperial Russian Ballet. With the women dancers dressed in short tutus covered in blue ribbons and tiers of tulle and the men in tights and short tunics, the ballet was a celebration of the dainty, the delicate and the precise.

Sasha De Sola, Mathilde Frousty and Isabella DeVivo were the exquisite lead ballerinas with Koto Ishihara and Julia Row as soloists. Benjamin Freemantle, Angelo Greco and Lonnie Weeks were the supporting cavaliers, mixing and matching with the five ballerinas. Each had their own characteristic choreography during solos: Froustey flinging out developpés in second position, Julia Rowe achieving tricky patterns with her arms, DeVivo simply vivacious. De Sola combined fluttering footwork with a solidity of meticulous balance. This is really the kind of choreography De Sola excels at – demanding and precise, it requires technique that is flawless enough to appear casual. It is also Angelo Greco’s kind of choreography, and the young Italian dancer looked stunningly comfortable in his leaps and turns. The orchestra supported with Mozart’s courtly refinements.

The second piece on the program was a San Francisco ballet premier of Benjamin Millepied’s “Appasionata.” Three couples dance a series of duets and intertwining ensembles to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor. In the first half of the piece they are dressed in red, blue and violet, signature colors for the shades of passion they represent. In the second half of the piece they are in gray, black and white, the women’s long hair untied, flying loosely around face and body. Dores André and Ulrik Birkkjaer danced the long, sensuously conflicted duet hinging the two parts of the ballet. Benjamin Freemantle partnered Sasha De Sola and Jaime Garcia Castilla partnered Elizabeth Powell.

– Jaime Robles

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2: Kaleidoscope continues through February 23 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. For information and tickets, visit