San Francisco Ballet Programme A: Divertimento No. 15 / Symphonic Dances / Number Nine

Choreography by George Balanchine / Edwaard Liang / Christopher Wheeldon
San Francisco Ballet
Sadler’s Wells

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's Divertimento No.15. Credit: © Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in Liang's Symphonic Dances. Credit: © Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Number Nine. Credit: © Erik Tomasson

‘Just a dance’ is how Christopher Wheeldon describes Number Nine his 2011 creation, part of San Francisco Ballet’s first programme (of three), which is all ‘just dance’. No narratives, just a response to music...

San Francisco Ballet, America’s oldest professional ballet company, is here after a gap of eight years. And press night was buzzing with anticipation. American fans and followers, the London ballet world, and Edward Watson of the Royal Ballet were in the audience to scrutinize Tomasson’s impeccably classically trained dancers.

And to sample just the tip of SF Ballet’s vast repertoire: under the twenty-seven-year artistic directorship of Helgi Tomasson this has grown exponentially, he himself choreographing some forty ballets. Programme A has to set the standard and whet the appetite.

Opening with Balanchine’s 1956 pretty Mozart chamber piece Divertimento No. 15 (B flat major, K287), all geometric patterns and mathematical precision, powering through Edwaard Liang’s elemental Symphonic Dances, the evening closes with Wheeldon’s fizzing sherbet short number.

George Balanchine, the master and style setter of the contemporary constellation, his lyrical Russian Imperial Ballet spliced with American speedy pizzazz style always put dancers to the test. Pass it and you dazzle.

A filigree corps of eight in pale blue tutus frames five fabulous female dancers’ and their three handsome chevaliers’ complex trio, duet and solo dance arrangements. Personalities and style shine through the arduous abstraction: Frances Chung and Vanessa Zahorian make their mark.

Edwaard Liang, a former soloist with the New York City Ballet, wants us to find ourselves through his 2012 composition, to connect in any way, be it spiritual, emotional, or just lose ourselves in the ‘lush’ music of Rachmaninov’s (Opus 45) Symphonic Dances.

Flaming red orange costumes against a red-streaked sky, winged Nike swirl around three golden couples, Olympian gods and goddesses, perhaps. Yuan Yuan Tan, Sofiane Sylve, Maria Kochetkova, tall Vito Mazzeo, blond Tiit Helimets, and Vitor Luiz are forces of nature, comets and meteors, dramatic, expressive, earth, wind, water and fire.

Remarkable lifts, grand leaps, spinning turns, the men athletic, the women soft-backed and aeolian, build to a Stravinskian ritual crescendo, a triumphant fanfare, firebirds all.

If only the evening had ended there… But Wheeldon’s Number Nine brings us down to earth off cloud nine. In sportive yellow and blue vest and shorts for the men and gym skirts for the women eight couples fizz and jump in Leni Riefenstahl gymnastic formations. Four colour-coded couples—in red, green, blue and purple—lead them through their frantic physical culture paces.

A chaotic stage picture, acid colours, changes of pace—is that a minuet—and a stab at humour—stopping briefly to conduct their own orchestra (conductor Martin West): a hyperactive sixteen minutes to Matthew Torke’s multi-layered Ash drives all thought away with its onslaught of the senses.

Two more Wheeldon (he has one in each of the three programmes), an Ashley Page, a Mark Morris, two from Yuri Possokhov, SF Ballet’s choreographer-in-residence, and one from the artistic director himself still to come: all fairly recent creations. A cornucopia of riches, and a wealth of dancing.

Reviewer: Vera Liber