San Francisco Ballet Programme C: Beaux / Classical Symphony / RAkU / Within the Golden Hour

Choreography by Mark Morris / Yuri Possokhov / Christopher Wheeldon
San Francisco Ballet
Sadler’s Wells

San Francisco Ballet in Morris's Beaux Credit: Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov's Classical Symphony Credit: Erik Tomasson
Yuan Yuan Tan in Possokhov's RAkU Credit: Erik Tomasson
Yuan Yuan Tan and Pascal Molat in Possokhov's RAkU Credit: Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Within The Golden Hour Credit: Erik Tomasson
Vito Mazzeo in Morris's Beaux Credit: Erik Tomasson

If Programmes A and B were the hors d’oeuvres, then Programme C is la grande bouffe, the blow out meal with a variety of dishes to suit all tastes—from Mark Morris’s recent joie de vivre Beaux to the elegant speed of Yuri Possokhov’s Classical Symphony; from the Bolshoi bravura of Possokhov’s Japanese narrative RAkU to Christopher Wheeldon’s dreamily soporific Within the Golden Hour.

Nine gorgeous beaux of all shapes and sizes, Morris boys in Isaac Mizrahi red pink, orange, yellow camouflage body leotards against a Mizrahi camouflage back print, with Michael Chybowski’s lighting changing the tone and mood, play, tease, and test their limits.

A palaestra scenario, a male meeting place, to show off their moves. Propeller arms remind me a little of Matthew Bourne’s Spitfire. It passes. Bohuslav Martinů’s Concerto for harpsicord and small orchestra gives the good-humoured competitive lightness a serious air and a profound texture.

Solos, trios, and in cohort, in intricate patterning and framing, partners change, groups form and re-form. Vito Mazzeo, Gennadi Nedvigin and Pascal Molat twist, entangle, unwind. An uplifting twenty-five minutes; a smile never left my face.

For Yuri Possokhov’s twenty-four-minute Classical Symphony (2010), which is pure dynamite, my mouth never closed. Two big bangs before the first interval. Unbelievable virtuoso dancing, especially from Maria Kochetkova and Hansuke Yamamoto, which is not to sniff at the other principals and soloists.

One can already hear Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, composed some twenty years later, in his neoclassical Symphony No. 1 in D major, Op. 25, which premiered in 1918 in Petrograd. And one sees elements of Elizabethan dress in Sandra Woodall’s costume design. A link has been made.

But Possokhov mixes the modern with the classical: showcase pyrotechnics of the entire glossary of ballet steps and technique given athletic Olympian short shrift by lithe undulating bodies, soft and fluid, proud pigeon-breasted, strong in flight. This is dancing with the safety net kicked away.

In a flurry of controlled dynamism, a whirlwind batterie of dance, grands jetés, cabrioles, tours en l’air, pirouettes, fouettés, they leap, spin, glide, melt, plunge in deep arabesques, sink in pliés and splits, with speed and grace that challenge the eye. Dandelions, sycamore seeds, blown by the wind they fight back a storm.

Yuri Possokhov’s second offering shows his Bolshoi Ballet training and, surely, the influence of his mentor Yuri Grigorovich. RAkU (2011) is a 37-minute narrative piece apparently telling the true story of the burning of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion. A historical Japanese tale of love, separation, jealousy, and grief, classical ballet is mixed with Noh and butoh theatre to startling visual effect.

Mark Zappone’s beautiful costumes and Alexander V. Nichols’s scenic design—black and white video projection of ancient Japanese mountain temples, paper and wood columns and boxes—reveal stunning stage pictures.

Yuan Yuan Tan white-faced in a sculptural white kimono, Damian Smith in top knot and martial arts skirt trousers, four samurai warriors, and Pascal Molat a shaven-headed Buddhist priest play their fateful roles.

Christopher Dennis’s lighting picks out the essential—the glistening grains of the deceased’s ashes as they pour from his widow’s hands on to her upturned face and hair. Composer Shinji Eshima, double-bassist in the orchestra, elucidates and stirs the emotions.

Battle, seduction, revenge, and maybe jigai… a sword on the stage must be used... Snow gently falls as, fingers raking the floor, Yuan Yuan Tan collapses on the sword. An exhausting theatrical piece of overwrought drama with all the clichés of the genre.

Soothing, pacifying Within the Golden Hour: after the emotional RAkU, Christopher Wheeldon closes with thirty-six minutes of sleep-inducing bits and pieces from 2008.

The music gives the game away. Ezio Bosso’s “The sky seen from the moon”, “Le Notti...,” “Of the Thunders,” “Dance of the tree,” “Worried” and “African skies”, and Antonio Vivaldi’s Andante from Violin Concerto in B-flat major, RV 583, are a pleasant infectious scattering of sketches to dance to.

And the dance machine that is SF Ballet, again, pulls all the stops out. Sarah Van Patten, Maria Kochetkova, Vanessa Zahorian, partners, and supporting cast, give no less than their all, as they have all evening. Popping corks, playful, joyful, there is no stopping them. Dance as an unrepressed sigh, and dance as a glossy floorshow…

The London ballet world turned out en masse for the 2 hours 40 minutes glamorous glittering finale of four ballets, the last of an amazing total of ten, most of them UK premieres.

A feather in Sadler’s Wells’ cap. Royal Opera House and Coliseum take note. Both have settings fit for these San Franciscan jewels and their euphoric generous dancing.

Reviewer: Vera Liber