San Francisco Ballet

Muriel Maffre and Yuri Possokhov in Wheeldon's Quaternary.
Photo by Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet
Hôtels de Rohan-Soubise, Paris, France
July 5, 2005
Reviewed by Allan Ulrich


A new festival rightly demands new works. What the French succinctly call créations provided the opening-night fare for San Francisco Ballet’s 13-performance residency at Les Étés de la danse de Paris (Paris Dance Summers), staged outdoors in the courtyard of the 18th-century building that serves as the country’s National Archives. In commissioning works from Paul Taylor, Lar Lubovitch, and Christopher Wheeldon, SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson sought to keep the accent American and the vocabulary moderately classical.

Although Taylor and Lubovitch are familiar names in France, Wheeldon’s compelling Quaternary marked the choreographer’s Paris debut and his fourth San Francisco original. A four-seasons arrangement to scores (all recorded here) by John Cage, Bach, Arvo Pärt, and Steven Mackey, the 44-minute opus tempers Wheeldon’s shape-changing neoclassic lexicon with a sculptured, summery pas de deux for Muriel Maffre and Yuri Possokhov that heated up a crowd cowering under a cool, drizzly Paris sky. The opening winter section for six couples, led by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, abounds in the centered torsos and dramatically articulated limbs in which Wheeldon revels. Spring introduces slow développés and contemplative canons serenely dispatched by Lorena Feijoo, Joan Boada, Tina LeBlanc, and Nicolas Blanc. The volatile autumn duet for Katita Waldo and Pierre-François Vilanoba (intensified by pungent electric guitar music) proves less confident in tone. The reassembling of the entire cast in a circular pattern bestows an unstable unity. Jennifer Tipton’s lighting and Jean-Marc Puissant’s costumes were tops.

Spring Rounds, Taylor’s first work for this company, found only moderate inspiration in the 17th-century pastiche of Richard Strauss’ Divertimento for Small Orchestra after Couperin. Soloists Kristin Long and Pascal Molat led a mixed corps of 12 in an engaging series of fleeting, oddly sexless courtships and liquid patterns, marked by scooping arms and bodies corkscrewing in the air. Ebullience reigned, not least in Santo Loquasto’s limeade-hued costumes. Ex-Taylor dancer Patrick Corbin set the piece on SFB.

Lubovitch’s Elemental Brubeck used three of the great jazz pianist’s recordings for a nostalgia wallow in American Bandstand moves. Spirited performances by the nine dancers could not conceal a threadbare plan, additionally handicapped by Ann Hould Ward’s costumes, as unflattering as gym sweats. A long life for Elemental Brubeck is not predicted.

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