Monday, March 23, 2009

Mark Morris Night at the San Francisco Ballet



On Wednesday, March 18th at the Opera House, the San Francisco Ballet continued its season with three ballets that were choreographed for the company by the legendary Mark Morris.



Morris has created seven different pieces for the San Francisco Ballet over the last 15 years and they are easily some of the best works in his huge repertoire. The first ballet of the evening, "A Garden," has a pastoral hippie commune feel that's constantly fresh and beautiful. You never know quite what steps are going to come next but they always feel right.



The music is by the often forbidding Richard Strauss, composing Stravinskian neo-classical orchestral arrangements of Couperin harpsichord pieces. It's some of the sweetest, gentlest music Strauss ever wrote, and the dance expresses it perfectly.



The second ballet was premiered last year in The New Works Festival with a new score from John Adams entitled "Son of Chamber Symphony." According to the composer, Adams' original "Chamber Symphony" from the 1990s is a mixture of Schoenberg's work by the same name and Looney Tunes cartoon soundtracks. It's beyond brilliant, with time signatures that are virtuosic in the extreme but which can be grasped because the texture of the musical ensemble is small enough to hear every instrument.



The sequel is similarly virtuosic, and I have no idea how the dancers are able to count the off-off-off-on-beats that are shooting in every direction, but they do. A special shout-out to dancer Pascal Molat is in order, but the entire ensemble was amazing. They dance it noticeably better than at its world premiere last year and by the time it's in the bones of the company, it will stand among the handful of masterpieces that have been created for the San Francisco Ballet.



The final ballet was something of a dessert. It shared much of the same vocabulary as the previous two dances, but the music was by Leroy Anderson, king of the Boston Pops who wrote "Sleigh Ride" and "The Typewriter Song" among other light classical standards. It was very strange hearing this very silly music after Strauss/Couperin and Adams, but somehow it also worked well.



There were a few moments where Morris nodded at the silliness with his choreography but mostly he played it straight with a huge ensemble of 25 dancers dancing anti-Rockettes routines. Morris isn't interested in the hierarchical structure of a traditional ballet company which has "Principals," "Soloists," and the "Corps de Ballet" in that order. He mixes all three and gives them equal dancing opportunities, and the results are often revelatory. In both "The Garden" and "Sandpaper Ballet," the dancers who really stood out were Diego Cruz, Martyn Garside, Benjamin Stewart, and Davit Karapetyan.



San Francisco spokespersons and politicians often blather on about how this, that and the other is "world-class," which only reinforces what a provincial burg San Francisco really is. There are a few things, however, that really are "world-class," and these Mark Morris ballets being danced by the ballet company they were created for are definitely in that category. You've got one more chance to check it out, this evening, Tuesday the 24th.

6 comments:

AphotoAday said...

Love that top shot...
Cute kids...

jolene said...

Wasn't it such a delightful program? I'm glad that they did justice to Mark Morris, especially since he was sitting in the audience. I was a bit unsure b/c I'd never heard of A Garden before, but it turned out to be my favorite ballet of the night.

Are you going to see (or did you see) Program 4? It was a surprisingly ravishing program. I recommend you go about 20 minutes late though, knowing your love for Tomasson's choreography...

sfmike said...

Dear Jolene: No, I'm not going to be making it to #4. The standing room price has gone up to $20, which is ridiculous. When the price was $10 and cheaper, I used to go over for the one ballet out of the three I'd be interested in, and leave quite happy. I'm not a big fan of "The Concert" and only wanted to see the Tudor piece. Oh well, they repeat everything at the ballet and maybe I'll check it out next year.

How was Mark Morris looking, by the way? There's a show of photos of him over the last 25 years at the Performing Arts Museum in the Veterans Building next door, and he goes from pretty boy to decadent looking mess. I'll be putting some of them up in my next post.

jolene said...

You're right, I paid $20 for standing room for Swan Lake. I forgot about that. Standing room looked fairly empty on Saturday night. That's too bad, when did the change occur? I thought I paid $10 for standing room for the Nutcracker, but I could be wrong.

This was the first time I'd seen Mark Morris in person, and it took me a while to recognize him. He looked, er, more substantial in person than I thought he looked on TV. He did the funniest bow - he was really far upstage and essentially did a drive-by, walking across the stage flashing the peace sign, and without stopping, walked off stage. I almost missed his bow too, he was so far upstage. I am so in awe of him, and you're right about him being truly world class. I also think it's a mutual thing, the SFB dancers are able to dance his work with such transparency and simplicity of feeling with no adornment or ego.

namastenancy said...

If the Chron finally goes under, you could take over as the dance and music critic. What a lovely, well written and astute post!
Bravo! I'm not a big fan of ballet these days and I dislike dissonant music but you made me want to see this.

momo said...

Not living in SF any more, I get vicarious pleasure out of reading your post. I yearn to see any Mark Morris piece in person some day.