Thursday, January 25, 2007

San Francisco Ballet's Opening Night Gala

The San Francisco Ballet opened its 2007 season with an Opening Night Gala at the Opera House on Wednesday evening.

For the wealthier patrons, there were a series of cocktail receptions, dinners, and a post-performance party held in City Hall and the Veterans Building next door.

For the not-so-wealthy patrons, you could buy a Standing Room ticket for $20 and not only enjoy the show, but you could help yourself to decent free champagne during the 7-8 PM Champagne Promenade in the Opera House lobby.

The standing room tickets were supposed to cost $25 for the Gala, but the San Francisco Examiner missprinted the price as $20, and the company honored the lower price which was sweet of them.

The company has also installed a two-tier pricing system this year where subscribers pay substantially less than single ticket buyers ($10 vs. $18 in the balcony, for instance) but this has had the unintended effect of making standing room tickets for the season $18, which seems like a drastic jump from last year's $10.

I pointed this out to a few people who worked for the company, and they were surprised at the news of the standing room price, so maybe this will be amended before the season actually begins next week.

There are plenty of serious balletomanes like Grove Wiley, above, who live on limited means and this price hike would just cut into part of the company's most dedicated audience.

But enough about money, this evening is all about looking at rich people and their costumes.

Upstaging everybody before the show began were a dozen impossibly good-looking young men who had been hired to dress in vintage red Cartier jeweler outfits.

They stood at each entrance to the auditorium looking immensely decorative.

Another one of the joys of the Gala is being surrounded by young San Francisco Ballet students who are wildly enthusiastic, excited...

...and often bitchily funny...

...especially when pointing out fashion disasters such as the lady above.

The Gala Program is usually a series of silly bonbons to keep the party crowd happy, but this year's version was better than usual.

Act I started with "Aunis," a 1979 French folk-dance piece by Jacques Garnier for three men set to a recorded accordion score. It was completely charming, and so were the dancers: Nicolas Blanc, Pascal Molat, and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba.

Then it was on to a Pas de Deux from "The Sleeping Beauty" which has one of my favorite and most frequent credits in classical ballet, "after Petipa," referring to the original old Russian choreographer. This was followed by a literal one-man show where a shirtless Davit Karapetyan choreographed, lit, costume designed and danced himself into outrageously convoluted positions to some recorded music from "Matrix Revolutions." It was short and sensational.

The following dance was a Pas De Deux from a Helgi Tomasson piece, which is always problematic because he's a very, very boring choreographer, and he's also the director of the company. This was followed by a 1976 Frederick Ashton homage to Isadora Duncan set to five Brahms Piano Waltzes, danced beautifully by Molly Smolen. Instead of being borderline ridiculous like Vanessa Redgrave dancing in the 1960s movie "Isadora," it was quite touching and beautiful. The final piece was another Helgi Tomasson number that unfortunately made the music of Benjamin Britten dull, which is unforgivable.

After intermission, there was another Pas de Deux "after Petipa" from "Giselle," followed by an odd, arty thing called "Bitter Tears" choreographed by "Choreographer in Residence" Yuri Possokhov for the soon-to-retire dancer Muriel Maffre. The dance has her enter in a huge 18th century hoop skirt where she flits around a countertenor (male soprano) who is singing an aria from an extremely obscure Handel opera "Tolomeo Re d'egitto (Ptolemy, King of Egypt)." Muriel sprawled on the floor at one point and slithered out of her hoop skirt whereupon she did all kinds of interesting movement while Mark Crayton sang on. And major props to Crayton for singing and dancing at the same time.

This was followed by a crowd-pleasing 1978 showpiece called "L'Air D'Esprit" choreographed by Gerard Arpino for the Joffrey Ballet, and danced extraordinarily well by Tina LeBlanc and Gennadi Nedvigin. A wonderful Pas de Deux from Christopher Wheeldon's "After The Rain" with music by Arvo Part was danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith. The bodies onstage all night were smashingly beautiful, but even by those high standards, Damian Smith stood out. As one elderly gentlemen next to me said at the end, "That may be a perfect human body."

The evening ended appropriately with the final movement of Balanchine's 1947 "Symphony in C" by Bizet, which was danced by almost the entire company. It was a fun evening.


Anonymous said...

Nice to see people dressed up. It's been years since I dressed up but I would have gone to the Opening for the free champagne.. heck yeah, I love champagne. Nice shots.

AlbGlinka said...

You've blown my cover-- I can't pretend to be a wealthy Venture Capitalist anymore! :-(

Glad you enjoyed the evening, my fave was the Isadora Duncan piece... I can't wait to cavort around like that somewhere, just need the long veil.

Anonymous said...

Fourth pic from the bottom: a gaggle of ballerinas? Stunning.

Anonymous said...

I've been anxiously awaiting for the season to begin, and hope to be so lucky as to attend as many as Muriel's performances as possible. Thank you SFMike for the beautiful capture!