Friday, May 02, 2008

San Francisco Ballet's New Works Festival B

Program B was the first I saw in the three-day festival, and it differed from the others in that there were four ballets rather than three, so the night became something of a marathon in its own right, clocking in at almost three hours. First up was Stanton Welch's "Naked," set to one of the wittiest and most beautiful piano concertos of the 20th century, Poulenc's Concerto in D Minor for 2 Pianos, played by Roy Bogas and Michael McGraw.

The orchestra was one of the major unsung heros of the festival, playing a staggeringly varied set of music over the course of nine ballets (Paul Taylor, as you'll recall, didn't need them). The only problem with "Naked," which was a classical set of variations for five couples, was that the choreography wasn't half as interesting as the music. Still, it was a pretty and graceful ballet, the Rothkoesque backdrop was lovely, and one can never hear Poulenc's Two Piano Concerto live enough times in one's life.

Julia Adams' "A rose by any other name" was another one of the controversial love-it-or-hate-it ballets, and to my utter surprise, I loved it. The surprise came from the fact that Ms. Adams had set so many booby traps for herself. She was was using selections from J.S. Bach's Goldberg Variations which had been orchestrated by the conductor Martin West and Matthew Naughtin, which is ambitious enough. (The orchestra played the adulterated Bach superbly, by the way.) Then she decided to take the Tchaikowsky/Petipa "Sleeping Beauty" story and do an "abstraction" of the same tale.

The choreography is half classical ballet and half weird modernist movement and none of it should really work but as it goes along, instead of becoming more boring, it becomes more fascinating (unless you hated it, in which case it didn't). The finale has our Prince carting Sleeping Beauty around like a potato sack that can't stay aright until he finally applies the magic potion which is none other than kissing and sex and things of that nature, and the end looks like pure porn which feels like perfection, a serious stripping away of all kinds of legend without being sniggering in any way. Like I said, I loved it.

The third ballet on the program was a pretentious downer by James Kudelka called "The Ruins Proclaim The Building Was Beautiful" that felt like Mr. Kudelka had spent one too many winter months in Canada. The original music (after Cesar Franck, whatever that means) was by Rodney Sherman and sounded like one of those weary things that accompany a depressing Film Board of Canada documentary. This was another love-it-or-hate-it ballet, but most people, including myself, hated it.

The final ballet on the program was "Joyride," choreographed by Mark Morris (above, bowing to the dancers) to new music by John Adams. Before they were all outrageously famous, Mark Morris and John Adams and the director Peter Sellars worked together on Adams' two first operas, "Nixon in China" and "The Death of Klinghoffer." However, there was a divorce between Sellars and Morris that's never been explained publicly some time during the troubled "Klinghoffer" tour of the world. In any case, last year Mark Morris and John Adams met again at the Cal Performances 100th gala, Adams said, "Hey, let's work together again," and they ended up creating a co-commission with the new music ensemble Alarm Will Sound called "Son of Chamber Symphony."

The original Adams "Chamber Symphony" is a wild, interesting piece of music for chamber orchestra that's a mesh between Looney Tunes cartoon soundtracks and Arnold Schonberg, and the new piece sounds much the same, only more difficult. Morris' choreography, in an almost Balanchine/Stravinsky kind of way, tries to explicate it and does so in an absolutely marvelous way. The virtuosity of both the dancers and the orchestra was amazing and complex, particularly with the insanely shifting time signatures. Like Christopher Wheeldon's piece (and Jorma Elo's the next evening), you didn't question why something was happening so much as sit in slack-jawed amazement. The only misfire was in the costuming by Isaac Mizrahi which was gold and silver lame with LED screens flashing off numbers on their tummies, which conjured up visions for me of "Teletubbies Go to Las Vegas." The music, however, was all wrong for Teletubbies.


jolene said...

That's amazing that you got to see Mark Morris onstage! I'm a bit sad that the season is ending tomorrow. Also did you know that standing room tickets are $15 and they got rid of student rush for the festival, despite the mostly open rear orchestra and a half empty balcony?

sfmike said...

Dear Jolene: Yeah, jacking up the prices and getting rid of the student/senior rush wasn't the smartest thing to do in the world. The $15 standing room areas were packed, by the way, and it was how I saw "Program B." The Ballet was kind enough to give me press seats for the other two programs.