Thursday, April 30, 2009

Balanchine's Jewels at San Francisco Ballet

The San Francisco Ballet is currently performing the full-length 1967 Balanchine ballet, "Jewels," for two weeks, and though a little bit of Balanchine usually goes a long way with me, a glowing review by Janos Gereben (click here) piqued my interest.

The work consists of three contrasting ballets, starting with the langorous "Emeralds" set to dreamy incidental music by Gabriel Faure, followed by "Rubies" set to a spikey piano and orchestra score by Igor Stravinsky, and wraps up with "Diamonds" to a truncated version of the obscure Tchaikowsky Symphony No. 3.

"Emeralds" holds a special place of affection for Balanchine afficionados because it's so gentle and mysterious, at times feeling like a proto Mark Morris ballet.

It also looks fiendishly difficult because the dancers are required to hold poses, and slowly make their way into the next position. There's nowhere to hide. The soloists Lorena Feijoo, Damian Smith, Sofiane Sylve and Quinn Wharton weren't perfect but they were close enough to put one into a spell.

"Rubies" is the shorter, jazzier ballet of the evening. It's extraordinarily exciting as it incorporates jazz movement to Stravinsky's complex score, and it was danced well by everyone. First among equals was Maria Kochetkova who was flawless while looking like she was having a ball.

The dancers also had to compete with somebody in the front of the orchestra section who suffered from a seizure in the middle of the ballet. He was carried to the back of the theatre and then proceeded to cry out as the seizures continued.

As some hardhearted standees pointed out, "If they could carry him all the way up the aisle to the back of the theater, why didn't they just keep going and get him out into the lobby?" (Update: The gentleman who suffered the seizure and his companion have left comments updating us on what actually happened.)

The final ballet was classic Balanchine at his most insanely architectural with a large corps de ballet in the first and fourth movements bracketing the soloists in the second and third. The piece is just about perfect for Yuan Yuan Tan and she danced it exquisitely, as did Davit Karpetyan who even managed to look handsome and butch in an all-white sparkly costume.

The two and a quarter hour ballet is a modern masterpiece, and to see it being danced at this level is a rare opportunity. Because the piece is abstract, the ballet isn't popular on the order of "Swan Lake," so there are probably plenty of seats available. Click here for a link to the Ballet website for tickets.


jolene said...

I think it's a much better production than Swan Lake! And the dancing and choreography is superb. My one complaint is the insanely cheesy sets, especially at the end.

Was this your first viewing of the piece? I loved Rubies best when I first saw it, but now my favorite movement is Emeralds. Perhaps you're right, there's something delicately similar to Mark Morris about it. I just love its transparent introspection, and that spell that Balanchine weaves while still capturing our attention with interesting movements and logic.

How was Taras Domitro in Rubies? Lily Rogers?

Wow, what a weird way to interrupt the mood - a seizure. Didn't you have someone fall out of their wheelchair once while you were at the ballet too?

sfmike said...

Dear Jolene: Lily Rogers and Taras Domitro were both good but Kochetkova literally stole the show. And yes, unfortunate things do seem to happen to audience members when I go to the ballet.

Jon said...

Mike, Thank you for spelling piqued correctly. In the recent past I have seen it spelled peeked, peaked and picked.

huguesfrancois said...

i am so touched by the concern expressed by the people writing on this site. i was the person taken out of the theatre having a seizure. that has never happened to me before even though i have been very ill with other health problems. a close friend who knew i enjoyed the ballet having taken ballet classes in college days invited me to join her. we were having wonderful evening. then in fit of pique i just decided to have a grand mal seizure and spent two days in davies hospital. wow. fortunately, none you assholes were among decent people who came to my aid. thank goodness not everyone is as crappy as some of you. enjoy the rest of the season , i won't be attending.

sfmike said...

Dear huguesfrancois: I am very happy you survived your grand mal seizure. To tell you the truth, it was quite frightening for everyone in the audience. I was on the other side of the auditorium and suddenly I saw about thirty people around you get up out of their seats, and the next thing you're being carried/helped up the aisle and taken to the back of the theatre. What was scariest were the sounds that came from you over the next ten minutes, which sounded like a woman sobbing. Since none of us could see what was happening, we assumed somebody had died of a heart attack and their partner was crying hysterically. In that context, it was something of a relief to find out that the sounds were coming from you having a seizure. In any case, the performance should have been stopped or you should have been taken out of the theatre.

I do hope all goes well for you healthwise in the near future, and there was certainly no intention of blaming you for having the "pique" to come down with a seizure in the middle of the ballet. Good luck.

huguesfrancois said...

i think the sound of a woman sobbing was my friend who just happens to be a woman and a very nice one a that.. i was from what have been told not able to speak at times blacked out and at times making sounds like an attempt to speak but unintelligible.
i believe they didn't take me out into the lobby either for my safety as i was thrashing my head and body against the floor from what my friend said or maybe somebody realized that it's almost impossible to get blood stains out of marble floors.
my partner has a friend in the real estate business that i'm sure if he contacted him could attest to that as he sells high-end homes in the sf market.

huguesfrancois said...

by the way i found this site when i went into my macbook trying to find a way to post a message at the ballet site. i was hoping to be able to express my regret at interrupting the performance and thank all those who assisted myself and my friend during what i can assure you was more frightening for both of us than it possibly could have been for those who witnessed it. i cannot account for the actions of the management of the ballet, however the on duty nurse was very professional and reacted instantly so i'm told.
it was all embarassing enough without this but now i'm determined to stay at home with youtube and itunes.

Sharon said...

I would truly like to thank every person that helped me at the ballet the evening that my friend seized. The people around me were truly respectful. As i begged for someone to call 911 the woman near said its ok he is having a seizure. We have sent for a nures. Truly thinking of me seeing the fear for my friend she helped me clear the isle so the nurse to get to us. My deepest thanks and respect for the nurse he along with with several other men helped trasport my friend. The nurse had the insight to know that if we take my friend out to the marble floor it could cause further damage to his body. I want to thank the paramedics that listened to me and helped us at the ballet and at the hospital. Most of all, I wish to thank the lady who brought me my coats and my friend's cane. This woman stayed with me and gave me a hug just to comfort a stranger in distress. I do wish that everyone could be as compassionate as her knowing that negative things do happen and it is how you respond to the people involved that can make things better or worse. The ballet dancers were wonderful. The costumes and the stage design were perfect. It is not every performance that you get applause for just opening the curtain. The music was also perfect. Truly you can recommend this program to everyone. You will see the whole program for they are all professionals and the show did go on despite the interruption.

sfmike said...

Dear Hugues and Sharon: Thank you so much for filling us in on what actually happened. And again, I hope this was just an anomaly, and you recover fully.