Saturday, May 09, 2009

Dervishes, Russians and Timpanis at the Ballet

The San Francisco Ballet season comes to an end this weekend with a mixed trio of ballets, two of which are encores from last year's New Works Festival.

The program started with resident choreographer Yuri Possokhov's "Fusion," which is a pleasing melange of whirling dervish dudes and modern dancers mixing it up to Indian music orchestrated by the Argentenian Osvaldo Golijov for the Kronos Quartet.

The musical stew is further enhanced with three pieces by the British composer Graham Fitkin, and though I wasn't very impressed with the ballet in its world premiere, this year the dancers seemed to have the dance and the music in their bodies in a way that made the piece feel fresh and exciting.

The chamber orchestra contained such exotica as a tabla, marimba, and two saxophones which are all electronically amplified. Last year, the sound mix was so garish the whole thing sounded like they were playing a bad recording over the loudspeakers, but this year the interesting score came through fairly unscathed.

This is easily the best Possokhov ballet I've seen at the San Francisco Ballet.

The second ballet was "Russian Seasons," choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky to recent music by Leonid Desyatnikov that featured mezzo soprano Susana Poretsky singing about traditional Russian concerns like sad marriages and the inevitability of death.
The music sounded a bit like Shostakovich having fun with minimalism, and though I'm usually a sucker for all things gloomy and Russian, the ballet went on way too long at 12 movements in 45 minutes.

Though the choreography wasn't boring, it would definitely have been twice as interesting at half the length. Desyatnikov simply ran out of ideas.

The closing ballet, "Double Evil," by the Finnish Jorma Elo was even better than at its premiere last year. The sweet, sad minimalism of music by Vladimir Martynov is bracketed by two movements from Philip Glass' "Concerto for Two Timpanis and Orchestra," which is a propulsive, wildly fun piece.

The dancers seemed to be having an easier time with the outrageously difficult movement, and the ballet is starting to look like an instant classic.

My friend David Barnard, an old professional dancer himself, proclaimed at the end of the evening that if he were God, the ballet he wanted to see was "the whirling dervishes from 'Fusion' dressed in those colorful costumes from 'Russian Seasons' while twirling to the Philip Glass timpani music. Now that would be fun."


AlbGlinka said...

I've been practicing those "Double Evil" ballerina spins in my private in-home dance studio and I think I'm ready for a national tour! good to see you the other night, -Grove

jolene said...

Mike, you caught some amazing moments on camera! My favorites are the photo of Frances Chung and Martyn Garside with an unrecognizable dervish, and Sarah Van Patten flashing a casual fingerpoint surrounded by two gorgeous men. Thanks!! I agree that Fusion is my favorite Possohkov piece with the SFB so far. Funny how it looked so different from opening night at the New Works, isn't it? It's like a completely different ballet.

Civic Center said...

Dear Albglinka: Happy birthday. It was good to see you too.

Dear Jolene: I love how you know who everybody is. Once they get in tights and tutus, the dancers tend to blend in pretty indistinguishably for me.