SF Ballet's month-long festival of nine new works, next@90, is coming to a close this weekend, and it has been a joy seeing all of them, some more than once. Program 2 on Friday, February 3rd turned out to be my favorite of the bunch, starting with Emergence
, choreographer Val Caniparoli's meditation on the COVID lockdown and the tentative return of community. It was set to Dobrinka Tabakova's beautiful, emotional 2008 Concerto for Cello and Strings
with Eric Sung (above) as the soloist.
After a prologue over recorded voices talking about their own pandemic isolation, the first movement was a series of solos, the second movement a collection of duets including a same-sex interlude with Lucas Erni and Angelo Greco above, while the final movement involved the entire octet. The Swedish ballerina Nikisha Fogo (above, front left) was incredible, with her long limbs extending forever. Lucas Erni (above, back right) also shone throughout the entire ballet.
The second ballet was The Queen's Daughter
, a retelling of the Salome story set to Benjamin Britten's 1939 Violin Concerto
, which he wrote during his sojourn in the United States and which I had never heard in a live performance before. The music is splendid and so was the ballet. (All production photos with a logo are by Lindsay Thomas.)
I saw the ballet twice with different casts and they both had their strengths. The first cast featured Sasha de Sola as The Daughter, Jennifer Stahl as The Queen, Tiit Helimets as The King, and Wei Wang as The Prophet. The second cast featured Jasmine Jimison, Elizabeth Powell, Myles Thatcher, and Max Cauthorn. The incestuous child abuse narrative was more disturbing somehow with the first cast while the second cast evoked more sadness. As The Prophet, Wei Wang was in a class of his own, easily believable as a holy person who disciplines would follow.
The final ballet was Yuka Oishi's dance set to Ravel's Bolero
, a piece of music I have despised for decades, ever since it was piped in at an Amsterdam youth hostel to get us out of bed at 7AM every morning. There were many compensations, though, starting with the additional music composed by Shinya Kikokawa that amusingly deconstructed Ravel's joke musical piece. There were also extraordinary projection designs by Jun Nishida and Hiroki Inokuchi that initially skirted 80's computer screensavers but flowered into arresting imagery.
The choreography for a huge ensemble was varied and frenetic enough that the video mostly receded into the background, and watching soloists like Joseph Walsh and Yuan Yuan Tan above was a particular treat.
The SF Ballet orchestra has been sounding as good as I have ever heard it throughout the festival, playing Mozart and Mahler and contemporary works with style under Music Director Martin West. I bought $10 standing room tickets for Program 1 last Thursday, principally because I wanted to listen to the first movement of Mahler's Second Symphony accompanying the ballet Resurrection
again. The word had gotten out, possibly because everyone had read this photoblog, because the orchestra section of the Opera House looked virtually sold out.