Vilanoba leads Zahorian in a promenade on bent knee. They exchange coy glances, and one surmises that the charged exchange is more about Vilanoba’s last moments onstage than the choreography. From plié he places a straightened leg behind her. He weaves over and under her extension, teasing out elements of quieting mime in an otherwise equine-inflected piece to rich orchestration studded with kettledrum and slide trombone embellishments.
It was a pleasure to see such a splendidly danced and produced Rudolf Nureyev version of Act III of Marius Petipa’s Raymonda. Nureyev challenged the dancers to aim for a perfectly stylized and detailed result, and they joined forces to sign, seal and deliver it in keeping with Nureyev’s demanding expectations.
One of the benefits of having enrolled in San Francisco Ballet’s Ballet 101, a six-part course aimed at developing a deeper appreciation of ballet among audiences, was gaining a more precise fix on George Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony. Not only did the course offer a comparison between it and August Bournonville’s La Sylphide, but we had a chance to put on our practice slippers in a rehearsal studio, and learn a snippet of choreography that soloist dancer Courtney Elizabeth dances in the piece.
At the first sensual strains of a bassoon made to sound like an archaic oboe in the Igor Stravinsky Sacre de printemps score, dancers begin to differentiate themselves from the mound they appeared to be half buried by. Heads, eyes, then bodies become perceptible as lighting by Sandra Woodall extrudes more humanoid clues, and the deepening tones of the woodwinds transport us to an earlier time in a sylvan setting.
Suite en blanc is a work plucked out of the archival past, cut and pasted onto today’s stage so that we may glimpse the oddest of baby steps taken toward breaking with convention in the name of purity. Arguments for and against tend to sidestep the nagging and disturbing fact that the modernist who birthed them provokes our outrage because his fascination with purity led him, eyes open, into the reactionary political camp of racial “purity,” the kissing cousin of The Final Solution.
Natalia Osipova’s first Giselles in London are for me unforgettable… All the steps are there, and I could agree if it were someone who was less of a genius, that they were not in the Romantic style, but I have my own ideas. She just gave you Giselle’s soul on a platter; I can’t think of it without being in tears. You believe in what she does. She takes the majority of the audience with her. It was the specialists who were revolted.
Moments of stillness offer the only pauses in the unrelenting choreography that Neumeier devotes to telling a story that is in equal parts the history, illusion, delusion, social commentary, creative epiphany, intimacies and betrayals of the dancer whose stratospheric jumps descended into a mania that consigned him to an asylum.
“My biggest surprise, though, has been the level of creativity. People are really thinking out of the box, and we love it! For example, suggestions range from setting the ballet in an antique store to one based on the evolution of the Dodo Bird! It’s great how people are embracing that we have no limits.”
Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz capture the thrill in the dream pas de deux from John Cranko’s Onegin. The duet carries into the ballet the titillating but terrifying complications and implications of a love that arrives post-maturely, offering both too much and too little. Luiz appears in the magical mirror that suddenly opens a window of opportunity, and Kochetkova comes to him like a lost kitten. Their fluidity in the three arabesque lift-turns float her deeper into her joyful illusion. To me, this is one of the most beautiful pas de deux in ballet, offering an equality of expression to both partners to which each must contribute fully and blissfully in order for it to succeed.
Instead of whipping out a small nutcracker that Drosselmeyer later makes big, the nutcracker should be at least as dramatic in its appearance as Drosselmeyer himself, so that the child from Pacific Heights in the third row, dressed in velvet togs from a Sacramento Street boutique, isn’t tempted to think, “Big deal—I’ve got a better nutcracker at home!”