San Francisco Ballet, Balanchine/ Liang/ Wheeldon, Sadler's Wells Theatre | Dance reviews, news & interviews
San Francisco Ballet, Balanchine/ Liang/ Wheeldon, Sadler's Wells Theatre
First of three programmes shows an invigorating company as full of energy as finesse
It's been eight years since San Francisco Ballet were last here, charming us with their finesse and their smiles - welcome back. They offer a boost of spirit to the gloomsters of ballet over here. This small city which punches many times above its weight in the cultural world owes a vast amount of its self-confidence and charisma to its mixed ethnic roots, so the range of dancers from the Far East via North Europe and the Latino Americas is representative. But only a gifted, purposeful artistic director, which Helgi Tomasson evidently is, can fashion eager youngsters from such varied cultures and physiques to cohere with the shared artistry of a company that is aesthetically as much as home in middle Europe and Russia as in America, and so winningly includes their audience in their belief.
Their opening programme of three modern ballets to be shown over the next week at Sadler’s Wells makes a fine virtue of differences and company harmony, and I'd expect their visit to be consistently rewarding. You can’t expect to love all the works, but you can know that they’ll be performed full out with quality and desire.
You go home thinking about the lessons other companies could learn
I wish (should I be cursed for this?) the first programme hadn’t been so obviously dominated by George Balanchine’s Divertimento No 15. The more time that passes since his death 29 years ago, the more obvious it is that world ballet depends on him as the earth’s ecology depends on oxygen. There simply was no one - not even Marius Petipa in the 19th century - who could pluck so easily, and with such visual genius, ideas of constant delectation from Mozart (or Stravinsky or Bach or Brahms or Tchaikovsky, or, or, or...) and make you simply gasp at the sweetness of the temper, or the sudden emotional flavours that flicker in and out of what appears to be a purely dancey divertissement.
We've learned the hard way not to expect this most ephemeral and miscegenated of art forms to yield many geniuses to follow him. Edwaard Liang and Christopher Wheeldon, the two young choreographers condemned (I’m afraid) to join him on this opening bill of the three, could not have relished being his neighbours. Divertimento No 15 is the purest, most delectable confectionery, a tutu ballet (the girls’ pale yellow and aqua tutus are sprinkled with blue bows and sparkles) that dazzles, matching Mozart’s profligate inventiveness. A series of solos set to the theme and variations of the second movement exploit, in the tradition of the 19th-century St Petersburg genius Marius Petipa, very short, specific phrases, but tooling and faceting them with a diamond-cutter’s skill, each little difference catching the light in multiple ways, full of colours and brightness and individuality. This is something that suits this company down to the ground.
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