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Program 3 at SF Ballet

Program 3 at SF Ballet

Carol Benet

One of the wonderful things about the San Francisco Ballet is its far reaching range of ballets that it brings to us, classic and modern, and its strong corps of dancers.   Program 3 demonstrates both of these qualities.

The first of the three works is “The Infinite Ocean”, choreographed by Edwaard Liang to the music of Oliver Davis.  It is a modernistic work that had its world premier two years ago in the Unbound Festival in San Francisco.  It is a thoughtful piece where Liang evokes images of life and death and life thereafter.  Davis’ music is minimal yet with Baroque flourishes at times. The violin soloist Cordula Merks plays the nostalgic and moving composition along with the orchestra. 

The dancers are in silhouette at the beginning.  They walk towards the ocean where a huge ball of light hangs above.  The sphere was inspired by a sculpture created by the Icelandic/Danish artist Olafur Eliasson whose large metal mirrored spheres decorate the outdoor plaza of the new Golden State Warriors’ Stadium at Mission Bay.  Eliasson’s sculptures themselves are worthy of a visit to Chase Center (Third and 16th St.) to see their ethereal beauty.

The twelve dancers in the corps de ballet alternate with a couple of two of the stars in the SF Ballet, Dories André and Luke Ingham, who perform their intricate pas de deux. Then they all join  together in forming a ball that expands and contracts.

The second work is “The Big Hunger” that celebrates its world premiere this year in Program 3.  It was choreographed by Trey McIntyre and danced to music  of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Piano Concerto No. 2 in G. Minor, Op. 16” that wasbeautifully executed by Yekwon Sunwoo.  

McIntyre’s ballet, like the first work, is also spiritual. Here he  images two hungers, little hunger for physical need and big hunger, a search for purpose.  The ballet demonstrates the longing for an existential meaning of life or the big hunger.

As serious as the subject of the ballet seems, at times it seems like a burlesque with male dancers in fuchsia-red wigs performing gymnastic feats.  A series of pas de deux by three couples, Dores André with Benjamin Freemantle,  Jennifer Stahl paired with Luke Ingham and Esteban Hernandez and Wei Wang, are likewise athletic with touches of humor.  “The Big Hunger” allows Doris André to exhibit her flexible and fluid body almost to the degree of a contortionist.

Thomas Mika’s scenic and costume design bring a comedic touch to the work with the men wearing white buttoned down, short sleeved shirts and tight shorts whose colors change from dance to dance— red, grey, black.  Two male dancers in long black coats with long haired wigs perform as if whirling dervishes.  At times he corps marches in and out as if mocking the military. 

When there is an explosion in the background, a green exit sign lights up pointing to the way out. Next there is a chaotic and panic scene with dancers running everywhere in the mist. Is this ballet meant to be a dystopian comedy? 

The last  piece on the program is “Etudes”, a ballet written in 1948 by Harald Lander and is still popular today because it exhibits intricate classic ballet movements.  Excerpts of it are seen at the Ballet Galas because they are so spectacular.  With Sasha de Sola as soloist and often dancing with Angelo Greco, Joseph Walsh and Carol di Lanno, they are backed up by a corps de ballet of 36 members.  

“Etudes” was choreographed to the music of Carl Czerny with an update by Knudäge  Rilsager.   

It recreates a ballet studio where the dancers, all wearing tutus in the old style, are practicing their movements.  It starts with with the lighting only on pairs of  legs of dancers are at the barre.  In groups of 3 they are doing different exercises simultaneously.  The lighting by Harald Lander and Craig J. Miller is important to isolate the different body parts  There are Ladies in White, in Black, Gentlemen and Sylphides so that people who love classic ballet will be satisfied with costumes, movements and music.  

Martin West conducted the last two ballets and Ming Luke the first.  They led the musicians of the  San Francisco Ballet Orchestra who played magnificently.  The music of the three sections is demanding, particularly the music by the 19th century composer Austrian Carl Czerny whose name is known to students of piano who struggled over his exercises that always came recognizable yellow Schirmer editions.

Program 3 has something for everyone.  It continues through February 23. or 415 865 2000.   

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