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San Francisco Ballet’s “Unbound: A Festival of New Works”

San Francisco Ballet “Unbound:  A Festival of New Works”

Carol Benet

The San Francisco Ballet is presenting a very exciting series of new ballets for two weeks from April 20 to May  6, 2018.  Artistic Director of the Ballet Helgi Tomasson is courageous as well as very steeped in the world of international choreographers, twelve of them that he has invited to participate.

In four different programs with three works each, the first “Program A” plays four times, the others from two or three times.  All the dances are world premieres. We have seen other works by many of the same choreographers.

“Program A” features “The Collective Agreement” by Alonzo King, “Bound To”  by Christopher Wheeldon and “”Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” by Justin Peck. The audience at The War Memorial Opera House on opening night was enthusiastic and satisfied.  Standing room completed filling the house.

Alonzo King, a Bay Area choreographer presents his first work at the SF Ballet and it was welcomed with great excitement.  He has a huge following locally as well as productions all over the world.  To the music composed by Jason Moran and a jazzy piano with the SF Ballet Orchestra under the baton of Martin West,  the scene opens with three brilliant grids (Image Technology by Jim Campbell) above the darkened stage (lighting by James F. Ingalls).  A soloist enters first and dances in the dark.  Then Sofiane Sylve and Tilt Helmets dance a stunning pas de deux also in the dark and then another pair (Jahna Frantziskonis and Joseph Warton) dance backed up by the corps de ballet.  There is a frenetic feeling about the piece that is aiming for a sense of communication in “The Collective Agreement”, the title of the dance.  Sometimes they do connect, sometimes not, as in life.

The second piece is by Christopher Wheeldon, one of the most sought-after choreographers in the world of dance today.  After his stunning, award winning delve into Broadway with “American In Paris”, he returns to SF Ballet where he has already contributed 9 earlier pieces.

Wheeldon’s  “Bound To”  is danced to the haunting music of Keaton Henson, partially digital and partially played by the Ballet Orchestra conducted by the talented David Briskin who was just here to conduct “Nijinsky”.  The ballet tells a sad but true story.  It even ends with a written quote projected above the stage commenting on how hooked the next generation is to cell phones and tablets with often dire consequeces.

It opens with a scenic design by Jean-Marc Puissant consisting of rapidly moving letters and symbols on a huge screen.  Then  the dancers enter,  all carrying their devices.   Despite the proximity of others, they never pay attention to those next to them or even those dancing with them because they are so absorbed in their gadgets.  At this point it is humorous, but later it becomes quite serious ending with Lonnie Weeks performing a very sad dance “Trying to  Breath” that surely expresses his depression.   The end quote projected above the stage comments on teen suicide and attributes them to the obsession with phones and tablets.  Wheeldon’s work takes a courageous stance and brings a  social issue to his ballet.

The third dance, “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” by Justin Peck is much easier to understand.  It is his “sneaker ballet” where dancers are never en pointe.  Peck explained in a discussion for the audience that took place before the first performance that a sneaker ballet allows the dancers to explore and “widens their center of gravity”.  The cast has André, Wei Wang, Sarah Van Patten, Luke Ingham, Gabriella Gonzalez and Ulrik Birkkjaer performing solos and in smaller groups.  The corps contributes to these.  They all wear teen age costumes and there are many pony tails.

The music by four composers is contemporary and you have to like this music in the more popular and not classic genre to like the ballet.  I thought the music trivial and am reminded why I admire Thomasson’s choreographed ballets because he has the highest taste in music that accompanies them. Peck has come into the  limelight recently for his choreography to the revival of “Carousel” now on Broadway.

The “Unbound Festival” continues through May 6, 2018, and brings such intriguing works such as “Guernica” and it finishes with  “Björk Ballet”.  Tickets and information  sfballet org or 415 865 2000.

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