Carol Benet

As I See It

SF Ballet Program 5, “Robbins: Ballet & Broadway”

Carol Benet

The San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 features four dances from the famous choreographer Jerome Robbins in “Robbins:  Ballet & Broadway”.  The four works show the breath of this monumental figure in American ballet history as they are varied in style and tone. Robbins choreographed for American Ballet Theater as well as for Broadway.  He died in 1989.

The first on the program is his “Opus 19/ The Dreamer” to the music of Sergei Prokofiev.  The talented violinist Cordial Merks plays the “Violin Concerto No. 1 in D. major, Op. 19” with conductor Martin West leading the SF Ballet Orchestra and all in fine shape in this gorgeous piece of music.

Dancers Mathilde Froustey and Wei Wang are boasted by a corps de ballet that increases and decreases in size as the Frosty and Wang execute their intricate dances, both as solos and duets.  “Opus 19”  is expressionistic and classical at the same time. Robbins is known for adding his own renditions to standard ballet steps taking the performance into a modern dance mode.

The first movement has the corps of 6, 3 women and 3 men, being reduced to five and then increased to 10 with the women en point and the men just as graceful.  The all blue background and costumes by Ben Benson give the dance an ethereal and dreamlike feeling throughout.  Famous lighting designer Jennifer Tipton adds to this atmosphere.

The second Prokofiev movement is much faster and almost gives the dancers the aspect of exhaustion, especially in the presto duet.  And the lyrical third movement has the fleeting dancers, twelve at this time, completing the musical ideas of the composer.

The second work on the program, “The Cage” is completely different in conception.  In a stage designed by Jean Rosenthal with a spider web coming down from the top, we are in a nightmarish scene where Yuan Yuan Tan plays The Novice, Jennifer Stahl The Queen, Sean Bennett the 1st Intruder and Luke Ingham the Second Intruder.  The Corps of 12 complete the cast.

This is a dance about a nest of female creatures where killings take place and the dancing is wild and brutal.  The music, “Concerto in D for String Orchestra, ‘Basler’,”  sets up the violent scene and it is important to know that it was written in 1946 when thoughts of  atrocities the recent WWII were still fresh in the mind of its composer Igor Stravinsky.

To calm things down the third selection “Other Dances” is comprised of short dances to the piano music of Frédéric Chopin.  His Mazurkas and Waltzes there are familiar to all.  Maria Kochetkova from the SF Ballet is joined by guest artist from the New York City Ballet Joaquin de Luz and both of them are extraordinarily excellent.  The fine pianist Natal’ya Feygina appears on stage with the grand piano while the dances, solos and duets, take place.

The fourth work is Robbins’ “Fancy Free” to the music of Leonard Bernstein who is being celebrated all over America for his 100th birthday.  The SF Symphony has performed many Bernstein works this year and not long ago did its own staged version of “Fancy Free”, a work that was expanded to become “On the Town”.

Three American sailors (Ulrik Birkkjaer, John-Paul Simoens and James Sofranko) are on leave in New York City.  They meet three ladies (Ludmila Bizalion, Ellen Rose Hummel and Elizabeth Mateer) and spend much of their time dancing and cavorting in a bar with Sean Bennett as the bartender.  The bouncy, jazzy Bernstein music fits the mood of this war-time ballet that was first produced in 1944.

Program 5 of the SF Ballet runs through March 25, 2018.  Tickets from <a href=”http://sfballet.org”>sfballet.org</a>.

Carol Benet received a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and is a critic of theater, ballet, opera and fine art.  She teaches literature seminars in San Francisco and Marin.
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