above: San Francisco Ballet in Marston’s Snowblind. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet presented the second program of their Unbound Festival of new creative works on April 21,2018 at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco. Unbound B program comprises three world premieres out of the festival’s twelve world premieres by 12 international choreographers. Snowblind, choreographed by Cathy Marston and set to music by Amy Beach, Philip Feeney, Arthur Foote, and Argo Pärt is a very engaging new piece, imaginatively adapted by Marston and Patrick Kinmonth from Edith Wharton’s novella, Ethan Frome. It’s about the repression, love and desperation of a love triangle and the three characters – Frome, a farmer played by Ulrik Birkkjaer, Zeena Frome, his wife, played by Sarah Van Patten and Mattie Silver, their home help, played by Mathilde Froustey. They act, emote and dance the trajectory of the heart wrenching story beautifully. Lugubrious bodies of the ensemble in diaphanous costumes appear and disappear in moody transitions depicting the characters’ torment, snow, Neighbors and Farmhands. The ensemble and how it intersperses the three character’s lives is a brilliant device, which makes this a complete and creative work of visual storytelling. The creative scenic and costume design by Kinmonth places a bed in a room on an upper level upstage, covered by a colorful scrim when the imagined tormenting ensemble of “netherworld creatures” or snow, appear. Birkkjaer, Van Patten and Froustey perform pas de deux and an inevitable pas de trois, with emotional, lyrical and fluid dance quality. Froustey’s character weaves interesting elegant choreography with Birkkjaer as Frome when they dance together and even when doing her menial tasks such as washing windows. Piano by Mungunchimeg Buriad, and the music played by the SF Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Martin West, build the intensity of the narrative together with the believable angst and passion of Birkkjaer, Van Patten and Froustey. Innovative scenic and costume design by Patrick Kinmonth, with dramatic lighting design by James F. Ingalls add to the transporting atmosphere. Snowblind is a magical new piece with finessed storytelling and inspired choreography. Go and see it!
Anima Animus, choreographed by David Dawson and set to music by Ezio Bosso is a dynamic piece about Dawson’s exploration of contrasts, starting with Jung’s concepts of male and female aspects of the male and female psyche expressed through classical dance. This piece is dynamic and crisp from the start. Outstanding dancers, Maria Kochetkova, Sofiane Sylvie, Carlo Di Lanno, Luke Ingham, Henry Sidford and Wei Wang with four additional dancers perform with precision and freedom – unusual choreography of arms with flexed wrists, and huge airy leaps, with chilling moments of stillness.
Sylvie and Kochetkova make memorable moments – flying high, lifts, suspended and carried through the space to beautiful music – that transport and touch one’s soul. The ten dancers perform fast energetic balletic movement in several outstanding solos, duets and groups. Scenic design by John Otto and lighting design by James F. Ingalls. Martin West conducted the SF Ballet Orchestra with Solo Violin by Heeguen Song. Anima Animus is superb!
Otherness, choreographed by San Francisco ballet company member Myles Thatcher is set to music by John Adams. In this piece Thatcher explores humanity through the lens of binaries and when labels mask the individual. Visually, the set and costumes say it all, for the dancers are wearing either pink or blue half sleeved tops and shorts with same color swim caps (costume design by Sylvie Rood) and the fascinating large geometrical set towers over the stage (scenic design by Alexander V. Nichols), is outlined in neon lights (lighting design by James F. Ingalls). Humor plays a part when the characters react to each other as some of them break out of their rigid groups and wear pink AND blue.
Adams’ jaunty music for this piece, is aptly called Absolute Jest. Featuring Max Cauthorn and Sean Orza as leaders of the pink and blue tribes, and they think, dissent and fight through dance, as they try to come to terms with differences – or otherness. The story and background to this piece promise so much, and are meaningful, and the ensemble performs the choreography with quality and commitment, yet all these elements are not fully realized at this time, the result is rather simplistic.
The SF Ballet Orchestra is conducted by Martin West with soloists: Violin, Craig Reiss and Heeguen Song; Viola, Yi Zhou; and Cello, Eric Sung.
Without doubt, the innovative Unbound Festival is inspiring creative new experimental work, brilliantly danced by the San Francisco Ballet company dancers – so look for the other three programs: Unbound A, Unbound C and Unbound D. Don’t miss the 2018 Unbound Festival!
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