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San Francisco Ballet – All Robbins Program 5 – Ballet & Broadway!

above: Maria Kochetkova and Steven Morse in Robbins’ The Cage. (© Erik Tomasson)

Review by Jo Tomalin

Sarah Van Patten and Carlo Di Lanno in Robbins’ Opus 19 / The Dreamer. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 opened on Tuesday March 20, 2018, to celebrate the centennial of Jerome Robbins, award-winning American choreographer, director, dancer and theater producer, by presenting an all-Robbins program at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco.

The program comprises four pieces choreographed by Robbins which offers a fascinating reflection of the choreographer’s work ranging from 1944 to 1979.

The first piece of the evening, Opus 19/The Dreamer (1979), set to Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in D Major, Opus 19 is about searching and the power of dreams featuring Principal dancers Carlo Di Lanno and Sarah Van Patten. Di Lanno portrays The Dreamer, a loner – as he performs solos with strong defined movement, and choreography that includes outstretched and angular arms and legs, at times with flexed feet and hands. Van Patten and Di Lanno perform several beautifully danced lyrical duets with sweeping energetic movement, counterbalance and graceful lifts – one exceptional duet is set to wonderfully discordant violin played by Cordula Merks.

The Dreamer is different from everyone else in character, movement and look – costumed in white tights and white short sleeve top, while Van Patten and the ensemble are in blue tops – men in tights and women in silken skirts (Costume design by Ben Benson), against rich blue lighting by Jennifer Tipton. An ensemble of twelve male and female dancers weave interesting floor patterns with intricate motifs to light and dark phrases of the music, with vigor and grace.

San Francisco Ballet in Robbins’ The Cage. (© Erik Tomasson)

The Cage (1951), set to music by Igor Stravinsky is visually striking with huge webs criss crossing the stage (scenic design by Jean Rosenthal), dramatic lighting design by Jennifer Tipton and costumes by Ruth Sobotka. It is otherworldly in every way! Sixteen creatures evoke insects – twelve with elongated legs effectively exaggerated by their pointe shoes and uniform thick black fly away tresses – make a strong and powerful community. Principal dancer Sofiane Sylvie as the Queen leads her fascinating stark group in their energetic insect-like choreography, with perfect unison. The Novice is exquisitely portrayed and danced by Principal dancer Maria Kochetkova – she is an innocent, seemingly an unformed creature who begins with a solo with interesting hand flicks and small steps. But when an Intruder arrives (Soloist Steven Morse) he lifts her away and she fights back – both dancers engaging in interesting lifts and athletic interplay that becomes sensual – and fatal. The group of twelve moving together with their long limbs at different angles in their flesh costumes with black markings on the front and back is a highlight.

Frances Chung and Angelo Greco in Robbins’ Other Dances. (© Erik Tomasson)

Other Dances (1976), set to music by Frédéric Chopin is an enchanting piece for two with Principal dancers Frances Chung and Angelo Greco. Elegant in it’s pure simplicity and classical structure of pas de deux and solos – with motifs of mazurkas and waltzes. Chung and Greco draw you in as they share a conversation through dance. In the duets there is constant contact, whether physical or through their eyes. Greco’s first solo of high cabriolet jumps is exciting and well received, Chung’s solo is fresh and emotive with expansive arms, she seems to defy gravity when she jumps and stays in the air, delaying her landing. Robbins’ choreography – originally created for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Natalia Makarova – tells a story of a couple as they alternate with joyful and intimate dances, pirouettes, mazurkas and waltzes, lifts and circular patterns. In addition to music by Chopin, it’s beautifully choreographed and danced by this casting – and very memorable!

Piano played onstage by Natal’ya Feygina. Costume design by Santo Loquasto, lighting design by Jennifer Tipton.

Robbins’ Fancy Free (1944), set to music by Leonard Bernstein, staged by Jean-Pierre Frohlich, closes the program. It’s a lively theatrical period piece featuring three sailors on shore leave in New York City on a hot summer night in 1944. This was the iconic piece that launched Robbins’ as a choreographer, showing his obvious flair for theatricality and character driven dance. A sultry song, a New York Skyline of tall buildings, a colorful bar – and three vibrant and sometimes boisterous sailors – Benjamin Freemantle, Esteban Hernandez and Lonnie Weeks arrive looking for a good night out. These sailors are jaunty, playful and humorous, as each character enters the bar. Hanging around on the sidewalk outside they play a chewing gum wrapper game, and tease a lady in black with a red bag spiritedly played by Principal dancer Dores André. A lady in a purple dress – Principal dancer Sasha de Sola – is invited by one of the sailors to dance, they start with a waltz hold, perform graceful lifts, and flashes of tango to epic music. There’s competition from the men as they each approach three women with varying results. The dancers in this piece also act and mime, they develop characters and the expressive music becomes an important element in the storytelling. Oliver Smith’s scenic design of a forced perspective bar – low at the back and high, wide and open at the front – with a flat background of abstract skyscrapers is stunning! Costume design by Kermit Love is striking, and warm lighting design by Jennifer Tipton complete the picture.

Program 5 is wonderful journey through Jerome Robbins’ choreography that is certain to enlighten, entertain and be appreciated by future audiences. Highly Recommended!

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
Member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA)

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About the Author

Jo TomalinOriginally from England Jo Tomalin is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she is a reviewer for Dance & Theatre at www.ForAllEvents.com and works in the performing arts as a freelance movement & voice specialist, director + actor. She is also a Professor in the School of Theatre & Dance at San Francisco State University, teaching Movement for actors, Voice, Storytelling, Business of Acting and Acting and directs. Jo Tomalin studied Classical Ballet for 12 years. She graduated from London University's Laban Centre teaching credential program in Modern Dance, Art of Movement & Choreography, then she trained in Physical Theatre, Masks, and Devised theatre at the renowned professional acting school "Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq" Paris, France. She also studied Classical Acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London; and Voice and Acting at Trinity College of Dramatic Art, London. Jo Tomalin is a member of: American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA).View all posts by Jo Tomalin →