Above: San Francisco Ballet in Peck’s Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine’s Serenade. (Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson)


San Francisco Ballet opening night of Program 2: BRIGHT FAST COOL BLUE shines a light on the company’s quality and versatility. Program 2 comprises three pieces by different choreographers ranging from classic to new work.

First is Serenade (1935), choreographed by George Balanchine and set to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. As the curtain goes up the vision of seventeen dancers standing in formation – each with one hand aloft, wearing long blue gossamer dresses bathed in blue light – is breath taking. The large group of female dancers is in perfect unison as they move their arms into different positions and dance fleetingly across and around the stage. The SF Ballet company has never looked better! This piece creates patterns and formations with complex steps that melt gracefully into the next motif. Featured solos, duets and trios by Mathilde Froustey, Jennifer Stahl, Yuan Yuan Tan, Carlo Di Lanno and Luke Ingham are elegant, beautifully danced and organically emotional to Tchaikovsky’s rapturous music. Costume design by after Karinska and original lighting design by Ronald Bates add to the atmosphere and mood.

Benjamin Freemantle and Ulrik Birkkjaer in Millepied’s The Chairman Dances–Quartet For Two. (© Erik Tomasson)

The second piece, The Chairman Dances – Quartet For Two, (World Premiere: January 19, 2017 – San Francisco Ballet 84th Anniversary Gala) choreographed by Benjamin Millepied is set to music by John Adams. It’s a fascinating piece comprising two sections – an energetic ensemble piece and then three duets. In the first part dancers in blue dresses or tops and pants, with a red band at the waist or on the backs perform dynamic choreography with quick precise footwork. Partners perform social dances and add lifts – they have fun – and brief movements punctuate some of Adam’s unusual musical motifs. Maria Kochetkova and Carlo Di Lanno perform beautifully just before the end of this first section joined by the ensemble. In the second part there is a political voiceover and a series of duets danced in different combinations: male/female, male/male, and female/female by Yuan Yuan Tan, Ulrik Birkkjaer, Jennifer Stahl and Benjamin Freemantle. While each of the two parts are interesting choreographically and well danced, the connection is not certain, yet each part could equally stand alone. All dancers wear white costumes, the women are in long flowing dresses and the men in tops and knee length leggings. Delicate choreography of entwined arms, lifts and turns is moving, tactile and poignant. Beautiful lighting design in this piece is by Jim French and costume design is by Millepied.

Maria Kochetkova in Millepied’s The Chairman Dances–Quartet For Two. (© Erik Tomasson)

The final piece is a 2018 San Francisco Ballet Premiere, Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes (2015), choreographed by Justin Peck set to music composed by Aaron Copland. Fourteen male dancers in different colored bold striped costumes similar to three sports team – they line up, run and leap high in this jaunty piece – later the lone female, Dores André appears. Each episode shows a different mood and combination of dancers all exceptionally well performed with perfect unison, plus some elegant athletic contact dance. There’s some team spirit and a subtle touch of attitude (from the blues!) as the teams take center stage. In the 3rd Episode Dories André and Ulrik Birkkjaer perform a wonderfully dynamic duet. Birkkjaer’s strong presence, André’s visceral quality and their connection includes tender movement as they seem to gently fold towards each other. There are also fascinating choreographic combinations with witty moments in this dance. Clever costume design by Reid Bartelme, Harriet Jung, and Justin Peck, and lighting design by brandon Stirling Baker complete the piece very well. In all, Rodeo is a strong and successful piece for the company.

The orchestra is conducted by Martin West for all three pieces.

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2 BRIGHT FAST COOL BLUE is all that – and it is a refreshing variety of choreography, music and dance – performed with quality. Highly recommended!

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Jo Tomalin, Ph.D. reviews Dance, Theatre & Physical Theatre Performances
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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 & - she 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 Acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA), London; and holds a teacher's diploma (ATCL) in Voice and Acting from Trinity College of Dramatic Art, London. She studied Classical Ballet for 12 years; Graduated from London University's Laban Centre Teaching Credential program in Modern Dance, Art of Movement & Choreography; Trained in Physical Theatre, Masks, Scenography and Devised theatre at the renowned professional acting school "Ecole Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq" Paris, France. Jo also holds a Master of Science degree in Educational Technology from Boise State University and a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Instructional Design for Online Learning from Capella University, MN.View all posts by Jo Tomalin →