I’m crossing off of my New York nostalgia bucket list all the George Balanchine ballets performed at the New York City Ballet (the great man's home company until his death in 1983).
The reason is that at San Francisco Ballet, the house built by Balanchine danseur noble Helgi Tomasson, Balanchine pieces are danced spectacularly well. While that has been true for some time, this year’s Program 3, an all-Balanchine affair, confirms it convincingly.
The program offers the 1935 super-elegant "Serenade" and the 1947 majestic "Theme and Variations," both to Tchaikovsky's opulent music, and the 1972 craggy, syncopated, riotous "Stravinsky Violin Concerto."
David LaMarche conducts remarkable performances of Tchaikovsky's music, Franklin D'Antonio is the outstanding soloist in the Stravinsky. Under Martin West's baton, there were occasionally lagging tempi in the Violin Concerto opening night.
From the unforgettable opening scene of "Serenade" (17 women with outstretched arms shielding their eyes against the penetrating ice-blue light) to the grand-ballroom closing of "Theme and Variations" (Vanessa Zahorian in one of her most striking performances, partnered generously by Davit Karapetyan), the evening is continuous bliss for veteran balletomanes and first-time audiences.
Truly, Balanchine never gets old, and he doesn't cease to astonish and delight -- especially when danced right.
The onus, beyond the soloists, is on the corps de ballet, always a major player in Balanchine. On Thursday, the corps performed well throughout, first behind Lorena Feijoo, Sofiane Sylve and Sarah Van Patten.
The group was excellent in the Violin Concerto behind Silve again, as well as backing Yuan Yuan Tan, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Anthony Spaulding, who had something approaching a personal-best evening.
Balanchine demands the best technique, musicality, and miles and miles of heart.
While Tan aces the first two, her performance in the Violin Concerto compares at a disadvantage with the dazzling personality of Evelyn Cisneros in years past, with the sheer enjoyment of dancing shown by others, and even against her own previous performances in the role. This time, there was a shortage of warmth and personality; even a lack of the occasional quirky, ironic gestures reflecting Stravinsky's music.
Technique, daring and heartwarming elegance all came together in Zahorian's brilliant performance in "Theme and Variations."
Another extra-bright spot was the "Serenade" pas de quatre by Dores Andrew, Courtney Elizabeth, Ashley Muangmaithong and Danielle Santos.
San Francisco Ballet Program 3
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m., Feb. 13, 16, 19; 2 p.m. Feb. 13, 21; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 17
Tickets: $20 to $275
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org