A ballet gala with substance – what will they think of next?
While such events often mean that patrons with limited attention are served pleasant fluff between fundraising dinners and parties, San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson did something brave, different and wonderful Thursday night: He treated the glittering audience in the War Memorial Opera House to serious, substantial pieces, performed gloriously by a company he has raised to unprecedented artistic heights.
In a self-effacing gesture, Tomasson did not include his own works; at previous galas he has presented two or three.
Consider the artistic gravity of a program which goes from the opening excerpt of Yuri Possokhov's "Classical Symphony," featuring six great male dancers, to the Pas de Deux from David Bintley's "The Dance House," set to Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 1, with Sarah Van Patten, Tiit Helimets and Pascal Molat; Michael McGraw, the piano soloist.
Next: Val Caniparoli's gripping "Aria," to music from Handel's "Rinaldo," with Damian Smith; Nicolle Foland the soprano soloist.
The musical mood brightened with Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux" in a stunning performance by Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan, even with a misstep and near-stumble. The dancer famous for his soft landings miscalculated one, but quickly recovered.
The Pas de Deux from Christopher Wheeldon's "Continuum," set to Ligeti's Musica Ricercata No. 11, featuring McGraw again, received an amazing performance by Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo.
A bit more fluffy – especially to put-upon balletomanes from the Soviet era – but sensationally danced by Frances Chung and Taras Domitro (a personal best from him, usual brilliance from her), was the Pas de Deux from Vassili Vainonen's "Flames of Paris," set to Boris Assafiev's music.
With the company's male-dancer treasure house seemingly bottomless, Gennadi Nedvigin, Garen Scribner and Hansuke Yamamoto dazzled in Hans van Manen's "Solo," to Bach's Violin Suite No. 1 in a prerecorded performance by Sigiswald Kuijken.
Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada gave thrillingly elegant performances in Frederic Ashton's "Voices of Spring," to lilting, delightful music by Johann Strauss.
Yuan Yuan Tan and guest artist Alexander Riabko from the Hamburg Ballet appeared in a moving portrayal of lovers in "Lady of the Camellias," featuring John Neumeier's choreography set to Chopin's Ballade No. 1. Roy Bogas was the piano soloist.
Instead of the usual suspects among comfortable classics, the evening’s closing piece was Wheeldon's vibrant, faceless patterns of "Number Nine," to Michael Torke's pulsating music, featuring eight soloists, backed by 16 dancers. The orchestra, conducted by Martin West, was in full flight.
The evening’s amazing, virtually unprecedented, program was as welcome as the season's first, long-awaited rain, which accompanied crowds headed to post-performance parties.