The characters all go to hell, the work lives on.
That is the case in the fifth canto of "Inferno" in Dante's "Divine Comedy" and Tchaikovsky's "Francesca da Rimini," as well as in Yuri Possokhov's new "Francesca da Rimini,” which the San Francisco Ballet premiered on Thursday’s Program No. 3.
An intellectual choreographer known for dramatic and entertaining works ("Magrittomania" and "Damned" about Medea), Possokhov built the dance on the score of Tchaikovsky's 25-minute symphonic poem. On Thursday, under Martin West’s baton, the ballet orchestra played it wonderfully and boisterously.
Maria Kochetkova as willowy Francesca, Joan Boada as the passionate Paolo (brother-in-law and lover), and Taras Domitro as raging Giovanni (husband and killer of both) were elegant and vigorous in the gripping work.
Alexander V. Nichols' hellishly wonderful set and Sandra Woodall's costumes complemented the action.
Appealingly, Possokhov begins the dance by drawing from Rodin's famed sculpture "The Gates of Hell” (which depicts a scene from “The Inferno”) featuring Jeremy Rucker, Quinn Wharton and Luke Willis striking the art work’s familiar pose.
But a lengthy, beautiful pas de deux with Kochetkova and Boada, at their best and most believable, is at the heart of the piece.
Alexei Ratmansky's funny "Carnival of the Animals" set to Saint-Saens' music, conducted with finesse by Charles Barker and featuring pianists Michael McGraw and Natalya Feygina, followed the heavy drama.
Pierre-Francois Vilanoba as a lion, Sofiane Sylve as a jellyfish and swan (not at the same time), Courtney Elizabeth as, yes, an, elephant, Dores Andre and Clara Blanco as hens, and James Sofranko and Matthew Stewart as horses – along with the rest of the zoo – danced “funny,” managing to be graceful and grotesque simultaneously.
Program No. 3 opened with Helgi Tomasson's "Trio," to Tchaikovsky's "Souvenir de Florence." The second movement, featuring Sarah van Patten's melting figure against the rivalry between Tiit Helimets and Vito Mazzeo, was the high point.
In other movements, pairs Vanessa Zahorian and Vitor Luiz, Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin led the excellent corps, again exemplifying the troupe’s breadth and depth.
San Francisco Ballet Program No. 3
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 401 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Feb. 26
Tickets: $20 to $285
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org