San Francisco Ballet’s Program Four is perfect for those who think they don’t like ballet.
Works by George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky make a lively mixed bill; Wheeldon’s “Within the Golden Hour” fired up the house enough to get an unusual standing ovation mid-program on Friday’s opening at the War Memorial Opera House.
Pulsing forward with hypnotic strings, Ezio Basso’s score is spine tingling. Selected from an array of Basso’s work, which is reminiscent of Philip Glass, but more romantic, the music’s haunting, melancholic tension teases the ear; the composer lives in the land before climax.
Perhaps that is why Wheeldon’s choreography is so good. In “Golden Hour,” he relies less on post-Balanchine vocabulary and is more organic and playful. He creates a rare, symbiotic relationship between movement and music, producing moments of breathtaking beauty.
Vanessa Zahorian and Damian Smith flit and flirt like two birds in a battle of wits while violins pluck. Sarah Van Patten, her ankle held in arabesque by a seated Luke Ingham, stretches her body out in a low, gravity-defying lean. She quietly transforms her spine into a vertiginous, serpentine wave.
With her legs split over Joan Boada’s shoulder, Maria Kochetkova’s head falls back with terrifying speed, a blissful, swooping back-bend she repeats while Boada spins them around.
Lonnie Weeks, a standout corps member since joining the ballet in 2010, gets to show off his form and technique. Soloist Clara Blanco displays fierce stage presence and flawless musicality.
While not exactly substantial, Alexei Ratmansky’s world premiere “From Foreign Lands” is whimsical.
Choreographed to a thematic dance suite by Moritz Moszhowski, “Lands” is divided into six movements: Russian, Italian, German, Spanish, Polish and Hungarian, some sections more obvious than others.
The Russian choreography is less character-driven than in “Nutcracker,” while the Italian segment _ with the brilliantly buoyant Pascal Molat _ verges on tongue-in-cheek parody.
Kochetkova, Molat, Van Patten and Gennadi Nedvigin are joyous Spaniards, while Sofiane Sylve is a German romantic.
Balanchine’s “Scotch Symphony,” the program opener, is best in the first movement, with soloist Courtney Elizabeth bounding across the stage to Mendelssohn in a kilt and red knee-highs, triumphant and flirtatious.
Corps members Myles Thatcher and Steven Morse perform with such gusto, it looked like they might pop out of their highland costumes on Friday.
The robust jumping is interrupted by an innocuous sylph-and-Scotsman pas de deux in the middle of “Scotch Symphony.” The piece is not intelligentsia Balanchine, it is jubilant pastiche.
S.F. Ballet Program Four
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 p.m. today, 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $20 to $310
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org