At San Francisco Ballet, the middle is somewhat elevated 

In the San Francisco Ballet’s Program 6, two new and adventurous pieces bracket a simple, excellent and satisfying work.

Company artistic director Helgi Tomasson frequently choreographs in the manner of “a step per note” — not a good thing — but in case of his 2004 “7 for Eight,” revived this season, it really works for the best.

Tomasson created seven scenes for eight dancers, set to keyboard music by Bach. At the Saturday matinee, Michael McGraw played the solo in the keyboard excerpts, Martin West conducted the orchestra in good form.

The dancers, in Sandra Woodall’s short black costumes of ingenious simplicity, are enchanting: Sarah Van Patten, partnered by Tiit Helimets, then Nicole Ciapponi and the athletic Hansuke Yamamoto. They are followed by a trio — Koto Ishihara, Clara Blanco and Vitor Luiz — then a quartet, with Ishihara, Yamamoto, Ciapponi and Lonnie Weeks.

Ishihara is a notable newcomer from Japan who joined the corps de ballet recently. He is impressive, with a compact body, effortless elegance and warm smile — an important, often missing, component of a dancer’s connection with the audience.

Returning in remaining movements, the dancers continue to weave the spell of a cohesive work.

Cohesiveness, or some glue of meaning, are in short supply, though, in the program’s opening work, Christopher Wheeldon’s “Ghosts.”

While C.F. Kip Winger’s music and Mark Zappone’s diaphanous costumes are notable, the ballet isn’t as compelling as it was at its premiere a year ago.

Choreography and dancing — with Lorena Feijoo, Maria Kochetkova and three men in lead roles — are fine, but the large plane wreck, slowly lowered from above the stage, and what is described as Wheeldon’s “mass gathering of souls ... creating only atmosphere, not story” are incongruous, and the piece doesn’t make sense.

While ballet rightly appeals to the eyes and heart first and the brain next, this dance, after three viewings, still lacks a measure of meaning, and seems incomplete next to the atmosphere of Tomasson’s work.

The program’s premiere, Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma,” needs another viewing or two for its impact to be fully realized.

To music frequently dominated by jungle drums (bravi, timpani!) by Joby Talbot and rock musician Jack White III, the movements are intriguingly wild and unusual, with 10 dancers twisting and shaking.

The look of “Chroma” (the word means vivid color) is both fascinating and puzzling.

There aren’t bright hues in the production, just a mix of off-white, light gray and metallic shades. In contradiction to the title, everything is diluted. Moritz Junge’s costume-equivalents are long shirts ending just above minimal briefs.

There is something “there” there, but it’s difficult to say what.


San Francisco Ballet Program 6

War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco

8 p.m. April 12 and 15; 2 p.m. April 17; 7:30 p.m. April 20

Tickets: $20 to $260

Contact: (415) 865-2000;

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben is a writer and columnist for SF Classical Voice; he has worked as writer and editor with the NY Herald-Tribune, TIME Inc., UPI, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, San Jose Mercury News, Post Newspaper Group, and wrote documentation for various technology companies.
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