Beautiful bump in the ‘Night’ 

Julia Adam’s "Night" was love at first sight back in 2000, even though it was the former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer’s debut as a choreographer in the War Memorial Opera House. And now that it’s reprised in Program Six of the company’s 2007 season, those strong feelings persist.

Vanessa Zahorian dances an ordinary young woman (no princess or fairy, just a regular girl) who is asleep on a fancy bed, revealed soon as the backs of three colorfully dressed men (dancer Benjamin Pierce’s production and costumes). She dreams and the dreams come alive in figures — some protective, some slightly threatening, some playful — dressed in strange costumes and dancing to rhythmic, pulsing music, with a hint of minimalism, John Adams-lite, but more melodic.

As any good choreographer, Adam sets the dance to the music so intensely and vitally that there is no separation between sounds and images. In a true partnership, Adam works with the composer Matthew Pierce (brother of Benjamin), and Wednesday night the score was front and center, conducted well by Gary Sheldon. Layered, complex, and yet instantly accessible, the music both told the dancers what to do and enabled them to join the orchestra in "playing" it.

Zahorian gave an elegantly effortless performance in the challenging main role, well partnered by Tiit Helimets, with the dazzling participation of six men and three women, who at one time dance in an elastic cocoon.

Music dominated all evening long, continuing with Ned Rorem’s score in the world premiere of Helgi Tomasson’s "On Common Ground." An orchestral version of the composer’sString Quartet No. 4 — powerful yet lyrical music — was well conducted by Martin West. (West was also on the podium for the concluding piece, Agnes de Mille’s "Rodeo," to Copland’s music.)

In a dizzying succession of solos, pas de deux and pas de trois, some of the ballet’s best danced up a storm in "On Common Ground" — whose meaning, unlike "Night," is rather elusive. Pairing Tina LeBlanc and Joan Boada, Lorena Feijoo and Davit Karapetyan, with the trio of Elana Altman, Jennifer Stahl and Rory Honenstein — now that’s true "depth" for any company.

Sandra Woodall’s scenic design featured an expanding hanging row of gingko leaves, their symbolism not grasped by this viewer. (Freud might have said: Sometimes a ginkgo is just a Maidenhair Tree.)

A large cast gave "Rodeo" a spirited, dedicated performance, Christine Sarry’s direction and Anita Paciotti’s staging pulling this narrative piece together well. Kristin Long was both poignant and comic in the role of the Cowgirl, who wants to be one of the boys and yet be the center of their attention as a girl. Aaron Orza and Rory Hohenstein were the manly Head Wrangler and Champion Roper, respectively.

A belated postscript to the report in this space about the Ballet’s Program Five: In Tomasson’s "The Fifth Season" (more immediately likeable and lingering in memory longer than "On Common Ground"), I failed to credit the principal dancers and their outstanding performance: apologies and late kudos to Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets.

San Francisco Ballet Program Six

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

When: 8 p.m. April 13 and April 17; 2 p.m. April 15; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. April 21

Tickets: $10 to $205

Contact: (415) 865-2000 or www.sfballet.org

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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