Garcia dances away on top 

Give or take a few years, after a short decade the best of a great dancer’s career is over. The spirit is willing, the artistry is at its peak, but the body falls apart. (Normal human beings would experience a meltdown like that after a single day of class, rehearsals and performances.) This is not an appropriate topic in polite dance circles, but it’s the sad truth.

Having witnessed — even while fighting back tears at the time — the departure of Evelyn Cisneros, Joanna Berman (who is actually dancing even now!), Attila Ficzere, Victoria Morgan, and, more recently, Yuri Possokhov among scores of favorites, I am certain that nobody ever left the War Memorial stage behind in finer form than Gonzalo Garcia.

Yes, after 12 brilliant years here, the big man from Zaragoza is leaving the company, if not the profession, planning, as he is, to guest for quite some time.

Wednesday evening, San Francisco Ballet’s Program Seven opened with one of those rare moments of peak experience at the ballet: Garcia ruled the stage, powerfully, elegantly, without showing off. He was dancing the solo in Brubeck’s "Iberia" free and easy, in a wonderfully athletic and jazzy (d’oh!) performance of Lar Lubovitch’s "Elemental Brubeck."

In an outfit that seemed (perhaps to this viewer alone) the red version of John Travolta’s "Saturday Night Fever" white costume (and I hope after this not to meet costume designer Ann Hould Ward in a dark alley), Garcia strutted and soared in a most winning fashion. With the excellent duo of Katita Waldo and Ruben Martin, and six Brubeck-committed dancers (Frances Chung among them prominently) behind Garcia, it became easy to see why Paris audiences went wild at the world premiere of this work a couple of years ago, part of the San Franciscans’ tour.

Improbably, after the great demands of the Brubeck piece, Garcia returned at the end of the evening, to lead the first movement of the Balanchine-Bizet "Symphony in C," partnering the gloriously dancing Vanessa Zahorian with appropriately cool elegance, seemingly a different person from the one in the red costume.

In the Balanchine — which showed the corps off well — Yuan Yuan Tan and Sarah van Patten gave very different, but equally appealing and memorable solo performances. Two men stood out in the third movement: Pascal Molat, the soloist, and Chidozie Nzerem from the corps (while fitting into the ensemble flawlessly).

The world premiere on the program, Canadian choreographer Matjash Mrozewski’s "Concordia," to Matthew Hinsdon’s accessible, somewhat Bartokian contemporary score (conducted by Martin West) showed off Muriel Maffre (another departure this season), Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, Kristin Long and Gennadi Nedvigin (two dancers who deserve more recognition), backed up by four dancers. "Concordia" is pleasant and pretty, but between the passion of the Brubeck and the cool beauty of "Symphony in C," it seemed somewhat bland.

San Francisco Ballet Program Seven

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

When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 8 p.m. April 20 and April 24; 2 p.m. April 22

Tickets: $10 to $205

Contact: (415) 865-2000 or

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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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