Possokhov displays sheer wizardry at San Francisco Ballet 

By leaps and grand jetés, San Francisco Ballet Resident Choreographer Yuri Possokhov is becoming a major figure in the world of dance.

With the vastly entertaining “Magrittomania,” “Damned” and 10 other works behind him, Possokhov premiered “RAkU,” the centerpiece of the season’s second program, Thursday night in the War Memorial Opera House.

Well deserving of the lengthy and heartfelt ovation it received, the world premiere is a gripping, virtuoso piece, reminiscent of the late Michael Smuin’s dramatic, occasionally over-the-top, dance theater.

Set against Alexander V. Nichols’ design intimating Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion, the piece opened with an extended, spirited war dance by four men, channeling “Spartacus” from Possokhov’s original Bolshoi home company. Noh and Butoh sensibilities also were evident, but in the end, the dance is all Possokhov.



The frenzied scene yielded to the stillness of a royal couple standing side by side. Few dancers can be immobile and yet convey a range of emotions. Yuan Yuan Tan can and does. Without moving a muscle, she emanated strength, submission, love and fear.

Then, in a sudden coup de théâtre, her enormous, elaborate kimono (Mark Zappone’s custom design) ascended into the flies, and she stood in a simple leotard. The transformation from splendor to vulnerability was expressed in a gorgeous love pas de deux, with Tan and Damian Smith at their best.

The prince was called into war, the princess pursued and violated — first by a monk (the sensational Pascal Molat) and, after the death of the prince in an unseen battle — by the warriors who returned his ashes and sword.

At the end, Possokhov shows admirable restraint by not giving in to the temptation of an obvious M. Butterfly finale. Left prostrate on the ground, covered with ashes and holding the sword, Tan seemed to dissolve in hurt and sorrow — and the curtain fell.

The theater was packed with musicians there to hear the commissioned score by their colleague, bassist Shinji Eshima, a member of the ballet and opera orchestras for three decades.

The score was exceptional: rich, passionate, stormy and lyrical, instantly accessible and yet demanding to be heard again, even without the ballet — while serving the piece perfectly. Under Martin West’s baton, the orchestra did justice to the work.

“RAkU,” seemingly an impossible act to follow, should have ended the evening. Yet it yielded wonderfully to George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C.”

The performance at this West Coast bastion of Balanchine was among the company’s best. The corps, the heart of the piece, was in high form, and soloists shined in classic parts.

Vanessa Zahorian and Jaime Garcia Castilla led the first movement, Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets the second. Frances Chung and Taras Domitro portrayed the essence of the Allegro vivace third movement. After Sarah Van Patten and Hansuke Yamamoto opened the similarly brisk fourth movement, all soloists and the corps “of thousands” joined in the finale.

Ashton’s “Symphonic Variations,” the evening’s opening piece, which featured six principal dancers, misfired. They, the orchestra and the piano soloist all appeared under-rehearsed.

With the initial effort for “RAkU” out of the way, “Symphonic Variations” is sure to improve during the rest of the run.

DANCE REVIEW

San Francisco Ballet Program 2


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

When: 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 5; 2 p.m. Feb. 6; 8 p.m. Feb. 8 and Feb. 11; 7:30 p.m. Feb. 9

Tickets:
$20 to $260

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

About The Author

Janos Gereben

Janos Gereben

Bio:
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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