Up from the corps and into the limelight 

If you see Dores Andre’s name on top of the San Francisco corps de ballet, that’s only because the list is in alphabetical order. But if you saw the Spanish dancer in a prominent solo role (usually performed by a principal dancer or soloist) Saturday afternoon, you’d consider her on top of the War Memorial hit parade, even if her name started with a Z.

Christopher Wheeldon’s "Carousel (A Dance)" is among the extraordinary set of four pieces that constitutes the San Francisco Ballet’s fifth offering of the season, as entertaining and satisfying a program as anyone could wish for.

This charming, ultra-romantic extended waltz, the musical heart of the great Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II "Carousel," features the corps, in Holly Hynes’ enchanting costumes, and two soloists, portraying the very different lovers whom love brings together, improbably and — in the end, not shown in the ballet — tragically.

Andre dances the demure, fragile Julie Jordan to perfection: no technique or effort visible, just the character and the music — a beautiful performance. Joan Boada is her partner, portraying the rough, uncouth barker, Billy Bigelow, in a simple, straightforward, much more one-dimensional and sympathetic manner than the musical (or Ferenc Molnár’s "Liliom," on which it is based) calls for.

And yet, as a dance piece — colorfully staged by Ashley Wheater and Anita Paciotti — this "Carousel" works exceedingly well ... and likely to launch Andre on an important solo career.

"The Fifth Season," probably Helgi Tomasson’s finest, most substantial dance to date, is an abstract work (quite unlike the story-ballet "Carousel" and the program-ending "Fancy Free"), making use of and enhancing the fine contemporary music of Karl Jenkins. At the Saturday matinee, all six soloists performed their complicated roles to a fare-thee-well.

Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun and Davit Karapetyan (my new favorites this season) danced marvelously, she reflecting sleek beauty, he expressing strength and elegance. Rachel Viselli was a standout this time, even against the heavy "competition" from her fellow stars, Lorena Feijoo, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Ruben Martin.

Amazing performances continued in the local debut of Jerome Robbins’ 1944 "Fancy Free," the wartime story of three sailors on shore leave in New York. Rory Hohenstein, Ruben Martin and Benjamin Stewart danced the heck out of the 30-minute showpiece, which is vastly entertaining, even if showing signs of aging. (How revolutionary it must have looked before our many years of living with Gene Kelly on the silver screen and on the tube.)

"Pacific" is Mark Morris’ short piece to music by Lou Harrison, a fine work, featuring Roy Bogas (piano), Roy Malan (violin), and David Kadarauch (cello) in the pit, Martin Pakledinaz’s spectacular California beachwear costumes — and less ensemble precision than seen in the other works.

While the Ballet Orchestra, under Martin West’s baton, could have been a bit more delicate in "Carousel," it stormed appropriately in Bernstein’s score for "Fancy Free." There is no need for all that volume that has been rather bothersome this season. The orchestra is thereto accompany the dancers, not to overwhelm them.

San Francisco Ballet Program No. 5

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

When: 8 p.m. today and Friday; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 2 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $10 to $205

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

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Staff Report

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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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