As cherry blossoms blush and daisies soften in the sun, Bay Area spring offers a warm welcome to new beginnings. However, San Francisco Ballet’s 2022 season takes a tender look at the past as we approach the end of Helgi Tomasson’s titanic 37-year tenure as Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer.
Tomasson’s reverence for the past and influence shone miserably at the War Memorial Opera House as the company dazzled in Program 6. The immersive three-piece set boasted an eclectic and dazzling bill that spanned the genre , style and theme, keeping audience members – as well as dancers – on their toes.
The evening opened with “Prism”, a three-movement piece based on Beethoven’s “Piano Concerto No. 1”. Filled with various formations, recaps, line art and forms, Tomasson’s neoclassical choreography demonstrated an astute attention to detail and structure.
Much like its musical counterpart, “Prism” stayed true to convention, traversing a series of pas de trois, a busy pas de deux, and a stunning finale. Each group told a story rooted in pathos. The pain of desire emerged in the steamy duo of Tiit Helimets and Yuan Yuan Tan, and the ebbs of jealousy ran through the trio of Lonnie Weeks, Max Cauthorn and Sasha De Sola.
The oranges have gone to terracotta, the yellows to linen, in the simple and discreet costumes of the dancers. Helimets and Tan were chromatic exceptions, bloated with purple. Yet the overall simplicity of the set propelled Tomasson’s evocative and sophisticated choreography to the fore. As the ensembles converged, the dancers mesmerized in copacetic synchronicity, and “Prism” shimmered like a brilliant ode to the human form.
Laughter erupted from the audience as a crowd of dancers dressed in vibrant, piebald morphsuits took the stage for “Finale Finale.” The second number of program 6, “Finale Finale”, ironically transported the audience to another world. The specifics of that setting didn’t matter — maybe it was a county carnival, an underwater commune, or an intergalactic pit stop out of “Galaxy Quest.”
Against a rhythmic güiro, choreographer Christopher Wheeldon embarked on a whimsical odyssey that reinvented traditional ballet positions. Defamiliarizing the elements of traditional ballet, Wheeldon neutralized the sensual and the seductive, instead transforming the stage into a jovial playground undisturbed by the sobering tolls of adulthood.
Wearing ultramarine and avocado colored jumpsuits like the Little Green Men in “Toy Story”, Benjamin Freemantle and Isabella DeVivo delighted in their work as playful partners, strolling through wacky throws and wacky turn sequences. The couple’s chemistry charmed as they flopped around the stage and mimed inflating each other like tires.
As “Finale Finale” developed, the dancers’ bodysuits became clownishly adorned with tulle and ruffles – cuffs and collars and tutus a la Pierrot abounded. Campy and cartoonish, Wheeldon’s imagination ran an uninhibited sprint to listen to the joys of dancing.
The program 6 finale proper dug deeper and darker thematic ground with “The Promised Land,” a dazzling but pensive spectacle that smoldered and ricocheted off stage. Embellished with gold and black glitter and glamour, the piece meditated on dance itself, questioning the state of the art. “The Promised Land”, self-reflective and spectacular, exalts resilience but lingers in the struggle.
Implicit in its title, the dance was laden with spiritual imagery and themes of salvation, clouded by the threat of futility and wasted labor. He described isolation as a dead time, a silent and stealthy effort to cradle what can no longer be held.
Principal dancer Esteban Hernandez led the room and moved with the smoothness of smoke. Sparkling in a gold mesh top, Hernandez rushed forward and hit the stage with ferocity and frantic desperation.
Rhoden’s choreography modulated the music of the piece, which brought together the works of Philip Glass, Rodrigo Sigal, Luke Howard, Kirill Richter and Hans Zimmer. The strings of the orchestra seemed to haunt the characters. A languid cello smoldered as dancers’ feet dragged, and violins wept as Hernandez’s character ran in vain to join the retreating ensemble.
An episodic and emotionally rich alluvium, “The Promised Land” felt like an example of a night characterized by specificity and world-building. Program 6 featured unique textures and immersive moods, transforming dancers into stewards of San Francisco Ballet’s vast and varied solar system.
Contact Maya Thompson at [email protected].