San Francisco Ballet Review: Unbound, A Festival of New Works (Program A)
October 23, 2018 | Kennedy Center – Washington, D.C.
It’s an exciting evening to be at the theater. Not only is it San Francisco Ballet’s opening night performance of the much-anticipated East Coast premiere of Unbound: A Festival of New Works, but it’s the launch of the 2018-2019 dance season at The Kennedy Center.
Unbound originated as a festival in San Francisco this past spring, the brainchild of San Francisco Ballet‘s Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson in effort to bring to the audience (in his own words) “a glimpse at where ballet is now, and where it’s headed.
Mr. Tomasson gathered some of today’s most recognized names in the choreography realm and also presented opportunity to those who are on their way up. If his curating skills live true to his words, then the world of ballet is in good hands.
Upon the lights going dim the audience is gradually drawn into an intimate space, the scenography and music by Chris Garneau creating an environment more like one would expect to experience at the IMAX. Confirmation #1: This is no Swan Lake. Confirmation #2: This is the beginning of something awesome. We are now voyeurs – as if given a special pass – to witness the joys and troubles of one man’s life.
There is no questioning the decision to cast Benjamin Freemantle as the protagonist; he is a lithe and able story teller, his body faithfully the instrument that masterfully controls the physical demands of the role while simultaneously being expressive without excess drama.
Perhaps his development of these skills is due to the leadership who trains the company and school (many members of the company attended San Francisco Ballet School), as all of the dancers in this piece pay so much attention to the details. Their supple pliés stay true to the definition of the word as actions rather than positions, allowing for expansive extensions, seamless transitions, and silent landings.
This is especially visible in the men’s section where the five dancers regardless of rank all shine equally. Also to note is Sasha de Sola, her vitality evident in precise, quick footwork accompanied by an upper body that is delightfully colorful.
Choreographer Trey McIntyre successfully showcases the company in a work that has elements that could pose risky. The music contains lyrics which surprisingly is not a distraction but rather proves to being the natural complement to the movements, and McIntyre intelligently only uses them literally on occasion.
There’s also the introduction of a prop at the end, the choreographer thoughtfully calling on it to create metaphorical images along with being a worthy partner to Freemantle.
It is clear as the first intermission comes to an end that attending the ballet has become a multimedia experience, a bit of irony considering the overriding message of Christopher Wheeldon‘s piece. And perhaps this is the point – we are a society absorbed by the bright, cold lights of technology often sacrificing the warmth of the human spirit for a glimpse at our screens.
Bound to© takes us on a journey of transitions, the dichotomies reflected in costume, music, and dance quality; urban wear to neoclassical dresses, recorded electronic sounds to live harmonious strings, displaced corporal forms to rounded tender touches.
Not surprisingly, Wheeldon again has gifted the audience something to remember, creating an all-encompassing space that uses the play of lights and shadows to further embrace the choreography.
Poignant is a pas de deux between Dores André and Freemantle which provokes audible reaction from the audience.
They portray a couple working through the complications of having this third glowing element in their lives, something that most of us can relate to. It is difficult to distinguish whether we in the seats are chuckling out of acknowledgement or snickering out of disdain; regardless, it is effective.
Also effective is recently promoted soloist Lonnie Week’s section, the beginning of the end; he is emotional thus so are we. And that’s all that is to be said about that.
We are then transported to a land of stark contrasts – the scenery and costumes are black and white with distinct delineations and borders, appropriately aligning with the title of David Dawson‘s piece. He takes the suggested disparities between the male and female psyches and explores how there can be crossover resulting in a more complete being.
Frances Chung and Sofiane Sylve are the natural leaders, embodying femininity and strength while accomplishing the challenging choreography, often interestingly pushing the limits of the classical vocabulary.
Chung especially has a talent for maintaining grace in her épaulement and arms while displaying power in her legs.
There is a lot of partnering in Anima Animus and one section particularly focuses on a pair of trios, Chung and Sylve each flanked by two men. Although impressive in concept, it seems an ambitious task to have two groups attempting to simultaneously manage the complex sequences of lifts and manipulation.
Individually, the trios are beautifully danced but lack of synchronicity encourages the viewer to divert their attention to one group at a time. Speaking of groups, three of the six women in this piece are in the corps de ballet, an indication of just how strong the entire company is.
San Francisco Ballet’s run at The Kennedy Center lasts until October 28 and consists of two distinct programs. If you live in the Washington, DC metro area, there is no excuse not to attend a world-class company performing at a world-class venue. Even if you live further out, it’s absolutely worth the trek.
Featured Photo for San Francisco Ballet Review: Unbound Shows No Limits of the company in Christopher Wheeldon’s Bound to© © Erik Tomasson
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