San Francisco Ballet Review: Unbound, A Festival of New Works (Program B)
October 26, 2018 | Kennedy Center – Washington, D.C.
It is a luxury to be able to see six works by one company in the span of only four days. The Kennedy Center bet big including San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound program in their 2018-2019 line-up; not because the company is not up to par (because it definitely is) but rather because the works are new, bold, and quite a step outside of the classical ballet box. Although challenging for the more traditionalist audience members, it is a necessary reminder that ballet is an expansive world that is evolving with the times.
From the moment the curtain rises, one can’t help but think that choreographer Edwaard Liang was channeling Choo San Goh while creating The Infinite Ocean; the backdrop and use of silhouette reminiscent of Unknown Territory, the strong diagonal patterns on the costumes a more current version of those in Choo San’s “futuristic” designs of the 80s, and the music emphasizing the contrast between the strings and the percussion.
The dancing is beautiful although at times seemingly withdrawn. Granted, part of this could be due to the theme of the ballet. In an interview with Liang earlier this week, the choreographer says “the piece is about the process or the space of crossing over” and perhaps some of the cast conveys this as a more personal experience.
Most expressive is Sofiane Sylve, consistently drawing the eye even when there are eleven other people on the stage.
The program continues and again we are witness to similarities to great choreographers of the past. If you have seen Agnes de Mille’s Fall River Legend, Cathy Marston‘s Snowblind won’t seem unfamiliar.
And this is because the ballet is a predominantly character-driven performance set in New England and the feeling that you have selectively been made privy to the details of a tragic story. It is indeed based on a story (Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton) and the highly-effective organization of the stage space does wonders to draw the spectator in.
Suddenly you feel that you are no longer in an opera house but rather an intimate black box theatre observing the love triangle between the three principals Ulrik Birkkjaer, Sarah Van Patten, and Mathilde Froustey.
The casting is brilliant, each dancer clearly having invested themselves in their character development.
This is especially evident in the final pas de trois of the piece, Marston uniquely creating the sense of discomfort and insecurity between the characters themselves as well as between the performers and audience. According to the program notes, the corps of snow is to be “a metaphor for Ethan and Mattie’s passion and torment” and during moments of scenic transition this reads, but at other times it’ a distraction.
Choreographer Justin Peck explores different dream states in Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, set to – and titled after – music by M83. Curiosity is peaked before the curtain even rises as you are about to see a ballet where the entire cast is wearing sneakers, a unique experience to many.
The piece is entertaining if not at times a bit showy, but you have to wonder – can it technically be called a ballet? Across the definitions of the established and recognized dictionaries, yes.
But for many patrons, they may leave feeling more like they’ve been to a rock concert. Appealing to the more classicist balletomanes is Van Patten and Luke Ingham’s pas de deux – their grace, technique, and partnership are so gorgeously executed that there’s no doubting you are at the ballet.
There are three more opportunities to see San Francisco Ballet at The Kennedy Center this season. This program’s last show is a matinee on October 27 while Program A has an appearance the evening of the 27th and a matinee on the October 28.
Featured Photo for San Francisco Ballet Review: Evoking the Past While Looking Ahead of the company in Edwaard Liang’s The Infinite Ocean © Erik Tomasson
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