Magazine article The Spectator

Californian Class

Magazine article The Spectator

Californian Class

Article excerpt

Dance

Californian class

San Francisco Ballet

Sadler's Wells Theatre

I wish ballet companies due to visit London in the next few months could bring programmes that are as richly varied and neatly constructed as those presented by San Francisco Ballet last week. Artistic eclecticism as well as the ability to respond to a diversity of stylistic and technical demands are two of its most noticeable qualities. This 69-strong company, under the 20-year directorship of Helgi Thomasson, has matured into one of the best companies today.

I do not recall the last time I saw such an impeccable rendition of George Balanchine's The Four Temperaments, the crowning glory of the second programme. The complex intricacies of the dance phrasing, the subtle choreographic chiaroscuros and the rarefied atmosphere of this plotless, somewhat modernist and neoclassical 1946 work are not easy to come to terms with, 21 years after the death of its creator. Yet every artist on stage seemed to be perfectly at ease with the interpretative and technical demands of the ballet, thus revealing a rare understanding of Balanchine's art.

And it was not just an isolated case, for the same evening started with an equally memorable performance of Ballo della Regina. Set to Verdi's flamboyant, catchy music for the ballet in Don Carlos, the 1978 creation is a jollier, more carefree piece than The Four Temperaments, even though it is equally tricky and demanding. In line with the original theme of the opera ballet, it contains a number of 'underwater' movements, including 'swimming' and fish-like gestures that can easily slip into the ridiculous when badly performed and misunderstood. Luckily, the artistic sensibility of the San Francisco Ballet dancers overcame such a risk, bringing to the fore the brilliance and ingenuity of the ballet.

Sheer pleasure was also elicited, the following night, by the performance of Balanchine's Allegro Brillante, which opened the third programme, arguably the most intense and varied of the three. At first, to have the old Paquita pas de trois follow Allegro Brillante did not seem a good idea. After all, Paquita is the epitome of that 'bad' old 19th-century ballet taste we all like to indulge in now and then. Its phony Spanish colour and flavour, its endless series of purely virtuoso and somewhat circus-like bravura tricks clash vividly with the calibrated and well thought-out architectural geometries of Balanchine's work. …

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