A jewel of a ballet segment emerged in the middle of a premiere, within the middle of a San Francisco Ballet program (No. 1).
The new work is by the Czech choreographer Jiri Bubenicek, ”Fragile Vessels,” using the beloved Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto music. The slow movement I could see becoming a popular excerpt on its own, with just three dancers emerging from a tangle on the floor. The leading lady (the fast-rising principal Dores André) dances with one, then the other man and makes pregnant pauses, as if reflecting on existence, life and choices. André has that theatrical quality of a potential lead in some time-tested story ballet, above and beyond the expected athleticism. The choreography speeds up, slows down, producing a touching and rather intimate segment led by her persona. Supporting the piece were the contrasting men Wei Wang and Joseph Walsh (on Jan. 29). For once, a human triangle was cohesive, not disruptive.
The outer movements of “Vessels” were vigorous and modern, with figures in skin-tight outfits doing lifts and spins—nine couples producing swirls of motion in giddy accelerations.
Justin Peck’s ambitious “In the Countenance of Kings” (2016) gives specific titles to the six principals but fails to differentiate between them in appearance or role. I suppose you might identify Joseph Walsh as the Protagonist, given the muscular he-man solo carried off at the very beginning. As for Quantus (a male name, given to a thoroughly female dancer), Electress, Botanica, etc., there was not a clue, not even a literary work preceding. And it’s all inspired by the jangling music of Sufjan Stevens, which in turn was inspired by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (!). The dances’ high velocity suggests that at least this was not the expressway in rush hour!
This is a nimble work of skillfully shifting patterns, with some quirky leaps and occasional piles of bodies. It’s also very New York—Peck’s home base—with black tights and white socks that became a hallmark cliché of the late George Balanchine’s preferred on-stage attire. The finale is frisky, jazzy and quite amusing.
The night opened with Helgi Tomasson’s “Haffner Symphony,” with coronets and tutus—palace glitz recalling Oulde Czarist Russia of a century ago, though it was not premiered until 1991 on this very Opera House stage. The very classical maria Kochetkova was partnered by the stunningly athletic Italian newcomer, Angelo Greco, whose leaps could draw gasps any time.
Martin West’s orchestra was up to its usual high standard, and the SFB was as nimble and disciplined as ever.
San Francisco Ballet, Program 1, through Feb. 4. Opera House, S.F. For SFB info: (415) 865-2000, or go online.