The brilliance and imagination of choreographer Alexei Ratmansky flows abundantly over the stage, where the San Francisco Ballet performed his arresting “Shostakovich Trilogy,” honoring the composer through a trio of works co-produced with the American Ballet Theatre.
Whether it’s the feathery-light steps of the dancers giving the illusion of floating, or the corps’ arms undulating overhead in unison like willows in the wind, Ratmansky takes dance to a new level quite different from Balanchine (though both emerged from St. Petersburg, USSR). Classical ballet is still the essence, but the variety of clever moves and pairings are as astounding as they are ingenious. The West Coast dancers leapt into the Ratmansky formations hand-in-glove, even though Ratmansky is a transplanted Russian still living 3,000 miles away. The second viewing has as strong an impact as the first.
The stunner in all this is the middle piece, the passion-torn “Chamber Symphony,” built around the male figure of the Outsider, the Misfit, the Enigmatic Visionary: Shostakovich himself. The trials and tribulations of the composer are embodied in this work, signaled by his repeated initials set in music in the opening movement (which meant that here were his most deeply felt emotions on public display). The male figure (Davit Karapetyan at the April 8 opener) dances enigmatically with the three women in the composer’s life, from the flirtatious girlfriend to the two wives to come (Dores André, Mathilde Froustey, Sarah Van Patten); ultimately he collapses in despair. Overseeing the stage are depictions of the two-faced, hollow-eyed informants in a grim society, as designed by George Tsypin.
That despair fails to permeate the other works. The “Piano Concerto No. 1” provides two pas de deux, one for a taller pair (Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets) and a shorter pair (Frances Chung, Joan Boada). They carry out deft and darting maneuvers, sparked by lifts of a spinning lady, perfectly caught. The ballet is totally abstract and modern. Brilliant iridescent corps costumes by Keso Dekker—gray in front, red in back—suggest a whole new ensemble on stage every time they turn in unison.
The opening ensemble piece “Symphony #9” is no less frisky, no less innovative. Just in case you want to become a Ratmansky leading man: Stand, then tip over till one stiff arm keeps you off the floor in a near-recline, and execute a few rapid steps. Hard enough to do them when standing!!
The SFB dancers showed their world-class polish in this one, however unfamiliar the repertoire. And Martin West made the pit orchestra sound downright symphonic.
San Francisco Ballet in all-Ratmansky Program 6. Opera House, S.F. For info: (415) 865-2000, or go online.
©Paul Hertelendy 2015
Paul Hertelendy has been covering the dance and modern-music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area with relish — and a certain amount of salsa — for years.
These critiques appearing weekly (or sometimes semi-weekly, but never weakly) will focus on dance and new musical creativity in performance, with forays into books (by authors of the region), theater and recordings by local artists as well.
Week of April 9-16, 2015
Vol. 17, No. 50