In the wake of bragging about how New York’s native ballet scene has been greatly enriched by the regular presence of Christopher Wheeldon’s Morphoses and Alexei Ratmansky signing with ABT, I’m now going to sing the praises of visiting company San Francisco Ballet. This troupe, which makes too few trips to New York, is at City Center through Oct 18. Increasingly, the company is becoming a paradigm – commissioning vital new work, mounting classics, and developing excellent technical standards and charismatic artists.
SFB brings three programs that show the breadth of its repertory and the depth of the company’s technique. Helgi Tomasson, the artistic director now in his 20th year, contributes a few works in his post-Balanchine style, lyrical, athletic, with some familiar motifs (flexed wrists, off-kilter stances).
Mark Morris is based in Brooklyn, but New York City premieres of his work are becoming increasingly rare, especially ballet. SFB performs his Joyride, which premiered in California in April. This major work by Morris utilizes eight dancers clad in shimmering gold and silver bodysuits with digital numbers on their fronts, to be interpreted in innumerable ways. In part because his essential language is so prosaic, it seems that Morris often picks a handful of quirky movements or poses to brand each dance; these are repeated throughout. Here, with ballet serving as his language, he relies less on such tags, allowing the beauty of the vocabulary to shine.
SFB does Balanchine well; the company dances two of his ballets – Divertimento No. 15 and The Four Temperaments, one of his timeless classics from the 1940s. The company’s excellent technique shows particularly well in Balanchine, whose ballets provide a sort of barometer of skill when seen performed by different companies.
Chris Wheeldon, Yuri Possokhov, Val Caniparoli, and Jorma Elo are also represented in SFB’s season. Possokhov, once a principal dancer with the company, is SFB’s choreographer in residence and on the short list of rising choreographers. All four artists (plus Morris) are part of SFB’s remarkable New Works Festival, comprising commissions by ten choreographers. The remainder include such notables as Paul Taylor and James Kudelka. We can only hope that SFB visits annually, or that a New York company takes notes on its artistic (and, in tandem, its business) model.
Photos: (top) San Francisco Ballet in Morris’ Joyride. (bottom) Lily Rogers and Daniel Deivison in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. Both images © Erik Tomasson.