Starry Nights: San Francisco Ballet celebrates Return to the Stage

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine’s ‘Serenade’ // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet, in partnership with Stanford Live, celebrates the joy of live performances in Starry Nights: SF Ballet’s Return to the Stage in Stanford this week. This debut performance at the Frost Amphitheater features two works by George Balanchine Serenade and TarantellaDanielle Rowe’s For Pixie and Helgi Tomasson’s The Fifth Season. The San Francisco Ballet Orchestra will be led by Music Director Martin West.

Frances Chung in Balanchine’s ‘Serenade’ // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

Serenade was the first original work that Balanchine choreographed after his arrival in the United States in 1933, and one that wasn’t initially intended for performance. It was originally created as a lesson in stage technique for the students of the School of American Ballet. One of those gorgeous classical works in the Russian tradition which needs no set or synopsis to enhance it, Serenade is performed by dancers simply costumed in pale blue romantic tutus – designed by Barbara Karinska – and set to Tchaikovsky’s exquisite Serenade for Strings – a composer, according to the Balanchine Trust, for whom the choreographer had a special affinity. Tchaikovsky composed the work in four movements – Sonatina, Waltz, Elegy and Russian Dance – however Balanchine reversed the order of the last two movements, ending his ballet on a somewhat melancholy note.

Sasha De Sola and Esteban Hernandez in Balanchine’s ‘Tarantella’ // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

Balanchine’s Tarantella is a lively pas de deux inspired by Louis Moreau Gottschalk’s delightful Grande Tarantelle for Piano and Orchestra, reconstructed and orchestrated by American composer and arranger Hershy Kay. A showcase for the virtuosity of the dancers, this work was described by the choreographer as “a dazzling display piece, full of speed and high spirits”. It has a definite air of the Neapolitan about it, from the costuming (again after Karinska) to the use of tambourines, despite the fact that Gottschalk – with his French forenames – actually came from New Orleans. Gottschalk was the first American pianist to achieve international recognition, and the first American composer to incorporate Latin American and Creole folk themes and rhythms in his music.

Sasha De Sola in Balanchine’s ‘Tarantella’ //Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

Danielle Rowe’s For Pixie is an intimate and emotional pas de deux, shadowy in its presentation, and performed to the deep, mellow voice of Nina Simone. A highly personal work, For Pixie was the first piece ever choreographed by Rowe, and took its inspiration from the complex and passionate relationship of her grandparents.

Dores André and Joseph Walsh in Rowe’s ‘For Pixie’ // © Erik Tomasson

Soirées Musicales is a pas de deux by Helgi Tomasson, set to some of the music which Benjamin Britten orchestrated from songs by Rossini. Soirées Musicales was the first suite of ballet music arranged by Britten, followed some years later by a second suite, Matinées Musicales. The two suites were combined in 1941 into one ballet suite for a South American tour by the American Ballet Company. This performance by San Francisco Ballet uses the March, Canzonetta, Bolero and Tarantella from Soirées Musicales, with the Waltz from Matinées Musicales as the middle variation.

Angelo Greco in Tomasson’s ‘Soirees Musicales’ // © Erik Tomasson

Helgi Tomasson’s The Fifth Season is danced to the music of contemporary Welsh musician and composer Karl Jenkins – his five-part String Quartet No 2, and the largo from his immensely popular piece Palladio. Taking its title from the first movement of the String Quartet, the ballet moves through different styles of music, including a mesmerizing almost minimalist theme, a delightful tango, a Baroque-style air and an elegant waltz, with the adagio pas de deux performed to the movement from Palladio.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s ‘The Fifth Season’ // © Erik Tomasson

Starry Nights: SF Ballet’s Return to the Stage will be presented at the Frost Amphitheater, Stanford, on August 13th and 14th. Tickets can be reserved on the Stanford Live website, and further information on the program is available on the San Francisco Ballet website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes

Serenade – The George Balanchine Trust

Louis Gottschalk

Tarantella – The George Balanchine Trust

For Pixie

Soirées Musicales

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