San Francisco Ballet presents Balanchine, Tomasson & Possokhov

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Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada in Possokhov’s Francesca da Rimini
Photo: Erik Tomasson

The penultimate program in San Francisco Ballet’s current season features an interesting combination of works – Helgi Tomasson’s Criss-Cross, Yuri Possokhov’s Francesca da Rimini, and one of the Company’s signature ballets, Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements.

Helgi Tomasson, San Francisco Ballet’s Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer, took the name of his 1997 ballet, Criss-Cross , from the score which falls into two parts, representing a crossover from the Baroque to the contemporary.  The first part is a reworking by Charles Avison, the English Baroque and Classical composer, of twelve sonatas for harpsichord by Scarlatti, and a concerto by Arnold Schoenberg, influenced by Handel.  The concept was drawn  from Tomasson’s love of Handel’s music and his fascination for the music of Schoenberg, to which he referred as “Handel, but something different”.  He was taken with the idea, of using both Avison and Schoenberg’s interpretations and demonstrating how they “cross over from one place to another”.

With two sections of the score so completely different from one another, it could be thought that Tomasson had simply placed them in direct contrast to each other.  We are told, however, that he “blurs the lines, musically and visually”, with the choreography reflecting a neo-classical style, and costumes evocative of both eras.  The first movement is characteristic of the Baroque period, and while that of the second has  a more contemporary style, Handel’s influence ensures that it retains impressions of its origins.

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San Francisco Ballet in ‘Francesca de Rimini’
Photo: Erik Tomasson

Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem, Francesca da Rimini, tells of the adulterous lovers – portrayed in Dante Alighieri’s poem The Divine Comedy – who are fated to spend eternity in Hell.  Resident Choreographer, Yuri Possokhov, for whom this piece of music has held an attraction for a number of years, describes it as “the most romantic music in history, with an ending like an apocalypse”.

Premiered by the San Francisco Ballet in February 2012, Possokhov’s ballet isn’t the first based on Dante’s poem – Fokine’s version in 1915 was followed by a further four.  For Possokhov, the heart of his creation is the simply beautiful pas de deux by the two lovers.  He describes the events which surround them – marriage, betrayal, murders and condemnation – as the “frame of the painting” – with the painting itself being “the pas de deux, that glorious, passionate whirlwind of love”.

Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements was first performed by the San Francisco Ballet in the year 2000.  The ballet takes its title from Stravinsky’s score – what he referred to as his “war symphony” because it was written during World War II – and created for the 1972 Stravinsky Festival, during which it was premiered by New York City Ballet.  Balanchine had long wanted to use this piece of music, and the Festival was a perfect opportunity to achieve that ambition.  Helgi Tomasson – who created a leading role in the premiere performance in 1972 – had, for his part, long wanted to include it in the San Francisco Ballet repertoire, and not only did he, too, succeed in his goal, but since its SF Ballet premiere, the ballet has become one of the Company’s signature works.

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George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky
Photo: Martha Swope, courtesy New York City Ballet

The ballet, says Tomasson is “high-energy, fun”, and – despite the fact that the War was the inspiration for the score, he says:  “I don’t see anything about war in it. Like Mr B said, ‘Just dance, dear. Don’t make it complicated’.”  The preparation for the Stravinsky Festival was a time of high energy and activity.  “There was so much going on,” Tomasson recalls. “Mr B was choreographing; Jerry [Robbins] was choreographing; we had a few other choreographers doing things. It was just nonstop” – a fair description, it would seem, of Symphony in Three Movements as well.

San Francisco Ballet’s production of Criss-Cross, Francesca da Rimini and Symphony in Three Movements takes place on April 11, 13, 16, 17, 19 and 21, at the War Memorial Opera House, Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco.

For more information, for tickets, and to see a video clip of Francesca da Rimini, please visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

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