San Francisco Ballet continues to display its impressive versatility, with three very different works, in its programme which opens on April 9th. It features Rudolf Nureyev’s Raymonda Act III, and two works choreographers with a local link – Ibsen’s House by Company member Val Caniparoli, and Symphonic Dances by Edwaard Liang who trained as a dancer in the Bay Area.
It’s appropriate that the name of Rudolf Nureyev should be linked with Raymonda – a work of pure classical ballet in the grand Russian Imperial style, the essence of which formed the background to his training. Created by legendary ballet master and choreographer, Marius Petipa, it exudes that pure classical elegance which typified Russian ballet during Petipa’s time, as well as the spirited folk dances of Eastern Europe, where the ballet is set. The score, by Alexander Glazunov, was his first for a ballet, which was first performed by the Imperial Ballet at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg, in January 1898.
Nureyev appeared in Raymonda in 1959 – soon after joining the Mariinsky Ballet – and after his defection to the West in 1961, he staged his own version of the complete work for The Royal Ballet in 1964, in which he danced the role of Jean de Brienne, partnered by Doreen Wells. Margot Fonteyn had been scheduled to perform in this production, but was unable to, since it took place shortly after the assassination attempt on her husband. Nureyev’s one-act version of the ballet was premiered by The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden in 1966, and it’s this version which San Francisco Ballet performs this season.
Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House was inspired by the women portrayed in some of the plays written by Henrik Ibsen, written towards the end of the 19th century. In these works, the Norwegian playwright challenged the conventions that surrounded the role of the woman in Victorian society, and Caniparoli has based his ballet on the dominant female characters from five of these plays – A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Rosmersholm, The Lady From the Sea and Hedda Gabler. “They were being challenged about what was the norm, what you could or couldn’t talk about,” says Caniparoli.
A principal character dancer with the San Francisco Ballet, Caniparoli has also choreographed works for Richmond Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Ballet West and Singapore Dance Theatre. He has chosen for the score of Ibsen’s House the Allegro, Andante and Finale of Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No 2, because it was written in 1887 – around the same time as Ibsen’s works – and because Caniparoli feels that the layers of feeling in Dvořák’s score reflects the passions submerged within the characters of Ibsen’s heroines.
Symphonic Dances was Edwaard Liang’s first work created for San Francisco Ballet. It takes its title from the score, which was the last piece of music written by Rachmaninov, and represents what Liang refers to as “a spiritual, abstract world”. “Some people would call it dark,” he says, “but I consider it intensely spiritual.” Symphonic Dances was created for San Francisco Ballet in 2012 – Liang’s first commission for the Company. He’d loved this Rachmaninov work for many years, and felt that it was perfect for SF Ballet. He refers to it as “a huge orchestration, really just big, bold music, and that’s one of the reasons why I was drawn to it.”
Liang, who was born in Taipei, grew up in the Bay Area, training initially with Marin Ballet, and then at the School of American Ballet in New York. He was a soloist with New York City Ballet, appeared on Broadway in Fosse and later joined Nederlands Dans Theater. He has now retired from dancing, to choreograph full time.
San Francisco Ballet’s production of Raymonda, Ibsen’s House and Symphonic Dances at the War Memorial Opera House, Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, opens on Tuesday, April 9. For details on performance dates and times, and for ticketing, visit the San Francisco Ballet website, where you can also view video clips of the program.