San Francisco Ballet’s second program of the new season is every bit as diverse as the first. Another triple bill, it features two works which were seen in the 2016 season – Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas and William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts. Completing the triptych is Optimistic Tragedy, a world premiere by Choreographer in Residence, Yuri Possokhov.
Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas is a truly beautiful study in classical elegance, created in 2009 for American Ballet Theatre, where Ratmansky was a relatively new Artist in Residence following his arrival from the Bolshoi. Set to seven of Domenico Scarlatti’s 555 Keyboard Sonatas, the ballet – delicately costumed in white – centers on the relationships between a group of six friends, showing the interplay between members of the group as a whole, the camaraderie between the men, the empathy between the women, and the characteristics that define the relationships of each couple. One pair is going through a time of conflict, another is bound together by fun and playfulness, and the third couple is buoyed up by the sheer joy and humor which they share.
For Principal Dancer Frances Chung, Seven Sonatas is particularly special because “there are only a few of us onstage, and the choreography lends itself to the dancers really connecting with each other and with the pianist who is also onstage”. Ratmansky’s choreography, she says, “is based on classical ballet, yet very human and more grounded. There’s never a specific story, but I like that because it leaves it up to your interpretation as a dancer and for audience members”.
Yuri Possokhov’s Optimistic Tragedy was inspired by Vsevolod Vishnevsky’s 1933 play, set in Russia after the 1917 Revolution and during the Russian Civil War, with some scenes taking place on a Red Navy ship on the Baltic Sea.
Taking further inspiration from Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin, Possokhov has used both these storylines as a basis to create a dramatic and intense ballet, involving the captain of a naval vessel, his divided crew of communists and anarchists, and a new female commissar whose presence causes further friction on board the ship.
Possokhov commissioned the score for his ballet from multi award-winning Russian composer, performer and conductor, Ilya Demutsky, with whom he has previously collaborated on a ballet for the Bolshoi Theatre of Moscow. That ballet, A Hero of Our Time, won the Golden Mask Russian National Theatre Award for Best Ballet Production for 2015/16, as well as the award for Best Composer in Musical Theatre. It will be screened live from Moscow in cinemas worldwide on April 9.
William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts was another success story of the 2016 season. A display of stunning virtuosity, it’s powerful, dynamic and riveting. The ballet was originally created for the Paris Opera Ballet, but Forsythe re-choreographed parts of it to suit the style of the dancers of San Francisco Ballet, producing a work that very much belongs to the Company.
The score is by Dutch composer Thom Willems, who has collaborated with Forsythe on at least 25 ballets – and although it doesn’t fall into the category of relaxed listening, it elicits exactly the kind of response from the dancers that Forsythe’s challenging choreography requires.
Pas/Parts has no elaborate costumes – just a variation on practice clothes – and is performed on a stage bare of sets, but with a backdrop of fascinating lighting effects. The choreography and its execution are all that are needed to produce a work which was greeted last season with standing ovations.
San Francisco Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Martin West, presents Modern Masters at the War Memorial Opera House until February 5. For more information and to buy tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.
San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola