An important facet of the culture of San Francisco Ballet is the breadth and content of its repertoire. The company can justly be proud of the number of contemporary works it performs, and regularly commissions new works from some of today’s most illustrious choreographers – names such as Christopher Wheeldon, Liam Scarlett, Yuri Possokhov, Alexi Ratmansky, Justin Peck, Myles Thatcher, now Arthur Pita as well, and SF Ballet’s Artistic Director, Helgi Tomasson, who is also the company’s Principal Choreographer.
In its penultimate program of the current season San Francisco Ballet presents three neo-classical works, each choreographed specifically for the company – Tomasson’s Trio, Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, and a world premiere, Ghost in the Machine, by its own Myles Thatcher.
The program opens with Trio, which Tomasson set to Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. Where, one wonders, would the world of ballet be without Tchaikovsky? Apart from the scores for his three major ballets, Tchaikovsky wrote what seems like countless pieces which could have been composed solely for dancing – they adapt so perfectly for the purpose – but Swan Lake, written in the latter part of his life, was his first. The scores for Onegin and Francesca da Rimini come to mind, and Balanchine used works by Tchaikovsky for his Serenade, the Meditation pas de deux, the Diamonds variation in Jewels, his Mozartiana, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No 2 and Tchaikovsky Suite No 3 – and no doubt there are many more.
Souvenir de Florence was originally written as a four-movement string sextet, for the Saint Petersburg Chamber Music Society, a work on which the composer started work whilst in Florence writing his opera The Queen of Spades. It premiered at a private performance in 1890, but – not entirely satisfied with what he’d produced – Tchaikovsky started revising the work the following year, and the final version received its public premiere at the end of 1892, at a performance by the Saint Petersburg Russian Musical Society.
Presented in three movements – the Scherzo and Finale being performed as one – Trio opens with a display of expansive waltz sequences by a group of elegantly clad couples in shades of deep magenta and burgundy – the women’s skirts billowing and flowing as they revel in the grandeur of the occasion. The Andante – probably the most well-known movement of this work – begins as a pas de deux between two lovers, until a third figure, representing death, intrudes on their reverie. By contrast, the last movement is spirited and lively – the steps of the dancers reflecting the vitality of the Slavic-style music.
Corps de ballet member Myles Thatcher is certainly making his mark on the world of choreography – having written works for both New York City Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet, in addition to his first creation for San Francisco Ballet. Characterized by his creative lifts and group formations, all his works have been highly acclaimed.
Thatcher’s latest work for his home company, Ghost in the Machine, was inspired by his realization that as human beings we all need a relationship with others – a spirit of community, he calls it – to help us deal with the issues that we face in life, and this is the theme on which he’s built in this latest work. For the score he’s chosen seven pieces by British composer Michael Nyman – probably most widely known for his soundtrack for The Piano – but whose output includes concert works, chamber music and operas as well – and he’s also an accomplished journalist, writer and visual artist too.
The extraordinarily talented Christopher Wheeldon, Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet, is the choreographer behind the final work in this program – a ballet entitled Within the Golden Hour which he created for San Francisco Ballet as part of the 2008 New Works Festival. The original score – by Italian minimalist composer Ezio Bosso – comprises six pieces for strings, to which he’s added the Andante from Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in B-flat Major.
The golden hour of the title refers to that time of day – before sunset – when everything is cast in a mellow golden light. Regarded as one of Wheeldon’s finest works, Within the Golden Hour features seven couples, forming groups and moving away again. At the center of the work are three pas de deux, each characterized by a different theme – light, sensual and confrontational – and for the finale all 14 dancers come together for what’s described as “a thrilling ending of pulsating intensity” (The Royal Ballet).
San Francisco Ballet’s Made for SF Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra led by Martin West, opens at the War Memorial Opera House this evening, and runs until April 18. For more information on all performances, and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website .
San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola
San Francisco Symphony program notes by James M Keller