One of the joys of January in the city is the opening of the San Francisco Ballet season. This year, it promises to be particularly dazzling, and includes a production of The Sleeping Beauty, a celebration of the centennials of both Jerome Robbins and Leonard Bernstein, another opportunity to experience the drama of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein, the National Ballet of Canada’s production of Nijinsky, and Unbound – a festival of world premieres created specially for the Company by twelve international artists who rank among the finest choreographers of our time.
First, though, there’s the Opening Night Gala, this year taking the theme Celestial, which brings to mind images of glittering stars, twinkling lights and heavenly performances.
Students of the San Francisco Ballet School open the program with a ballet by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, to the enchanting Little Waltz by Eric Coates, one of many by the British composer known mainly for his ‘light music’.
Jerome Robbins is represented by his 1969 ballet In the Night. This is a simply beautiful trio of pas de deux to three Chopin nocturnes, which provide the setting for each of three young couples – danced by Mathilde Froustey and Benjamin Freemantle, Jennifer Stahl and Tiit Helimets, Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham – who are going through a different phase in their respective relationships.
The range of pas de deux in the program is eclectic, to say the least. In the Bluebird variation from The Sleeping Beauty, Dores André and Wei Wang give us a preview of the gorgeous opening work of the repertory season. Sasha De Sola and Angelo Greco perform the pas de deux from Le Corsaire – a perennial show-stopper, with its technical fireworks – and there’s a lovely excerpt from August Bournonville’s La Sylphide, created for The Royal Danish Ballet, and performed on this occasion by Maria Kochetkova with Ulrik Birkkjaer – new to San Francisco Ballet, who danced the role of James many times during his illustrious career with the Danish company.
There are two contemporary works which are both new to SF Ballet. One is a pas de deux from Children of Chaos by Toronto choreographer Robert Binet, a work commissioned by Fall For Dance North, and inspired by Canadian dancers who left their home country to pursue careers elsewhere. It’s danced, appropriately, by one such dancer, Frances Chung, partnered by Joseph Walsh, both of whom appeared in the world premiere performance this past October. Choreographer Edwaard Liang provides the other new work – Letting Go – set to music by Max Richter, regarded as being one of the most prolific of contemporary composers.
The other two works on the program are both very American and both hugely popular. The pas de deux from Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes is his wonderfully exuberant tribute to the Fourth of July – all patriotism for his adoptive home, vivid colors and John Philip Sousa. It’s a sparkling vehicle for Company newcomer Ana Sophia Scheller and seasoned SF Ballet artist Vitor Luiz in what will be their premiere performances in this rousing display of Americana.
The Gala closes with Justin Peck’s version of the Four Dance Episodes from Aaron Copland’s Rodeo, which he wrote in 1942 for Agnes de Mille. Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno star in this delightful celebration of life in the American West – which was to become one of Copland’s most enduringly popular works.
Conductor Martin West leads the Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and also appearing are pianists Roy Bogas (the Chopin nocturnes) and Natal’ya Feygina who plays John Kameel Farah’s music for Children of Chaos.
San Francisco Ballet’s Opening Night Gala takes place at the War Memorial Opera House on Thursday, January 18. For more information and for tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.
Note: Although the dancers listed in this article are scheduled to perform in the Opening Gala, San Francisco Ballet reserves the right, as ever, to make cast changes should they be necessary.
Sources of information:
Somewhere – a biography of Jerome Robbins by Amanda Vaill