San Francisco Ballet wraps up ‘Unbound: A Festival of New Works’

Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in Liang’s ‘The Infinite Ocean’ – © Erik Tomasson

Bringing to an end San Francisco Ballet’s amazingly innovative festival of contemporary works are choreographers Edwaard Liang, Dwight Rhoden and Arthur Pita, with a program of three works written specifically for Unbound.

Taipei-born Edwaard Liang grew up in Marin, and quite obviously has a great affinity for San Francisco Ballet. He says that having watched it become “an incredible world class company … it’s a part of me, like coming home in some sort of way”. Liang danced with the School of American Ballet and New York City Ballet, then turned to Broadway, with a leading role in the musical Fosse. It was when Jiri Kylian invited him to become a member of Nederlands Dans Theater 1 that Liang discovered his passion for choreography, and – in addition to San Francisco Ballet – has since created works for companies such as the Mariinsky, New York City, Bolshoi and Hamburg ballets, as well as Singapore Dance Theatre and the National Theatre in Beijing.

Edwaard Liang’s work for Unbound bears the title The Infinite Ocean – taken from the words of a friend shortly before he died and crossed what he called “the infinite ocean”. The ballet is based on an intriguing concept, revolving around what Liang sees as that space between life and death. He describes the work as being “about people transitioning and letting go of their earthly dramas and relationships”. For the score, he’s chosen the work of British composer Oliver Davis, who has a number of albums, soundtracks, concertos and television scores to his credit, and is well known for his work with major London orchestras.

Dwight Rhoden is Founding Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer of the Complexions Contemporary Dance Company – known as America’s Original Multicultural Dance Company. He has performed with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, Les Ballet Jazz De Montreal, and with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre as a principal dancer, and has appeared on television, in documentaries and commercials, and featured in many PBS Great Performances specials. He has created over 80 ballets for Complexions, and also for a wide range of other companies including Alvin Ailey, The Dance Theater of Harlem, New York City Ballet/Diamond Project and the Mariinsky Ballet.

Rhoden’s creation for this Unbound festival – his first for San Francisco Ballet – is Let’s Begin at the End, which he says “deals with love in a very broad way – a rollercoaster ride of relationships and human nature and how we connect and disconnect”. He loves classical ballet, but considers himself to be a contemporary ballet choreographer, adding “but I don’t put limits on myself as a creative person”. He’s thrilled to be part of Unbound, because, as he says, “we don’t have to create a work in the normal tradition of what ballet is, because part of the festival is the spirit of creation”. The score for Let’s Begin at the End is an unusual combination of pieces by J S Bach, and contemporary composers Philip Glass and Michael Nyman.

Arthur Pita provides the final work for the Unbound festival. South African born Pita was inspired to take contemporary dance classes because he’d seen John Travolta in Grease, and remembers being totally blown away by his performance. Pita subsequently studied at the London Contemporary Dance School where he obtained a master’s degree, and his incredibly vast range of collaborations, commissions and creations includes productions for Francesca Zambello at the Royal Albert Hall, with Placido Domingo for LA Opera, Carmen for the Royal Opera, and works for Phoenix Dance Company at Sadlers Wells, Ballet Black at the Barbican and Paris Opera Ballet.

Pita’s Björk Ballet is his second commission for San Francisco Ballet, the first having been his highly unusual – and widely acclaimed – Salomé for the company’s 2017 season. He’s set Björk Ballet to a selection of songs by the Icelandic singer, because “her music is so theatrical and I think it really invites dance in such a beautiful way”, he explains. He’s also fascinated by her as a character and has created the ballet around the experiences of which she sings – some of her lyrics having been written by Icelandic poet and novelist Sigurjon Sigurdsson. “The moment you put on the music there is some kind of electrical charge that goes through the dancers’ bodies that they can connect with”, he says, his aim having been for the Bjork music to “unleash their unbound spirit”.

San Francisco Ballet’s final program in Unbound: A Festival of New Works opens on April 26th at the War Memorial Opera House, and runs for four performances, until May 5th. For further information, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

Artists’ websites:

Edwaard Liang

Oliver Davis

Dwight Rhoden

Philip Glass

Michael Nyman

Arthur Pita

Björk Gudmundsdottir

Sigurjon Sigurdsson


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