Programme 1, San Francisco Ballet, Royal Opera House, 13 August 2001
San Francisco Ballet are bringing twelve different ballets to Covent Garden in the space of a single week. This represents an astonishing variety. You would have to attend Covent Garden diligently for months to get to see twelve different works. It’s a really bold programme, full of all those things which we are told don’t sell well – all mixed bills, including new works. And all this presented in the middle of August when most of London has departed for a beach somewhere, after the rival glories of a Kirov season and other guests.
It would be nice to say that this was a triumph to a sold out house, but this would be quite accurate. All the cheaper seats seemed to be occupied, with the Amphi full, and lots of people in the upper slips, and a number of people standing. The stalls looked fairly full, but almost all the boxes in the grand tier and balcony were empty. I think this probably reflects the shift in ticket prices: these were noticeably cheaper on SFB’s previous visits to Sadlers and to the Edinburgh Festival.
The evening was a touch uneven on the dance front, but it concluded with a terrific performance of Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements which really showed off the company’s strengths.
The evening began with Jerome Robbins’ Fanfare. It was a neat choice for London: it is set to Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, and the narrative was spoken by the splendidly robed and fruitily voiced Major Domo of George James in decidedly proper BBC English. It was a charming introduction to the company as each group of dancers, matched with different instruments, took their turn upon the stage. The costumes, each embellished with the musical instrument the dancer was illustrating, were delightfully witty – the brass section featured the daftest hats to be seen this side of an Eton boating party. It was a lighthearted opening, with some rather jazzy notes and wiggling of the hips undercutting the formal precision from time to time. It’s a group work rather than an exercise for individual virtuosity, but Muriel Maffre still deserves a mention as the harp.
Mark Morris’s A Garden wasn’t the huge hit that I think fans of Sandpaper Ballet, presented on SFB’s last visit to great acclaim, might have expected. The audience response was a little muted. Morris’s musical instincts are remarkably sure: Richard Strauss’ orchestration of pieces by Couperin was delightful. It was interesting to hear the 18th century through the filter of the 20th. The dance two seemed to evoke two quite different times: there was a feeling of formality, courtliness, and of Arcadian nymphs and shepherds. But frustratingly, this never seemed to fully develop: overlaid on this was a great sense of impatience, of very modern busy-ness, restlessness. Morris seemed far too inventive for his own good, trying out grouping after grouping, filling the stage with some new configuration every two minutes. It might have been preferable to see less ideas more fully developed. The costumes too seemed very dull, with the men in shirts that made them look like assistants in a DIY store.
The audience took to Magrittomania in a big way – and to the leads, Roman Rykine and Yuan Yuan Tan. This is a new work by company member Yuri Possokhov. Magritte’s paintings were the inspiration – cue for lots of bowler hats and would-be surrealist dresses for the women, beautifully cut but with big fake plastic boobs attached. I enjoyed the dancing of the group of three men (Gonzalo Garcia, Stephen Legate, Guennadi Nedviguine) in this – they seemed to have the best of the choreography. It wasn’t really clear exactly what was causing all the anguish with Rykine seemed to be suffering.
Symphony in Three Movements was a real treat. The company looked in great form, confident, poised, full of energy. There’s a tremendous amount packed in to a little over twenty minutes, and it’s difficult to do justice to it here. Lucia Lacarra, partnered by Yuri Possokhov, proved to be the audience favorite, but, again, it was very much a ‘company’ presentation, rather than being about stars. More please !