L"Arlesienne, the Roland Petit Ballet to Bizet's Suite $2 of the same name, has enjoyed its second season, again with the same principal dancers: Vilanoba/La Carra and Solomakha/Diana.
This is the first ballet Pierre-Francois Vilanoba has danced this season since he was side-lined with a broken bone in his foot.
The convalescence seems to have deepened his performance. He has been a favorite of mine since he arrived as a soloist three years ago, and I see no reason to change my initial appreciation. Of course, he completely understands the social milieu of the work and the provincial restriction which exaggerates the condition of his character. To convey mental dislocation and still do a pair of gestures to right and left, and to repeat those gestures, or a repeated series of low flying jetes on the diagonal is not altogether symptomatic of fatal mental illness. Yet, within the choreographic structure, Vilanoba brings it off.
La Carra is her usual fetching self and her feet are as eloquent
as her dainty distress seeing her heart's focus disappear into his private mental world, as distracting as Effie's dilemma in La Sylphide, but without a visual will o' the wisp to lend credence for the audience.
Petit makes a real distinction between corps and soloists, but the corps manages to convey the collective solidarity which doesn't aid Vilanoba's hero at all.
The big momentin the program, however, was the premiere of Christopher Wheeldon's Continuum to the piano music of Gyorgy Ligeti, a pas de huit backed by interesting use of the rise and fall or opening and closing of the back scrim,danced in inky green leotards and tights. The eight were: Julia Diana with David Arce; Kristin Long and Gonzalo Garcia; Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith; Muriel Maffre and Benjamin Pierce.
The Ligeti piano pieces are frequently short and their lack of melody has inspired Wheeldon to create, first, Polyphonia, for New York City Ballet and now, this piece for San Francisco Ballet. It uses as a movement frame of reference George Balanchine's Agon, but really moves on ward, particularly with physical levels and port de bras Wheeldon, most noted for his previous lyrical work, is not working collaboratively as Balanchine did with Stravinsky. Frankly I think a better term for
the work is Fragments, however true Wheeldon is to the structure
of the pieces, brilliantly played by Michael McGraw and Daniel Waite.
When the dancers came on stage, the women in a line across the back and then down stage left, their arms sliced the air at shoulder level left and right, the impulse of the upper arm designed to provide character and punch.
Initially the work is all linear and very geometrical with some
stunning visual imagery with the graduated heights of the women
kneeling in line on stage with the line completed by Yuan Yuan Tan in an arabesque supported by Damian Smith.
Tan and Smith are given an Adams/Mitchell like challenge in the first pas de deux, but extended to body support by Smith, Tan's beautiful legs not only extended in exaggerated attitude but entwined over Smith's back.
Kristin Long performs a brief solo, followed by Diana and Arce, where the dominant note of the port de bras are hands held upright in mosaic icon fashion. The late San Francisco-based Sculptor, Beniamino Bufano noted for his statues of animals and St. Francis, would have adored the simple upright fingers and palms, held in almost Egyptian tomb figure fashion. Diana is later given a variation where these gestures repeat themselves. Her variation is the essence of serenity and her dancing positively sings. When her dance is completed, Diana is down stage right on her knees, her supple back and neck bent forward in a measured, loving surrender.
My memory of sequence is faulty but we get a variation by Gonzalo Garcia exploiting his nimble allegro and ability to cover space,
alternating steps from small jetes to a near sur la place jump a la seconde, and not losing the momentum!
Muriel Maffre shared a geometric assignment, partnered by Benjamin Pierce,where at least twice she was required to rise, visibly, through demi-pointe on to her satin pointes. Like Tan her length lent itself to angular postures and candalbra like port de bras, a clear contrast to the soft supplicating hands
assigned to Julie Diana. Everything she does is clear, simple and majestic.
The light would collapse gently over the couples at the end of their variations, while the back scrim did interesting things like rise and fall, part and close, seeming to cause the end of each sequence.
I can see why my colleagues are agog over it, for it is a handsome addition to the company's repertoire. While you see
the sources, the movement does not appear derivative, simply a genuine acknowledgment and reference to sources while being its own statement. That is no mean feat.
Death of a Moth, the Val Caniparoli work premiered last year to the music of Carlos Surinach this year is better lit and dazzlingly well danced by:Katita Waldo/Parrish Maynard; Julie Diana/Peter Brandenhoff; Tina Le Blanc/Yuri Possokhov; Muriel Maffre/Chidozie Nzerem; Nicole Starbuck/Damian Smith and supported by Michael Eaton; Ruben Martin;Steven Norman; Pablo Piantino; James Sofranko.
The fitful, febrile life of moths attracted to light before dying is well costumed by Sandra Woodall; strong lurid mixtures of primiary colors with full skirts for the women, in the fashion of Caniparoli's Lambarena with dark monotone sleeveless tee shirts and trousers for the men. As mentioned last season, the men appear to the bodies and the women the wings of fated airborne creatures. Every so often in the series of duets the partners pause and regard each other, usually before the final convulsive phrases of dying. It is singularly effective.
Nicole Starbuck flung herself nearly two feet into the arms of
Damian Smith, while Le Blanc and Maffre, collapsed and limp, were held by Possokhov and Nzerem. The men lurched, spun and dropped to their knees or jeted with equal fervor.Starbuck/Smith completed their variation in lifeless heaps and Diana/Brandenhoff with equal passion also obliged at the curtain.