My review of San Francisco Ballet’s program one is in today’s Chronicle:

“William Forsythe’s “Artifact Suite” is designed to slap you in the face, but the startling thing last year was how the San Francisco Ballet corps danced it. They gave themselves to the limb-tearing extremes as though lives were at stake, teetering above gaping ?chapp?s like would-be suicides at the edge of a skyscraper.

Arms reached from torsos as though blown in a gale storm; legs stretched to the breaking point. The corps had enjoyed triumphs since Helgi Tomasson became artistic director in 1985, hitting new benchmarks in classics such as “Swan Lake.” But “Artifact Suite” was the first work they seemed to possess in the way the Kirov might claim the works of Petipa, or the New York City Ballet, those of Balanchine. Their fierceness made a group statement: This is the San Francisco Ballet under Tomasson.

“Artifact Suite” is now a year old at the War Memorial Opera House, but the thrills were still fresh Tuesday, when the opening of this first repertory slate was a revelation of undiminished commitment.”

Click here for the full story.

I wish I’d had more space to write about “Divertimento,” which I saw again last night with a second cast. Not only is it one of my favorite Balanchine works, but it’s the perfect test of young talent, and the scoop this year is that several of Helgi Tomasson’s chosen favorites are coming into their own. It’s a delicate proccess, grooming a new generation: at first the youngsters get cast in the roles of veteran dancers they physically resemble, and fans of the old guard (like myself) may bristle at the inevitable comparisons. For a while, Tomasson seemed to be developing Rachel Viselli to replace the irreplaceable Julie Diana, and while Viselli is lyrical and lovely, she lacked Diana’s depth of vulnerability. Similarly, tall Elana Altman kept getting thrown into Muriel Maffre’s roles–and if you’ve seen the ever-commanding Maffre, you know that seeing a sweet-faced thing like Altman as, for instance, the tall girl in “Rubies” just can’t measure up.

But in “Divertimento” this week, comparisons were out the window. Viselli was absolutely radiant, and a touch glamorous with that exaggerated line through her neck. Likewise Altman, whose upper-body is beginning to find a creamy fluidity. Both were warm, gracious, and at ease in that way a dancer can only be when she is dancing like no one but herself.

In other reports on the new guard, I’m beginning to wonder what will happen with Sarah Van Patten. She has an actress’s instinct, a natural drama that oozes from her legato dancing, but that quality often evaporates when the tempo picks up. Her upper and lower halves don’t seem to want to move as a unified whole under brisk paces, and in her variation she seemed brittle. All was redeemed in her andante pas de deux. I don’t even remember her partner, to be honest, but I remember her sense of spiritual yearning in it. There is more than drawing-room pleasantries beneath the surface of “Divertimento,” and she alone plumbed its depths.

Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun stuck more to the pleasantries–but how pleasant they were. I think I’ve figured out the secret behind her bright, easy smile–her tawny skin. It makes those white teeth shine all the more winsomely. Outrageously fluid extensions don’t hurt, either, along with pliant feet and perfectly plumb balances and turns. Let’s face it–she has it all.

1 Comment

  • Mike Posted February 8, 2007 10:48 am

    I highly recommend you see the cast dancing Firebird this coming Sunday afternoon (2/11). I saw it last night and was greatly impressed with Lily Rogers as the Firebird and much less impressed with Van Patten’s Princess, who seemed far less excited to be dancing her role. I though Viselli brought much more playfulness as the Princess in comparison to Van Patten, and Rogers brought that much more benevolence as the Firebird as opposed to Yuan Yuan Tan. Besides Lily has red hair…. she could have gone without the wig and blown us all away that much more!!

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