My review of San Francisco Ballet’s gala for the SF Chronicle is now online:

” “Maestro!” Pascal Molat shouted with a mischievous grin before launching himself into a dizzying whirl of jetes. Soon Nicolas Blanc rushed the Opera House stage to give Molat a run for the money, stopping pirouettes with the surreal physics of a cartoon character, capering effortlessly through an excerpt from Italian choreographer Renato Zanella’s zany “Alles Walzer.”

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Pascal Molat in “Alles Walzer,” photo credit Erik Tomasson.

It was the kind of moment to make you sit up and realize that San Francisco has one of the world’s leading ballet companies, a revelation that Wednesday’s San Francisco Ballet gala supplied in overwhelming variety. From the company’s consummate actress, Sarah Van Patten, girlishly swooning in the duet from Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel (A Dance)” to the tiny Russian recruit Maria Kochetkova teasingly tambourine-tapping through the tricks of “La Esmeralda” and the debut of guest artist Sofiane Sylve, there was no shortage of star turns to remind us why San Francisco Ballet’s 75th anniversary is a big deal: Not because of its novel past (America’s oldest professional ballet company, as you’ll hear ad nauseam this season), but because of its promising present.

sarahgala.jpgSarah Van Patten and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba in “Carousel (A Dance),” photo credit Erik Tomasson.

These were welcome moments in a Champagne-fueled celebration that suffered a curious Big Moment by-product: big anniversary bloat. It wasn’t that the Ballet indulged undue pomp, with balloons and confetti raining upon the final curtain call. The speechifying was brief, with a rightfully beaming Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson flanked by recipients of the company’s Lew Christensen Medal before board co-chair James H. Herbert was inducted into their ranks. Never verbose, Tomasson let the dancing speak to all that he has accomplished since taking the helm in 1985, reshaping a once-regional company into a collection of internationally distinctive dancers. But the dancing spoke haltingly, hampered by programming that never hit the whiz-bang pacing that ballet galas trade in.”

Click here for the full review.

In the perennial struggle to cover the season opening gala without creating a laundry list of every tidbit, I left out Rachel Viselli and Damian Smith in the final bowler-hat-girl pas from Kenneth Macmillan’s “Elite Syncopations.” The omission wasn’t intentional; I’m warming to Viselli slowly, and was pleased to see an unexpected playful side of her emerge in the tush-shaking ragtime.

Meanwhile, if you pick up the newest (February) San Francisco Magazine and open it dead center, you will find a gorgeous, glossy 10-page spread full of photos of Helgi Tomasson and the company. The layout is stunning; whether my in-depth profile of Tomasson captures him and does him justice I leave you to judge.

As always, I love hearing your reactions, good and bad (but please not ugly). You can email me at rachel at rachel howard dot com, or better yet if you have thoughts to share on the gala and the season to come, post them on the “comments” feature at the top of the review after you click through.

Photos of my other personal highlights, courtesy San Francisco Ballet:

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Sofiane Sylve and Anthony Spaulding in “Two Pieces for Het (For Rachel),” photo credit Erik Tomasson.

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Maria Kochetkova in “La Esmeralda,” photo credit Erik Tomasson.

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Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in “Distant Cries,” photo credit Erik Tomasson.

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