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Balletomanes are raving about Sarah Van Patten’s debut in “Diamonds” Sunday, and I can’t help but add my voice to the chorus. This is the cast I wish the NY Times’ Alastair Macaulay had seen. I wasn’t in New York (or born yet) to see Suzanne Farrell in the 1960’s, but in my imagination Van Patten has Farrell’s spirit freshly incarnated. She gave “Diamonds” an air of tragedy in everything from the regretful, slightly petulant tilt of her head (more Farrell comparisons, anyone?) to the sudden stab into that “Swan Lake”-like attitude with piercing arm at the music’s climax. Everything became an expression of longing, even the necessary push-pull tension in the connection between her arms and partner Tiit Helimets’ as he steadied her in the arabesque penchee in which he lowers to one knee. Both were utterly in the music. Van Patten is no technician, and probably never will be–that circle of little hops to a small side extension that pull up into pirouette remained decidedly un-crisp. She has no technique for its own sake, but only in service to her musicality–but this to me is fine, even preferred to emotion-less automatons. And Van Patten acquires more technical assuredness every day. In the past, on an off day, she could fall to pieces–I’ve seen her fight through a second movement of “Symphony in C” and a performance of the Sugar Plum Fairy in “Nutcracker” so nerve-rattled and rushed I half-wondered if she’d taken too much Sudafed. But there was no hint of uncertainty in “Diamonds” Sunday, only luxurious command.
Six years ago, when Van Patten first arrived at San Francisco Ballet, Helgi Tomasson tossed her into the finale of “Diamonds” to top off the season-opening gala. She was young, in a new company, out of her depth; she looked preening. But the potential was there, and Tomasson saw it–and nurtured it through the unevenness of her early seasons here. I’ve spoken of Van Patten “coming of age” before–in her “Romeo and Juliet,” in the grand pas of Tomasson’s “Nutcracker.” She just keeps on growing. She’s the kind of ballerina who makes following a company closely so worthwhile.