San Francisco Ballet’s season opening gala Wednesday marked Helgi Tomasson’s 25th year as artistic director, which explains the decision to load the program of star-studded snippets with his works. The net effect was very, very grey—a fitting if less than celebratory representation of this Iceland native’s creative output. The sampling of pas de deux (and a pas de trois) was restrained, frequently gloomy, sober. Much of the music was Baroque or Baroque-influenced. A lot of the works are perfectly lovely (especially Tomasson’s “Concerto Grosso” for six men who prowl the stage like a pride of dignified lions, tossing off elegant feats). But taken together, these ballets don’t make for much of a party. It fell to Gennadi Nedvigin to liven things up after intermission with the “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” solo from Paul Taylor’s “Company B.” By no fault of his own, he came across like an obnoxious teenager crashing a funeral. Then the stunningly clean, high-flying technique of Taras Domitro was called upon to end everything with a bang. It was hard to feel too uplifted, though, when he was dancing an excerpt from Tomasson’s “Le Quattro Stagione” (“The Four Seasons,” to Vivaldi) in which a man faces death.
But in truth, despite Tomasson’s proficiency and occasional inspiration as a dancemaker, his greater gifts as director manifest in the international roster of incredibly diverse dancers. And despite the preponderance of grimness, they delivered sparkling tribute to their boss. The evening’s high point: Frances Chung and Elizabeth Miner in the “Sleeping Beauty” wedding act pas de six, stylish and crisp through fiendishly fast petite allegro. Also especially delectable: Sarah Van Patten’s sashaying shoulders and storytelling eyes in the “Man I Love” pas de deux from Balanchine’s “Who Cares?,” partnered by a flirty Pierre-Francois Vilanoba. And Vanessa Zahorian was exquisite, really masterful in her precision of plastique, in Tomasson’s “Chaconne,” with muscular-yet-refined Davit Karapetyan. Meanwhile, it was a night to admire how many “boys” are developing in Tomasson’s standard of excellence, from the still-young yet preternaturally commanding Anthony Spaulding partnering Sofiane Sylve in the old Arthur Mitchell role from Balanchine’s “Agon,” to even younger young’uns like Diego Cruz holding their own alongside the mature virtuosity of Pascal Molat in “Concerto Grosso.”
Yuan Yuan Tan was her irrepressibly otherworldly self in two selections, the better of which was “Chi-Lin.” And Maria Kochetkova gave her first San Francisco portrayal of Juliet in the balcony scene opposite Joan Boada’s Romeo, to mixed effect: She has the innocence and girlish sweetness, undoubtedly, but I don’t yet buy her passion—and I think these hormonally raging teens need a dose of lust. Kochetkova, lusty? We’ll find out later in the season during the full “Romeo and Juliet’s” run.
The other international roster Tomasson has to his great credit, beside his dancers, consists of the huge range of choreographers he’s brought into the rep. This season he’s taking an interesting gamble on John Neumeier’s full-evening “The Little Mermaid.” I’m also especially curious about Christopher Wheeldon’s new “Ghosts,” and premieres from Yuri Possokhov and Renata Zanella. In the meantime, Tomasson’s “Swan Lake” opens this weekend. www.sfballet.org for information.