The San Francisco Ballet season is coming to an end, and I can’t help blogging about it.

The season closed with a farewell gala, which I reviewed for the Chronicle:

“Cheers and confetti rained upon the Opera House stage Friday as three of San Francisco Ballet’s most beloved male dancers took their final bows there.

Stephen Legate has danced with the company for 15 years, Peter Brandenhoff for 14 and Yuri Possokhov, 12. Possokhov especially has been an artistic force at San Francisco Ballet, lending Russian passion across the repertory, staging “Don Quixote” alongside Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, and launching his own highly promising choreographic career.

Yet something more than these dancers’ collective contributions was being marked as the audience shouted and the red roses flew. Together, these three men are emblematic of the new San Francisco Ballet under Tomasson, who took the reins in 1985, and their departures point to others soon to come. Muriel Maffre, for instance, has talked of retiring for years; her smile at the curtain calls for Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night” Friday may have been fueled not just by her exquisite performance alongside Damian Smith, but by the relief — hers and ours — that it is not yet her last. An era was passing. But the mood was as celebratory as it was wistful.

“I don’t doubt that each and every one of you has special memories of these dancers’ performances over the years,” Tomasson told the audience, and for the next two hours we relived many of them.

The most gratifying moments were in the small details: Possokhov’s open palm and curled fingers as he fled fiery Lorena Feijoo during the tempestuous final pas de deux of “In the Night”; Legate’s inimitable tenderness as he cradled Tina LeBlanc to the ground in an excerpt from Lar Lubovitch’s “… smile with my heart”; Brandenhoff’s insouciant swinging arms as he strutted toward the wings in Hans van Manen’s “Solo.” ”

Details of the 2007 programs will be out any day now. As my review notes, it will be a season of rebuilding, with dancers throughout the ranks making departures, and most likely a pivotal year in the company’s development. But 2006 was hardly a holding pattern, which I must admit is what I had expected.

“Swan Lake” proved to be not just a box office hit, but a smashing way to start the season, with the corps dancing strong and three ballerinas leaving distinct stamps on Odette/Odile: Tina LeBlanc sweet and empathic, Lorena Feijoo impeccably stylized, Yuan Yuan Tan elegant and surprisingly tender, my favorite of the three (sadly I missed Kristin Long). Gonzalo Garcia made a strong acting debut as Prince Siegfried, but Tiit Helimets left the most striking impression with his innately noble presence, while thick-muscled Davit Karapetyan showed his lofty jump to far better advantage in contemporary works like Helgi Tomasson’s “Chaconne.”

As for the mixed rep, Lar Lubovitch’s “Elemental Brubeck” emerged as the most flattering of the three premieres created for last summer’s Paris engagement, a Cyd Charisse-tinged jaunt whose trajectory was sometimes as loopy as Lubovitch’s movement style. But the casts–especially radiant Katita Waldo, Frances Chung, and Gonzalo Garcia in three solos that had certain viewers screaming like girls at a Beatles concert–swung through it with verve.

The all-Jerome Robbins evening should become a season staple. I didn’t care for Yuan Yuan Tan as the mirror-entranced girl of “Afternoon of a Faun” (too much of an otherworldly creature, not enough human erotic tension), but soloist Sarah Van Patten was ravishing opposite Moises Martin. Joan Boada charmed in “Other Dances” before an injury took him out of the season, and the corps made the return of “Glass Pieces” anything but pedestrian.

I found Tomasson’s new “The Fifth Season” entrancing, and his “Blue Rose” an utter bore. Neither was the season’s dancing always inspired: Balanchine’s “Rubies” looked rote. And then there was William Forsythe’s “Artifact Suite,” slapping you awake from nowhere like the work’s sudden curtain falls. The corps dancers gave themselves to Forsythe mind, body, and soul. This was a new level of achievement for the company.

Perhaps now I will institute my first-ever “Corps Dancers to Watch”:

–Rory Hohenstein (just promoted): Leading-man looks, that gorgeous plastique through the torso, neck, and head. A man among boys in “Elemental Brubeck.”

–Courtney Elizabeth: A punchy, go-for-broke dynamism in “Brubeck.”

–Brooke Taylor Moore: A tough, solid gal with will to spare and a forceful presence.

And among the soloists, I wish I had come back to the opera house more often to see Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, with that effortless extension and that supple back. I hope to watch her flourish next year.

1 Comment

  • lauren Posted May 17, 2006 1:05 pm

    re: brooke taylor moore: VERY well put. i completely agree. i remember her quite well..

    emily halpin is about to (or just has) given birth to a bouncing baby boy, she was teaching ballet down in pasadena for a while, and might go there again if she gets the chance.

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