Apparently, though I presumed starkly otherwise, I am the only person in San Francisco not crazy about Wayne McGregor’s “Eden/Eden.” “Eden/Eden” fans at the opera house Friday: My apologies for projecting my own indifference upon you. Otherwise, I think my review of San Francisco Ballet’s program five in today’s Chronicle captured things more or less accurately:

“San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson may have excluded himself from the 10 choreographers about to unleash world premieres at next month’s New Works Festival, but he’s hardly shelved his own choreographic ambition. Tomasson’s “On a Theme of Paganini,” unveiled Friday, tackles a devilishly complex score: Rachmaninoff’s rakish rhapsody on Paganini’s famous melody. To match it, Tomasson deploys nearly every weapon at his disposal: two sparkling female principals, three of the company’s most rip-roaring star guys, a platoon of demi-soloists who barely get to see battle, and separate battalions of corps women and men. But the one weapon Tomasson could have used a lot more of is wit.

Like most of Tomasson’s neoclassic oeuvre, “On a Theme of Paganini” will hardly stand accused of theatrical outlandishness. Neil Peter Jampolis’ lighting design is a light-flooded field of gray, and Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes have a subtle industrial feel – the women’s short dresses have silver metallic bodices.

This could have provided a clean visual backdrop for formal fun with Rachmaninoff, teasing to the point of near-parody or lushly romantic in many of these 24 variations.

But as so often in Tomasson’s dances, though the structural skill is unflagging, the physical vocabulary is restrained to a point of paucity. The most notable motif in “On a Theme of Paganini” is an arm raised overhead, then flipped palm up, defiantly, puckishly. That gesture could have been a good starting point, but it’s about all we’ve got, and it returns dutifully, though never in surprising ways. “On a Theme of Paganini” could’ve used a little naughtiness, a little bad taste.

It does offer pleasures – Music Director Martin West and the orchestra, with Roy Bogas as pianist, and the swooning famous 18th variation featuring Maria Kochetkova. The sweet innocence that made her “Giselle” heartbreaking proves magical again here, as Kochetkova kisses Davit Karapetyan’s forehead and curls up so tiny inside his burly arms. ”

Click here for the full review.

UPDATE: Turns out “Eden/Eden” fans are wonderfully passionate. I’m sorry to say I can’t join your ranks. But if you’re curious about my personal reasoning about my indifference towards “Eden/Eden,” this is what I wrote in the Chronicle last year:

“If you want to know where the San Francisco Ballet is headed, talk to the younger dancers. For months, they’ve been buzzing about “Eden/Eden,” the futuristic work by British choreographer Wayne McGregor that had its U.S. premiere on the company’s Program 4 Tuesday night. Such bizarre, crazy movement! Like nothing we’ve ever danced! And indeed they danced it with obvious relish.

But what may feel cutting-edge and exciting to dancers brought up in the relatively artistically isolated world of ballet is not always a thrill for the audience. “Eden/Eden” is relentless. It’s designed to be. It’s about cloning, and it uses music by the minimalist composer Steve Reich — fast repeating xylophone rhythms intercut with robotic voices, and audio clips of scientists talking about genetic engineering. The nine dancers start out in flesh-colored underwear and bald caps, looking like eerie mannequins; Ursula Bombshell’s costumes really do succeed at making them look identical. Later, apparently as they begin to take over the human race, they put on clothes; there’s also a tree hovering in the background, and it disappears along with our last shred of humanity. Think Philip K. Dick for the Opera House stage.

The movement would indeed be novel for a ballet dancer. Limbs hyperextend; arms look as if they want to pop out of their joints. Much of it is quite inventive: hips and ribs shimmying upward from deep grand plies; a leg extended with a flexed foot rocking side to side, boom-boom-boom. Muriel Maffre is the high priestess of this kind of style, but the whole cast — including corps members Dana Genshaft and Hayley Farr — clearly take to it, and the young soloist Jaime Garcia Castilla has a whip-crack solo that may be his finest moment yet.

So why then does it all grow so tiresome? For one thing, for all its aura of scientific wonder and doom, “Eden/Eden” doesn’t have any mysteries. When McGregor has, for instance, the whole ensemble start whirling in marathon fouette turns, you put it together pretty quickly — ah! It’s as if they’re genetically modified superhumans! — and once you do there’s no extra ambiguity to open up, no further emotional or conceptual place to take that thought. Dance can say interesting things about technology and science, but it needs to do so in a much less tidy, far more metaphorically rich and unresolved way than McGregor offers.”

And please, keep sharing with me your thoughts.

Add Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.