My review of San Francisco Ballet’s program five in today’s Chronicle:

“On paper, the big news for San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5 on Thursday was the company premiere of “Fancy Free,” the charming 1944 ballet that launched Jerome Robbins’ career, and indeed it looked delightful. But delight was in abundant supply well before this sweet tale of sailors on shore leave arrived to cap the evening. There are three other ballets on the bill, all of them mighty fine, and finely danced. A pleasanter time could not be had at the Opera House.

Part of the gratification is sheer variety. Mark Morris’ “Pacific,” the opener, is windswept and magisterial; Christopher Wheeldon’s “Carousel (A Dance)” (like “Fancy Free,” a company premiere) is romance and glee. The return of Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s elegantly brooding “The Fifth Season” lends the program a melancholy gravitas. It was also a big night for the passionate young soloist Sarah Van Patten, who ought to be given a chance to steal the spotlight more often.

She was the lovely girl in yellow at the center of Wheeldon’s “Carousel,” a distillation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical set to a suite orchestrated by William David Brohn. Whether you know the show’s plot makes no difference, as Wheeldon captures not its action but its essential feeling — and does so with remarkable imagination. A large corps whirls round the stage, the women even riding high on their partners’ shoulders and holding poles to bring the carousel image to full life.

The ensemble work is full of whimsy — cartwheels that look like Ferris wheels, and of course lots of carousel waltzing. But the heart of the ballet is a long, lush duet for Van Patten and Pierre-Fran?ois Vilanoba as a carnival barker.

Van Patten is an unusual dancer who has been slow to receive her full due here. Two years ago, she danced a startlingly realistic “Romeo and Juliet” opposite Vilanoba, but it was third or fourth cast; “Carousel” is the first role to showcase her talent so fully since. She is at her core an actress who works through pure movement, and every step she took in “Carousel” was suffused with emotional motivation, from her tottering, ambivalent run away from Vilanoba’s embrace to the woozy loll of her head as she swooned in his arms.”

Click here for more of my thoughts on Van Patten, as well as a terrific first cast for “Fancy Free.”

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