The San Francisco Ballet danced at Stern Grove Sunday. My review in the Chronicle:

“It was awfully accommodating of the San Francisco Ballet to take a day out of preparations for their staggeringly ambitious 2008 season and treat more than 8,000 fans to free ballet alfresco Sunday. It was even more generous of them to dance as though they’d just come back from a long, refreshing vacation.

Perhaps the dancers can’t be thanked for everything; perhaps it only seemed as though their warmth chased away the clouds shrouding Sigmund Stern Grove during this penultimate offering of the Stern Grove Festival. But this was dancing of enough lightness and energy to shine through the foggiest of San Francisco summers. And it was a very good omen for bright things to come next spring during the company’s 75th anniversary.

Of course, it helps that Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s programming skills extend to perfect picnic fare. Paul Taylor’s “Spring Rounds,” not among that modern master’s finest creations, looks better in the open air, where the green-clad cast seems to frolic onto the stage right from the meadow. And “Elemental Brubeck,” Lar Lubovitch’s sometimes swinging, sometimes weirdly turgid jazz whirl, seems like just the thing to send you off into a Sunday sunset groove.

But the heart of the afternoon was George Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15,” to Mozart. When done right, it is not merely pretty but life affirming. And at Stern Grove the nearly moral conviction of its well-manned beauty could make you forget the bucolic surroundings.

The casting was mostly familiar from last spring’s repertory season, but everyone seemed in especially good graces. Lorena Feijoo led the gathering with stately aplomb, her turns perfectly controlled in speed and placement, while Frances Chung enlivened the drawing-room atmosphere with her unusual style, big and buoyant. Katita Waldo and Vanessa Zahorian were in crisp form, while Julianne Kepley made a good first impression as a newly hired soloist: blond, confident, all-American.

But the gentle pathos of the ballet came through in the subtle presence of the men. Jaime Garcia Castilla’s line was pure gentility. Nicolas Blanc’s jumps landed softly right on the end of a musical phrase, the way your head might hit a pillow at the end of a satisfying day. Blanc, especially, brought out the dance’s emotional core, in the ardor of his arms when he stepped back from his ballerina, in the angle of his head as he partnered. When Kepley extended her leg in a front d?velopp?, then leaned back upon his chest, you could see in Blanc’s face the idea of civility as a luxury – and as a luxury easily lost. You could see something cherished, something at stake.”

Click here for the full review.

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