My SF Chronicle review of San Francisco Ballet’s program two is now online. I have no idea why the headline says it’s the season’s first program, when “program 2” is right there in the lede. I’m also not sure why “the Bay Area’s only major troupe” got changed to “the Bay Area’s dominant troupe.” Still, here’s the top:

“Thursday at the opening of San Francisco Ballet’s Program 2, the East Coast critics were in the aisles, curious on the occasion of the company’s 75th birthday to see how far Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson has taken this once-regional troupe. Meanwhile, some of the company’s most sparkling classicists were onstage, dancing not as though they had something to prove but as though they had much they wanted to show. The New York critics will see San Francisco Ballet through their lens, colored by regular exposure to American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet. And a local critic can only see the company through hers, colored by the fact that San Francisco Ballet is the Bay Area’s dominant troupe, which lends a certain element of civic pride. But anyone who follows the company would have seen this: San Francisco Ballet was at its finest Thursday. These dancers showed the world their best.

They did so in a slate that showcases one of Tomasson’s special strengths: assembling a diverse, something-to-please-everyone repertory. You could hardly arrange a greater contrast than the forthright, modern-dance-ethos-meets-ballet-steps hybridism of Mark Morris’ “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” juxtaposed with the goofy theatrical flair of Yuri Possokhov’s “Firebird.” But the ballet that matters to serious ballet lovers, the ballet that tests not just the company’s technical mettle but also its poetic gravitas, is George Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15.”

Vanessa Zahorian (L) and Kristin Long in “Divertimento No. 15,” photo credit Erik Tomasson.

With its civilized manner and bedecked tutus (more fetching now that the Ballet has ditched its purple togs for muted yellows and blues after Karinska’s original designs), “Divertimento No. 15″ may look like a stereotype of ballet. But pity the viewer who shrugs it off as pretty. As with everything Balanchine, the meaning is in the music – the sublime spiritual serenity of Mozart, conducted by Martin West – but the steps are not just gloss on the music. When done with depth of understanding, they bring the unsayable in that music, that stirring harmoniousness, to flesh-and-blood life.

That was the case Thursday. Each soloist offered a wealth of musically sensitive details – Rachel Viselli’s hovering rubato as she lowered her arabesque leg, Frances Chung’s zesty spring en pointe, Vanessa Zahorian’s lush stretch through her chest as she stepped forward as though through water. These details aren’t ornaments; they’re the soul of the dance, celebrating a way of living that makes every moment beautiful, even in small ways.”

Click here for the rest.

More photos:

drinktome.jpgMark Morris’ “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes,” photo credit Erik Tomasson.

Yuan Yuan Tan in “Firebird,” photo credit Erik Tomasson.

1 Comment

  • jennifer Posted February 3, 2008 11:05 am

    If NY critics see SF Ballet’s brilliant performance of divertimento (i saw it sat evening!), they will see that for once, Balanchine can be done without rushing through the steps, with dancers trying to struggling to keep up with the music.

    I saw Balanchine with new eyes on saturday evening at the Opera House. It was amazing!

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