The bottom line on SF Ballet’s disappointing new “Swan Lake” (and I wish I’d figured out how to summarize it before deadline for the Chronicle):
Helgi Tomasson took a big risk hiring Broadway designer Jonathan Fensom, who is inexperienced in ballet. The bold idea was to give “Swan Lake” the look of a theater production. The strategy, at least as Fensom has executed it, doesn’t pay off. I’d rather have a more “ballet” production. The “realistic” costumes are cumbersome to dancing, and the more modern swan costumes (and especially the harsh makeup and feather caps) don’t impart a feeling of fantasy. I also didn’t manage in my review to discuss the Brit-punk Rothbart, who is icky and pathetic but hardly intimidating or powerful.
My review in the Chronicle today:
“San Francisco Ballet’s new “Swan Lake, which premiered Saturday night at the War Memorial Opera House, is a mixed bag. Some of Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s changes in the $3 million production would, in a more consistent staging, make you cheer; other tweaks evoke cringes or giggles.
This is not an unqualified triumph of visual elegance and storytelling coherence, a la Tomasson’s “Nutcracker” or “Giselle.” But with time and refinements, one hopes, this “Swan Lake” might grow into an emotionally satisfying vehicle for a world-class company.
That hope rests on two pillars: first, the timelessness of Lev Ivanov and Marius Petipa’s original choreography, which Tomasson has not attempted to adulterate in the white swan lakeside scene (originally choreographed by Ivanov in 1895) and in the black swan pas de deux (passed down from Petipa). The second pillar worth building around is the genuine momentum Tomasson generates from that lakeside scene to the ballet’s climax.
From that second-act lakeside scene on, a massive moon hovers in the sky, visible in the third-act palace between the arcs of two striking staircases. That moon is the most successful element of the scenic and costume design by Britain’s Jonathan Fensom. It creates a dramatic unity that Tomasson capitalizes upon in his closing pas de deux for a penitent Siegfried and a forgiving Odette.
The new choreography, set to part of the Tchaikovsky score usually given to the corps of swans, creates a beautiful full arc to reconciliation, and Tiit Helimets and Yuan Yuan Tan were especially touching in it Saturday. Helimets is not a bravura technician, but in physique and softness of phrasing, he is a true prince. (Does any other man in the company possess such gentlemanly hands?) Tan is now equally first rate as Odette and her evil stand-in, Odile, lavishing a fluid back and time-stopping balances upon both roles.
But their passion fought to emerge against a host of production flaws. ”
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