I bought tickets to Program 6 of the San Francisco Ballet for two reasons: one, because I’m a huge fan of story ballet and so wanted to see at least part of Raymonda, and two, because the program originally included a new work by Yuri Possokhov. However, between buying my subscription and finally receiving the tickets, this got changed around and Possokhov’s interpretation of Igor Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du printemps became part of Program 3. No real apologies were made for this change, which is yet another reason for me not to fully embrace this company’s subscription policies and practices. Don’t even get me started on their limited subscription options.
Of course, they are repeating the Stravinsky next year, along with Firebird, so I could try to see it then. However, I’m not sure I’ll be subscribing as there are only two full-length classic ballets on the menu: Giselle, performed just two years ago, and Cinderella, a holdover from this year (which is fine, except perhaps they should have either waited until after it was performed to announce this, or not have said “back by popular demand”).
I know doing the classics is expensive, and there aren’t that many full-length story ballets in the repertoire to begin with, but, is this it? Looking at the last ten seasons, Giselle, Romeo and Juliet, and Swan Lake represent almost half of the 22 ballets programmed. Besides those three, and the annual warhorse The Nutcracker each December, they have had repeat performances of the aforementioned Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, and Onegin. Don Quixote has also shown up twice. Coppélia and The Sleeping Beauty, both favorites of mine, have only appeared once, which is perhaps the most surprising of all. They did feature Sylvia back in 2006, so I’m hoping to have a chance one day to see the likes of Le Corsaire or La Fille mal gardée. However, the fact that they are presenting only Act II of La Bayadère next year does not bode well, especially after experiencing a partial Raymonda this weekend.
Raymonda, composed by Alexander Glazunov and originally choreographed by Marius Petipa, is a three-act ballet set in medieval Hungary. You can see the Kirov’s full version starting here, but it is often performed only partially, usually with Act III, which tells the tale of the nuptials of Raymonda and Jean de Brienne. Nureyev created the one-act version performed this weekend for the Royal Opera House in London in 1966. This act includes the most celebrated passage of the ballet, the Pas classique hongrois.
While this work is clearly technically challenging, it is often rather inelegant. La Belle Chantal felt many of the group dances could have been in Oklahoma, proclaiming them hoedown-y. She’s not wrong. Furthermore, while unusual and interesting, the folkloric elements seemed mismatched with the beautiful, lush set and costumes, creating an enormous disconnect for me. And, of course, jumping into the third act like this, there is no story to grasp onto.
And therein lies the problem with presenting partial ballets. I think I would have appreciated this ballet far more if I had been able to experience the full progression of the story, music, and choreography. Instead, it just didn’t have the impact I had hoped. Which is a shame because the technique on display was magnificent. Especially the pointe work—my god, the pointe work. Courtney Elizabeth stood out among the soloists, and both Frances Chung as Raymonda and Taras Domitro as Jean de Brienne were fantastic, particularly in their own challenging solos.
The next piece on the program was Ibsen’s House, first created by Val Caniparoli for the New Works Festival in 2008. Although the concept sounded interesting, this work was the replacement piece for the new Possokhov, so I was a little wary. Naturally, I loved it. Even the woman in the row in front of me hacking up a lung through much of the second half (thankfully she did not return after intermission) couldn’t ruin this.
Ibsen’s House highlights five female characters out of the works of Henrik Ibsen, notably the eponymous Hedda Gabler and Nora from A Doll’s House, and showcases what I feel is the strength of this company—the depth in the field of female principals and soloists. Even corps member Charlene Cohen performed admirably as Mrs. Alving in the introduction to the Ghosts section, which had particularly unusual and interesting movements. Lorena Feijóo, a new-to-me principal who recently returned from maternity leave, was a revelation as Hedda Gabler.
The stark set, which consisted primarily of a huge full-length window upstage (house left), highlighted the modernist, Scandinavian-ness of Ibsen’s plays. I thought this window, which was covered by a sheer curtain, was used effectively as dancers occasionally appeared behind it in the background, emphasizing the frustration and distance expressed by the couples downstage. Finally, the music was gorgeous—three movements from Antonín Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No. 2 in A major. I must get a recording of this soon.
The last section of the program, Edwaard Liang’s Symphonic Dances, was a repeat from last season, although I hadn’t seen it before personally. For all that Ibsen’s House made me willing and eager to see more mixed programs, this piece reminded me why I usually don’t enjoy them. Even with both Yuan Yuan Tan and Maria Kochetkova as featured dancers, I just couldn’t get into this one. Partly it was the music (Rachmaninov), but mostly it was because it just didn’t go anywhere, and yet took far too long to do it.
So this mixed bill had very mixed results. Here’s hoping Cinderella lives up to the hype and the promise of Prokofiev’s score.