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Night, L'Arlesienne, Symphony in Three Movements
Last year, San
Francisco Ballet's Artistic Director, Helgi Tomasson, dedicated one program of the
repertory season to new works by young choreographers. A number of the company's dancers
rose to the occasion so that the program had to be expanded to two. One of the popular
successes from those new works, Night, was brought back this year as the opening
work of Program 6. It was choreographed by SFB principal dancer Julia Adam, who joined the
company in 1988 and has risen through the ranks achieving principal dancer status in 1996.
The music was composed by Matthew Pierce, brother of SFB principal dancer Benjamin Pierce,
who designed the costumes and projections for Night and danced a leading role in
Night worked its charms again this year, eliciting cheers and
enthusiastic applause from the audience. There is a dream-like quality to this dance,
which begins with an opening tableau of a woman asleep on what might be a bed (the backs
of four prone dancers). Tall Benjamin Pierce begins to move, stretching and bending, and
then engages the woman (petite Tina LeBlanc) in a pas de deux. Their difference in size
makes an obvious contrast. She is dressed in a nightie, he is in a leotard embellished
with organza strips sewn on so that they stick out--from a distance they look like
A group of three women, encased in a stretch fabric that surrounds them
like a cocoon and makes them perform as a single entity, appear and dance their way
downstage, eventually shedding the cocoon. Then the "bed" comes to life, as each
of the four men who was part of the bed starts to undulate like the caterpillar in Alice
in Wonderland. The costumes for both men and women are like the one worn by Pierce,
so that LeBlanc is the solitary figure dressed in "real" clothes, reinforcing
the impression that everything taking place is her dream.
LeBlanc is a fiery dancer, fleet and precise, and she engaged the
audience in her dream world. The sweet, gentle music and the geniality of Adam's movement
and stage pictures, contributed to the enjoyment.
The second work on the program was Roland Petit's L'Arlesienne,
a company premiere. A short story by Alphonse Daudet was the inspiration for this ballet,
which is about a man who is going to marry a woman he does not love. He is obsessed by a
phantom woman, never seen. The marriage happens, the bride is unable to get an emotional
response from her new husband, and he goes mad at the end, killing himself by leaping
through a window.
Petit uses Bizet's popular L'Arlesienne Suite No. 2 as the
music. The stage has a painted backdrop of a vista to distant mountains with a large sun
in the sky, all rendered in the Van Gogh style. There is a corps of eight men and eight
women, all dressed in typical peasant costume of the Arles region--men in black with a red
sash around the waist, women in black dresses with a white shawl collar and an
accompanying black shawl. The corps moves in rigid formation, conveying the sense of a
closed and restricting society. Their patterns are usually linear, the men in one line,
the women in another, sometimes the two coming together so that man alternates with woman.
The steps are tightly controlled, with quirky embellishments: fast, march-like steps in
place, unexpected movements to the side and many fluttering hand gestures. The corps
serves as a frame for the two principals, the bride and groom.
The bride's part was danced by the exquisite Lucia Lacarra, whose
beautiful legs and feet draw your eye as much as does her dramatic stage presence. Her
high leg extension shows off her shapely line--from her hip the leg curves gently, ending
in the high arch of her instep so that the foot becomes an exclamation point at the end of
a line. She portrayed the bride's confusion and anguish over her unresponsive groom with
elegant nuance of emotion. As her groom, Pierre-Fran¨ois Vilanoba did not react to those
around him--he was clearly obsessed with his unseen love. He remained impassive to his
bride's attempts at seduction, at one point falling to the floor in a fetal position
ignoring her advances. At the end, when he is alone on stage and the painted backdrop is
lifted to reveal a large, open window, his dancing conveyed the confusion that would lead
to dementia. He begins to circle the stage and suddenly takes a flying leap through the
window, bringing the ballet to a dramatic conclusion.
The final work in the program was George Balanchine's Symphony in Three
Movements, an invigorating ballet set to the eponymous score by Igor Stravinsky. When
the curtain rose to reveal a long, diagonal line of women in white leotards set against a
bright blue sky, the audience applauded spontaneously. By coincidence, the same diagonal
arrangement of corps women had occurred in L'Arlesienne, but to vastly different
effect. The excitement generated by the opening tableau seemed to inspire the dancers, as
they attacked the work with an infectious vitality.
The score dates from 1942-45 and is one of Stravinsky's neo-classical
compositions that is readily assimilable. Much of the music presages what he would write
in his opera The Rake's Progress, an
avowed homage to Mozart. Balanchine choreographed the work for his Stravinsky Festival
that represented a burst of creativity after some fallow years. His muse, Suzanne Farrell,
had left him and the works he created in 1969-71 did not have the inspiration readily
apparent in many of the works from that festival that was presented in June of 1972.
This is a large ballet calling for a big cast, 32 dancers in all.
Balanchine's mastery of moving bodies around stage is demonstrated throughout. Three pairs
of soloists (the women are in different shades of pink, contrasting with the white of the
corps women and the black of the demi-soloists) intersect with the large female corps (16
dancers) and the five demi-soloist couples, often in rapidly changing patterns. The dance
reflects the restless energy of the score, especially in the first movement where
Balanchine uses ordinary walking movements punctuated by pumping arms and clenched fists.
Soloists Julia Adam and Roman Rykine brought a sharp edge to their dancing in this
SFB dances Balanchine beautifully--in fact it often demonstrates more
precision of design than New York City Ballet without sacrificing speed and energy. Julie
Diana and Yuri Possokhov danced the central pas de deux, which is a welcome contrast to
the two outer movements. She is cool, he is passionate--it was an effective pairing. Their
flowing arm gestures expressed the slower, legato (linked or flowing) nature of this part
of the ballet, which led seamlessly into the final movement for the entire cast and
brought the evening to a swift, exciting conclusion.