Making Ballet Speak in Many Languages
San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky and Morris Works
Andrea Mohin/The New York TimesBy BRIAN SEIBERT
The high and rising international reputation of the San Francisco Ballet derives from its deep bench of talent and its commitment to new work. The mixed-bill programs that the company is presenting during the first week of its visit to New York put forward both strengths at once. After an opening night on Wednesday at the David H. Koch Theater that offered three New York premieres of recently choreographed pieces, the troupe went one better on Thursday, with four.
“From Foreign Lands” (2013), by Alexei Ratmansky, is not in the class of that in-demand choreographer’s best work, but it shares the warmth, wit and affection for ballet conventions that make him so sought-after. The piece, with 1884 music by Moritz Moszkowski, is a suite of six balleticized national dances: Russian, Italian, German, Spanish, Polish and Hungarian.
The Russian and Spanish sections pair two couples each, the second with partner-swapping, Spanish temperament and curling wrists. The Hungarian closer features the full cast and bouncy strides. In the Italian segment, the explosive Pascal Molat puckishly squires three women. In the German, the glamorous Sofiane Sylve flows among three men. When the men aren’t attending to her, they make complementary shapes, alone or together — the work’s richest moments.
Mark Morris’s “Beaux” (2012) challenges ballet’s conventions the most and is the most beautiful. Its nine men begin as a fence of X shapes, facing away so that we see their backsides. Their tight unitards and the backdrop, both by Isaac Mizrahi, restyle military camouflage in sherbert-shaded oranges, pinks and yellows. Their pliant backbends and chest-forward soaring as they’re carried high by other men are ballet moves you see only women doing elsewhere on the program.
Much of the beauty stems from how matter-of-factly this is treated. The manner is formal and informal, contemporary and classical, now suggesting a Thomas Eakins composition of men and boys at leisure, now a procession on an ancient Greek amphora.
Constructed largely of trios, daisy chains of men, the work responds to its music, a concerto and two pieces for harpsichord by Martinu, with canon patterns and intricate turns in the cadenzas. But Mr. Morris also develops his own motifs with perfectly placed variations. The winding of three men joined by hand becomes an unwinding. Solo actions are repeated by the group.
In seeking to reinvigorate academic dancing, “Classical Symphony” (2010), by the company’s resident choreographer, Yuri Possokhov, is neither as fluent as “From Foreign Lands” nor as original as “Beaux.” Its torso undulations are the kind of unthinking update that cheapens ballet. But the work has verve, drive and invention.
The tension in Maria Kotchetkova’s neck distracts from her precision in, say, a series of fouetté turns that change orientation. Hansuke Yamamoto, eliciting gasps with whip-around jumps, embodies the work’s bravura, the men whipping up excitement as they whirl around the women.
The final work, Edwaard Liang’s “Symphonic Dances,” is the longest, at about 40 minutes, and felt even longer. Its eponymous music, by Rachmaninoff, is the most programmatically dramatic, but its choreography the least thrilling. Mr. Liang’s innovations are ungainly, his graces commonplace. An all-male segment reminds us of what Mr. Morris is reacting against.
A pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham displays Ms. Tan’s regal delicacy, despite odd work for her elbows, and Ms. Sylve gets another chance to cast her spell. When the groups costumed in orange or yellow by Mark Zappone merge, the effect is quite pretty. But compared with “Beaux,” pretty isn’t enough.