San Francisco Ballet tackles the ambitious Shostakovich Trilogy

 

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Piano Concerto #1 from Ratmansky's SHOSTAKOVIOCH TRILOGY (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Piano Concerto #1 from Ratmansky’s SHOSTAKOVIOCH TRILOGY (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

 
Like a force of nature, Alexei Ratmansky’s coruscating Shostakovich Trilogy has made landfall on the Left Coast, after sweeping New York last season, and San Francisco Ballet tackles it with style and moxie.

Ballet to the People was there on Thursday night, and thought:

You do not have to be an admirer of Shostakovich or a ballet junkie to be moved and exhilarated by San Francisco Ballet in Alexei Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy. This co-production with American Ballet Theatre looks and sounds spectacular in the golden warmth of the War Memorial Opera House, with eerie sculptural backdrops by artist George Tsypin, the SFB dancers delivering a slightly more restrained performance than ABT, though just as compelling.

The evening veers between mocking paeans to Russian athleticism, outbreaks of paranoia and mistrust, and grief over love lost and ambition strangled. Whether you believe that Shostakovich was a Soviet lapdog or a closet dissident, whether you read into this work coded subversive messages from an artist struggling under a repressive regime, or a defiant riposte to the manifesto of postmodern dance, or none of the above, you are liable to find yourself on the edge of your seat, marveling at the sheer nerve of the dancers, at the extreme yet refined physicality of their interactions onstage.
 

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Simone Messmer in Symphony #9 from Ratmansky’s SHOSTAKOVICH TRILOGY (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

 
Ratmansky’s movement language is one of precision execution – rather like the elements of a superior defensive strategy in baseball: the outside slider for a strikeout, the double play, picking a runner off base. Split-second timing, the ability to turn on a dime, gutsiness, trust – all were amply on display on Thursday night, notably in the intimate pas de deux between Sarah Van Patten and Carlos Quenedit in Symphony #9 and Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Piano Concerto #1, and especially in the riveting solos by Simone Messmer (of all the dancers, the only one to have performed the same role while at ABT and now at SFB.) Messmer galvanized the ensemble with her ebullient hitch-kicks, stabbing pointework and proud upper body carriage. Whether she represents a force of salvation or a figure of mischief was one of many entertaining enigmas of the evening.

Like Messmer, the daring Yuan Yuan Tan with her racehorse physique looks like she was born to dance this language, as does Lorena Feijoo in Chamber Symphony, all fire and ice. Among the corps, Miranda Silveira stood out for her fearlessness, her trenchant lines and dynamite jumps.
 

Davit Karapetyan in Chamber Symphony from Ratmansky's SHOSTAKOVICH TRILOGY (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

Davit Karapetyan in Chamber Symphony from Ratmansky’s SHOSTAKOVICH TRILOGY (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

 
In the striking, mournful Chamber Symphony, Davit Karapetyan, bare-chested under an unbuttoned black velvet jacket, conveyed a noble anguish, equal parts rock star and tortured artist. After creating a final majestic tableau he stumbles offstage, bowed in pain and angst.

– For more on Thursday’s performance, check out our full review in the Huffington Post. –
 

Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan in Chamber Symphony from Ratmansky's SHOSTAKOVICH TRILOGY (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan in Chamber Symphony from Ratmansky’s SHOSTAKOVICH TRILOGY (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

 
Saturday night’s performance was a madcap tour de force for the fearless Maria Kochetkova, abetted by the ardent Vitor Luiz. She flew around the stage like a tiny hurricane, then was tossed, spinning, into the air, landing triumphantly on Luiz’ shoulder. The audience reaction was akin to the uproar when we learned a few hours earlier that our beloved Giants had trounced the Los Angeles Dodgers on the archrival’s home turf.
 
Yuan Yuan Tan and Maria Kochetkova in Piano Concerto #1 from Ratmansky's SHOSTAKOVICH TRILOGY (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

Yuan Yuan Tan and Maria Kochetkova in Piano Concerto #1 from Ratmansky’s SHOSTAKOVICH TRILOGY (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

 
The hijinks in the pit were led with verve by Martin West. Michael McGraw and John Pearson sparred merrily on piano and trumpet, respectively, in Piano Concerto #1. I think the trumpet won.

Costuming hit the only sour note of the evening – in particular, the crushed silver velvet trousers in Chamber Symphony and the metrosexual vibe for the men in both Chamber and Symphony #9. Shiny belts seem to be the “in” thing in ballet (Mark Morris used them in Gong) but they add an unwelcome aura of Star Trek to the proceedings; a more timeless look seems called for.

– For more on Saturday’s performance, check out our full review on Bachtrack. –
 

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San Francisco Ballet in Piano Concerto #1 from Ratmansky’s SHOSTAKOVICH TRILOGY (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

 

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