In the Countenance of Kings and other gems at San Francisco Ballet

Baseball season opened with a bang on Monday. The San Francisco Giants crushed the Milwaukee Brewers, hitting back-to-back-to-back homers for only the 10th time in the team’s history, and the first on an opening day.

Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin in Alexei Ratmansky's SEVEN SONATAS (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin in Alexei Ratmansky’s SEVEN SONATAS (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

24 hours later, San Francisco Ballet opened its Program 6 with a triple bill of Tomasson, Ratmansky and Wheeldon but the evening’s home runs were hit by the musicians rather than the choreographers.

The program was narrative-free, though Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas hinted at deeply conflicting emotions, even scandal, underneath the restrained Scarlatti.

The structure of Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush© closely resembles that of Tomasson’s Prism, with a slow, sensuous pas de deux sandwiched between two frantic outer movements. Program notes tell us that Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů was inspired by “the California sea and sky” but Wheeldon’s concept appears inspired by southern California traffic, judging from the grandiosely copyrighted title and the choreography.

Click here to read my review of Program 6 in the Huffington Post. –

San Francisco Ballet in the world première of Justin Peck's IN THE COUNTENANCE OF KINGS (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in the world première of Justin Peck’s IN THE COUNTENANCE OF KINGS (Photo: Erik Tomasson)

Thursday saw the opening of Program 7 and the world première of Justin Peck’s much-anticipated In the Countenance of Kings. What sets Peck apart from many choreographers making work today is his imaginative use of the ensemble. They are an ecosystem from which his soloists suddenly spring and into which they abruptly disappear. He rarely employs symmetry in organizing the corps; he abandons the concept of order that is so critical to classical ballet, and yet keeps chaos at bay. The work is long on wit and pyrotechnics.

The timeless Balanchine-Tschaikovsky classic, Theme and Variations proved an unexpectedly tame program closer. The ensemble and demi-soloists flaunted bulletproof technique but looked unexpectedly subdued. The principals lacked chemistry and the insouciant elegance needed to pull this off.

The most absorbing work of the evening was Christopher Wheeldon’s Continuum©, set to a thorny assortment of piano studies by György Ligeti.

Click here to read my review of Program 7 in the Huffington Post.

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