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Future is now for this troupe

San Francisco Ballet, in its 75th year, attacks an engaging program with dazzling ferocity and lyrical grace.

November 14, 2008|Victoria Looseleaf | Looseleaf is a freelance writer.

Ballet junkies in need of a swan fix or a jolt of "Giselle" were out of luck Wednesday night at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. Which isn't to say there weren't plenty of high points -- and tutus and tights, as well as oodles of silver and gold spandex -- when San Francisco Ballet tore through the second of two programs (running through Sunday) as if on methedrine.

And at 75 years of age, the oldest classical company in the U.S. may never have looked so young -- and fabulous.

Thanks are due, of course, to artistic director Helgi Tomasson, whose 23-year tenure has proved not only a boon for the classics of the ballet canon but, more important, a fertile seedbed of commissioned works tailor-made for his multi-culti roster of extraordinary dancers.

Indeed, in three Southland premieres -- all accompanied by a full orchestra under the able baton of Martin West -- it seemed evident that there is nothing these dancers cannot do. Mark Morris' "Joyride," set to the propulsive churnings of Minimalist guru John Adams, was, in a word, a blast. Clad in high-sheen metallic unitards by Isaac Mizrahi, eight dancers, all sporting tiny LED screens with constantly changing numbers on their chests, sprinted, skipped and spun with dazzling ferocity.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, November 15, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
San Francisco Ballet: A review in Friday's Calendar section of San Francisco Ballet at the Orange County Performing Arts Center identified the dancers who opened "Double Evil" as Pascal Molat and Vanessa Zahorian. They were Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Elana Altman.

Whether faux kick-boxing like Olympic athletes or preening haughtily like extraterrestrial high priests and priestesses, the performers responded to Adams' cacophonous, three-movement score in typical Morris fashion. One moment a sturdy Martyn Garside was tossing off, yes, fouettes; another found the group prone on the floor, executing unison leg lifts a la Richard Simmons. There were also flashes of "A Chorus Line," but instead of brandishing top hats and canes, the octet offered rapidly beating feet.

The middle section, notable for its quasi-lyrical duets and solos, featured Sarah Van Patten and Genadi Nedvigin languorously stretching and dipping to horn filigrees and oomphy percussion. This was sprawling music, and Morris' steps were wedded to it, his arm work a sea of quirky traffic-signal gestures and swirling, flamenco-esque hands. Gloriously lighted by James F. Ingalls, the piece hummed with continually surprising entrances and exits, building to a whirlwind finale of pliant solos that once more affirmed Morris' singular stature.

Next, "Double Evil" -- the first work for the Bay Area troupe by Boston Ballet's resident choreographer, Jorma Elo -- seduced the audience with its synthesis of old-school tradition and jagged-edge modernity. OK, so call it schizoid, but this arresting combination, set to an equally bipolar score (Philip Glass' convulsive "Concerto Fantasy for Two Timpanists and Orchestra" butting against Vladimir Martinov's spiritually inclined stringfest, "Come In!," with Searmi Park delivering a sensual violin solo), featured eight dancers shifting adroitly with the musical changes.

When the tutu-clad women were not being carried aloft like hood ornaments, they were bowing as stiffly as their skirts, at times recalling the doll-mimicking heroine of "Coppelia." The men were all speed and suppleness, especially when traversing the stage on their knees. Pascal Molat and Vanessa Zahorian opened the piece with a halting pas de deux, any hint of romanticism interrupted by a provocative hip grind or nervous twitch.

Making every move look easy -- from jazzy kicks to high-powered pirouettes -- the fearless dancers gingerly assayed various groupings: A male trio launched into a fugue of arabesques; a female quartet did battle with bourrees and bobbling heads. This playful fantasy land, where windmill arms whooshed the performers along (and one man momentarily forayed into break dance territory), yielded many delights. Ingalls' lighting and Holly Hynes' costumes upped the visual ante.

The pleasure principle, however, was less apparent in "The Fifth Season." Created in 2006 by Tomasson, an erstwhile New York City principal dancer who has also choreographed about 30 pieces for his company, the work suffered significantly from Karl Jenkins' score. More melodramatic than refreshingly retro, it was often sluggish and, well, shockingly elevator-like. But the three couples proved a study in poise and prowess, with Tomasson's movement vocabulary adhering mostly to ardent classicism.

Katita Waldo and Davit Karapetyan danced two of the six sections, her elegant line a counterpart to his nailed landings. A watered-down tango bit featured Sofiane Sylve partnered by three men: Ivan Popov, Damian Smith and Karapetyan. Emotion did surface in the final "Largo," as Smith hoisted an exquisite Yuan Yuan Tan to an exotic dream world -- one where an arched back and swooping leg seemed nothing less than a pipeline to eternity.


San Francisco Ballet

Where: Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

When: Program A: 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Program B: 7:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Saturday.

Price: $20 to $100

Contact: (714) 556-2787 or

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