Ten world premieres in three days is a huge deal, even for a troupe as accomplished as the San Francisco Ballet. Even so, it was disappointing that the choreographic choices for the New Works Festival the culmination of a season-long celebration of SFB’s 75th anniversary were, for the most part, so extraordinarily conservative. Artistic director Helgi Tomasson has been far more adventurous in the past in challenging audiences and dancers alike. Despite these limitations, the performances were a festive end to an important company milestone. That four of the 10 anointed choreographers were homegrown added a special luster. Generally, ballet companies are not known for fostering in-house talent; this one does. Val Caniparoli, Julia Adam, and Yuri Possokhov, who all have international careers now, started choreographing while still dancing with the company. Margaret Jenkins, who taught modern dance at SFB for years, could not be farther removed from being a ballet choreographer. Hers was Tomasson’s single most daring commission.
Even within the conventions of the ballet medium, the four pieces were worlds apart. Ballet, after all, is a language that can be modulated and used for poetic, dramatic, humorous, and narrative purposes, just like English or French. Though not totally successful due to issues of timing and some musical disconnects the originality of the concept and of its realization made Adam’s A rose by any other name the festival’s winner for me. A sly yet ever-so-elegant take on the apogee of 19th-century classicism, The Sleeping Beauty, A rose tweaked conventions thoughtfully and charmingly.
Jenkins’ Thread translated her free-flowing approach to movement onto a ballet company. She explored the myth of Ariadne, who spun a thread to keep her lover Theseus safe from the Minotaur and was later betrayed by him. Though Jenkins kept the story on the metaphoric level, using language both balletic and individualized, it was as clear a narrative as she has worked with in a long time. Caniparoli’s enthusiastically acclaimed portrait of repressed womanhood in Ibsen’s House appealed because of his proven ability to create easily flowing phrases, but his character delineations needed to be much sharper. SFB resident choreographer Possokhov’s fine Fusion put the spotlight on styles of male dancing and included three sparkling pas de deux. There would be many more of them to come in the following week.
SAN FRANCISCO BALLET’S "NEW WORKS FESTIVAL"
Through May 6
See Web site for schedule, $20$265
War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness, SF
(415) 553-4655, www.sfballet.org