SF Ballet's Program 8: Goodies and the Gulag

San Francisco Ballet's Program 8 features begins and ends with two delightful works from the last year's excellent New Works Festival. In between, it feels like an extended stay in the gulag, courtesy of Alexei Ratmansky's painfully long and uninteresting Russian Seasons. But let's start with the good stuff.

I have yet to see a Yuri Possokhov work I haven't thoroughly enjoyed. Fusion, according to the program notes, is meant to represent the choreographer's "personal struggle he experienced as he left dancing behind and gave himself fully to choreography." Movement representing searching and flight, discovery and awareness came across the stage with vigor, accompanied by a score of Burman arranged by Golijov and Fitkin that was a perfect fit for the choreography. Sarah Van Patten, as usual, held my attention every moment she was onstage.

Ratmansky's Russian Seasons featured almost all of the Ballet's top talent A-Team and yet the presence of Yuan Yuan Tan, Lorena Feijoo, Pascal Molat, Damian Smith and Van Patten couldn't overcome the dreary music and uninspired ideas of the work. Unfortunately, it also included a running motif just like the one from Fusion, making me wonder if all of a sudden we were having a theme night I was unaware of. Broken into twelve parts of different combinations of dancers, the piece is meant to evoke themes of life's struggle in an earlier time in Russia that may or may not still exist. There was one high point during this piece for me: at one point Lorena Feijoo fell back into the arms of Aaron Orza, lifted her leg, causing the boring costume to slide back along her thigh. It was like suddenly seeing a gorgeous bird soaring against an ugly, gray sky.

Jorma Elo's Double Evil incorporates contemporary and modern dance movements allowing the dancers to just explode across the stage and have a good time. They looked like they were having a blast and their enthusiasm reached across the pit and captivated the audience. While there are certain movements and poses this piece utilizes that I don't find particularly flattering or beautiful for the women dancers (I call it the assisted rotating beaver display), it is good fun (with music by Phillip Glass, even!).

For this weekend's performances, I've read Russian Seasons was to be replaced by one of the Balanchine Jewels, because of, ahem, a dancer's illness. Hopefully this dancer will remain ill for the rest of the schedule and you'll be spared the trip to the Gulag.