San Francisco Ballet: Three Mixed Bills

Last show tomorrow night, 23rd September at Sadler’s Wells, Islington.

Rating: 4 stars

Contrary to popular belief, no I have not been eaten by my mouse-man neighbour. Nor have I lost my two arms to the woodchipper, rendering me unable to type, whilst trying to stuff a hipster through it. I understand I’m a serious slacker when it comes to writing posts, but I hope I can make up for it with this super dooper review of the ballet I saw last week (I know, I know).

One of America’s most prestigious ballet companies returned to Sadler’s Wells theatre in order to showcase a breathtaking programme, since their last tour to the Big Smoke in 2004. Careful not to give anything away, here’s what I thought of the three individual mini-ballets.

The first of the three ballets was Trio, and given that it was set to Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence”, it was without a doubt my favourite of the three. The tone set through the beautifully crafted costumes and Tchaikovsky’s light melodies was impeccably reflected in Sarah Van Patten’s effortless performance in the second movement. Tomasson’s choreography is truly remarkable, and the dancers moved in a manner perfectly suited to the Russian composer’s piece – playful and full of emotion. Short of a candyfloss-coated unicorn shitting rainbows, the performance was truly magical.

Trio performance as part of the San Francisco Ballet Triple Bill, courtesy of Erik Tomasson

Next came Christopher Wheeldon’s mini-production, Ghosts, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s romantic poetry, and essentially representing a mass gathering of lost souls. Expect plenty of flimsy light fabric and more grace that at a Royal Swan Wedding, if there ever was one (there should be one – yay, another 3 day weekend!). A close second in order of preference, Ghosts matched the emotional intensity that was so visible in Trio, but in my opinion lacked in finesse and variety – I felt like there was too large of an emphasis placed on a certain movement (the lead ladies on pointe dragging one leg behind them; the Downward Facing Dog yoga pose etc.), to the extent that the piece actually seemed very repetitive. Moments where all the dancers were on stage together simultaneously were the definitive highlight of the performance, and I wasn’t the only person who thought so – there were many gasps of awe and marvel from the audience at each spin, closely followed by teetering and uncomfortable grumbling at the disturbance and open exclamation of emotion in public (let’s not forget, this is an English audience after all :))

Probably the most peculiar of the three, Guide to Strange Places completed the triple bill. The only reason I am not giving the entire thing a 5 star rating is unfortunately all down to this perhaps too alternative performance. Although I love contemporary ballet as much as the next person, I felt like the intentions of this piece were very much lost on me, and quite honestly, I had no clue what was going on for the majority of the performance. The music score sounded too much like the abandoned tunnels beneath the railway tracks at London Bridge, the various duets clashed on stage with their different energy and muddled presence, and the vis art completed the Ensemble of Weird: a satellite image closely resembling either an Amish village, a NATO air base, or both hung above the entire bonanza. The brochure politely claims the work is meant to marry the organic and the man-made, and the dancers’ obscure choreography is supposed to reflect each duet’s personality…however, following the Olympic Games Opening Ceremony, this is just another inside joke I couldn’t quite grasp and enjoy. Call me old-fashioned, but sometimes even I long for the mainstream. Throw the hipsters in the woodchipper I say, the woodchipper!

The next big thing, Sarah Van Patten, together with Vito Mazzeo (left) and Tiit Helimets (right) in Trio. Photograph by Dave Morgan

Despite my scathing review of the last ballet (oops, got a bit carried away there), the first hour or so was spent in absolute awe and with my mouth wide open at the wonder happening on the stage. Conclusion: Sarah Van Patten is so incredibly talented, I’m certain she’s at least a quarter Russian and is probably my long lost sister, and Ghosts even made me a tad emotional. Now that Sadler’s Wells is on my radar, my next Must See is the Rodin Project, inspired by the work of Auguste Rodin (French sculptor, durr). That’s on for only three nights – Monday 29th – 31st October.

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