Sunday, February 6, 2011

Story Ballet or Not?

Yesterday, I attended San Francisco Ballet's performance of three pieces - two established masterpieces and a new commission work's world premiere run.  The former two are Symphonic Variations choreographed by Frederick Ashton, set to music by César Franck, and Symphony in C choreographed by George Balanchine, set to music by Georges Bizet.  The new work was RAkU, choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and set to a commissioned score by Shinji Eshima. 

It was a richly rewarding afternoon at the theater.  Many years ago, after attending a gala performance by the visiting Bolshoi Ballet, I decided not to attend any plotless ballet performances.  However, I was persuaded to attend a performance of Balanchine's Jewels and concluded not I was not against plot-less ballet, rather I did not like gala performances of highlights from various works and seemingly randomly grouped together to earn applause.  That kind of demonstration seems brainless and purely showy.

A well choreographed abstract ballet, however, can convey a full spectrum of drama and emotions and without the fussy trapping of background stories and sometimes obligatory mime to move plot along, they can be even more evocative and satisfying, such as these two abstract pieces, particularly the Symphony in C.  Tiit Helimets led large cast in both pieces and was truly godlike, either in movement or stood still.

This said, I still love see dance as drama, therefore, I still love story ballet and was eager to be satisfied by RAkU.  It was an intense piece and wonderfully danced by Yuan Yuan Tan, Damian Smith, and Pascal Molat.  The music was very dramatic and intense, as well as haunting and beautiful.  The scenery and costume design were superb as well.  The choreography was good, except for a couple rather cliched hand gestures assigned to the love-mad monk who set a temple on fire.  What was less than fully satisfying was the story.  The plot was not clear as if the princess returned love to the monk or not and what triggered the final dénouement. The timing of the appearance of the Prince's ash was when the confusion started.  If it appeared a bit early or late, it would have cleared the plot very much and added layers of human emotions, follies and fragilities.  As it is, it was not a story well told and reduced the psychological insight.

If tell a story, it must be well told.  Otherwise, abstraction would be preferred.

That said, I'm eager to attend Winter Dreams and Coppélia later this season.

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