Théâtre du Chatelet, Paris, France; Saturday July 26, 2014
Les Étés de la Danse is a Parisian festival created ten years ago. Each year, a foreign ballet or modern dance company is invited for a two week residency at the Théâtre du Chatelet. Helgi Tomasson and the San Francisco ballet were first the company invited. Ten years on, they are back for the festival’s 10th jubilee. After two weeks of exhilarating performances, the season closed last Saturday with a mixed bill of Balanchine, Van Manen, Wheeldon and Scarlett.
The first time I saw San Francisco Ballet, some years ago, I was particularly pleased to see great dancers I had only seen on video before. However, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the repertoire presented. This was different.
The evening started with “Allegro Brillante” by George Balanchine. This pleasing choreography is a 15-minute sum up of Balanchine’s ballet knowhow. His choreographic writing virtuosity is at display in rich ensembles and fluid solos. Though the costumes might be out of style, the appeal of the dance never fades.
Watching San Francisco Ballet perform Balanchine is a lesson of style and interpretation. The company, at ease with the repertoire, displayed swift musicality, sharp precision and a communicative energy. Mathilde Froustey, a glowing principal dancer recently imported from the Paris Opera Ballet, and soloist here, has assimilated the American way of dancing faster and broader. She might lack focus and some precision but her performance was generous and showed her satisfaction at again dancing for her Parisian fans.Hans van Manen’s “Solo” was a breathtaking discovery. Every second was captivating. James Sofranco, Gennadi Nedvigin and Hansuke Yamamoto embodied the different states of mind of one single man. Hansuke Yamamoto’s dance with his elevation, vivacity and the expressiveness of his well-tailored hand gestures was a delight.
The numerous reviews of both Christopher Wheeldon and Liam Scarlett’s pieces raised my expectations. I was delighted to see them met and exceeded. Both Englishmen show a dance vocabulary that is a clever synthesis of ballet and modern techniques.
In photography, the golden hour is a time before sunrise or before sunset during which the light is redder. Pictures taken during that time have a unique golden shade. Lights and scene settings of Wheeldon’s “Within the Golden Hour” are evocations of the golden and the blue hour. The ballet ends in a deep sanguine red desert light. The piece is set on minimal music by Ezio Bosio, and, one slow movement of a Vivaldi violin concerto. The first ensemble piece uses broken lines and explores oppositions and between lines and circles the way a Paul Klee painting does. Sarah Van Patten’s beautiful lines and control enlightened her pas de deux with Luke Ingham in the Vivaldi adagio, as the light darkened. The dancers and their shimmering costumes became shadows sticking out of a desert like landscape.
“Hummingbird”, created this year by Scarlett for the company with impressive scenery by John Macfarlane and music by Philip Glass was the summit of the evening. The scenery is impressive, with its massive black and white painted curtain and a steep slope upstage. Like “Within the Golden Hour”, “Hummingbird” is an abstract piece of atmosphere. The choreographer plays with a colour contrast between different shades of grey, from dark grey (Frances Chung) to white (Yuan Yuan Tan) and contrasts of speed, from immobility to fast dance through slow motion. The slope allows the use of volume, which is also cleverly exploited in inventive pas de deux and portés in which the choreographer’s genius and dancer Tan’s imperial mastery deserve all the superlatives. An inventive double pas de deux with Tan and Ingham on one side and Sofranko and Yamamoto on the other, was a strong moment of the piece, specially for the vocabulary of the male pas de deux.
After a lyrical sleep scene on a slow movement, the piece ends in a general fast dance. The public received the ballet with great enthusiasm and gave a warm ovation to the dancers and the choreographer. The whole company was gathered onstage for a last, enthusiastic standing ovation. The cheers went on long after the curtain closed as the audience left the theatre with eyes and minds filled with images of the many wonders of the dancers and repertoire, and ears full of the sounds of Glass.
We’re all indebted to this festival for providing a unique opportunity to see such a great company from a far away land of deserts and humming birds. It’s artists have a unique energy and communicative enthusiasm. I will join President of the Festical, Marina de Brantes in saying “this was a very American atmosphere, and no one can do it like the American (and the English)!”