The refreshing cycle of new work brought to London by San Francisco Ballet came to an end with a programme that represents the company at its best, performing pure dance with joyful power. The lightness, speed and discipline of these dancers is impressive, and this triple bill showed all these assets to their best advantage.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno in Wheeldon's <i>Bound To</i> © Erik Tomasson
Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno in Wheeldon's Bound To
© Erik Tomasson

Christopher Wheeldon is not the first choreographer to theme a ballet around our all-consuming addiction to mobile technology, but he makes the allusion count, largely by rejecting overkill. The curtain rises on Bound To, revealing a crowd of individuals glued to the bright lights of their mobiles (cellphones, for readers in the USA); in the penultimate section, the gorgeous pas de deux for Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno is prefaced by an interloper from the wings grabbing the intrusive ‘phone from Tan’s hand – a typical Wheeldon coup de théâtre; and the tiny bright screens reappear at the end, reasserting their ubiquity in all our lives, leaving the poignant figure of Lonnie Weeks alone even amongst a crowd of friends.

These timely interventions are enough to prick our collective conscience but no more. For the rest of the 40 minutes – Wheeldon has the rare skill of judging theatrical pace such that this never seems a moment too long – the fixation is on beautiful human connection. The duet for Tan and Di Lanno is a gorgeous exposition of the need for two people to touch in every way possible. Without any back story, Wheeldon has conjured a duet that would grace the world’s greatest romance.

Anyone with a scintilla of knowledge about dance in London would be familiar with Wheeldon’s work but few will know much about the choreography of Trey McIntyre whose extensive repertoire has been mainly created in the USA. On the evidence of Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, a fresh take on the age-old themes of death and remembrance, we have been missing out.

San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's <i>Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem</i> © Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem
© Erik Tomasson

It was not the subject of McIntyre’s ballet that I found refreshing, but the eclectic choreography itself. His work was subliminally themed on a grandfather that he never met, inspired by the discovery of a photograph amongst his late father’s belongings, and of stories about his grandfather’s dementia. The work begins with a solar eclipse on the backdrop, an event that metaphorically opens a portal through time, reconnecting grandson and grandfather, allowing the flesh to be made a poem. It began and ended with solos from Benjamin Freemantle, closing with a reference to McIntyre’s confused grandfather wandering the streets in his underwear.

McIntyre has chosen eight tracks from the third album (El Radio, 2009) by American singer-songwriter, Chris Garneau, as the trigger for his choreography and it seems as if music written for the purpose. Such personal works are often so discrete as to be inaccessible to others, but McIntyre has used his family affiliation to make dance that is happy and sad, and above all an affirmation of the power of legacy. His grandfather lives on through this great Terpsichorean poem.

San Francisco Ballet in Dawson's <i>Anima Animus</i> © Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in Dawson's Anima Animus
© Erik Tomasson

The programme closed with David Dawson’s paean to the beauty of pure dance, which also appears to be an assertion of human physicality and emotion, but in generic reference rather than the personal. Anima Animus refers to the concept of the male aspect of the female psyche (animus) and the female equivalent in the male (anima) and the abstract patterns for the ten dancers seem to veer between the traditional (women performing women’s steps, men lifting them) to sequences where opposing powers crossover the norms of polarised traditions. It is choreographed to Ezio Bosso’s Violin Concerto no. 1 (Esoconcerto), a powerful multi-layered work vacillating between optimism and tragedy with references to Bach, Vivaldi and Bosso’s beloved Mendelssohn.

Wona Park and Joseph Walsh in Dawson's <i>Anima Animus</i> © Erik Tomasson
Wona Park and Joseph Walsh in Dawson's Anima Animus
© Erik Tomasson

Dawson has suffered from some criticism in the UK, most infamously in the fallout from the 2017 performances of The Human Seasons for The Royal Ballet. It is a shame because Anima Animus proves that there is no one making work like him. Few choreographers have the courage to let their dance say it all and Dawson has a way of both flattening and expanding classical movement, creating his own unique style, but without ever losing the essential foundation and imagery of classicism. I, for one, would like to see more of his work here in his homeland.

It is salutary to reflect that London balletomanes have seen more new ballets in these last two weeks (twelve pieces in total) than we would normally see in a year and great credit must go to long-serving artistic director, Helgi Tomasson, for his commitment to continually refreshing the art. He has a mighty fine company, too! For this reason, the five stars reflects the totality of what we have seen in these last few days. Come back soon.

*****