It must be exciting to be a member of San Francisco Ballet, America’s oldest ballet company, founded in 1933. These classically trained dancers are given the opportunity to sample many wonderful new works, rather than a repertoire of old traditional masterpieces. In figure-hugging unitards and chiffon skirts, they are loosed to fly and spin in a variety of styles, in works especially created for their particular talents by an array of top international choreographers. This third and final programme of their ten-day visit to London offered four more works, which showed again what a sparkling and vibrant company it is.

Maria Kochetkova in Possokhov's Classical Symphony © Erik Tomasson
Maria Kochetkova in Possokhov's Classical Symphony
© Erik Tomasson

Ukrainian-born dancer Yuri Possokhov is the company’s choreographer-in-residence and his creations demonstrate his eclectic background – stage-devouring leaps and whizzing turns from his Bolshoi Ballet days, fastidious clean footwork and bounce from his time with Royal Danish Ballet, and the freedoms and breaking up of age-old tradition during his eighteen years at San Francisco Ballet. He is a multi-faceted creator and his two works seen in Programme C couldn’t have been more different. The first a neo-classical plotless ballet, the second, a story set in Japan about an arsonist monk, samurai warriors and a beautiful kimono-clad woman.

It is well known that Prokoviev’s Classical Symphony was designed to be fast and flashy with no deep meaning, and Possokhov has translated this into equally jubilant and energetic dance movements. In the pit, the orchestra nobly faced the challenges of the speedy score, while the infectious mood soared upwards to the stage where dancers flew in and out in exhilarating waves of motion. The women, in yellow and black wired pie-plate-shaped tutus are led by the incomparable, petite Maria Kochetkova, whose body bends naturally like grass in the wind. Taking the whole stage in her stride, she skimmed the floor one moment to fly high the next, before ending in multiple pirouettes, and being carried away, her legs bicycling in slow motion as though under water. Possokhov shows his Bolshoi background in the men’s big jumps and turns, yet he adds his own quirks to the classical technique by giving the normally stiff upper body undulating movements, runs across stage that unexpectedly hiccup in the middle, and, when the girls huddle centre-stage as the men encircle them in long stretched jetés, they turn like sunflowers following the sun, to watch them. Like the music, the ballet left the audience with a joyous skip in their step.

RAkU offered something completely different with hints of Noh and Kabuki Theatre. It is based on the true-life story of a rejected monk, who seizes his chances with a reluctant young woman when her husband goes off to war, and then sets fire to the Golden Pavilion. A fragile paper-door house stood centre-stage, and black and white photos of houses are projected onto the backdrop and hangings and brilliantly light up with surging flames when the monk set fire to them. There are strong martial arts actions from the warriors and the husband (danced by Damian Smith) is forceful yet unemotional. The head-shaven monk (Pascal Molat) skulks, leaps and tumbles around the house, awaiting his opportunity to entrap the woman, a move which comes when the husband goes off to war. Yuan Yuan Tan is ideal as the woman. As delicate as plum blossom with her white painted face and ruby Cupid’s bow lips, she moves both with the grace and submission of a Geisha, while also showing remarkable extensions and pliable backbends. She is heartbreaking at the end when she dramatically covers herself with her husband’s ashes and clutches his sword.

The evening opened with a short piece by Mark Morris who is well known here for his ingenuity and humour – as this piece showed. Beaux is a ‘men only’ work – nine hunks who friskily strut their stuff and show off their bravura abilities though in a somewhat subdued manner. Dressed in very unmanly costumes – pink toned unitards with splodges of pastel Dolly Mixture shades, they frolic together, interacting with a sense of camaraderie, though not always showing tidy ending to their steps. It’s a quirky piece but demonstrates Morris’ musicality and ability to illustrate the score in terms of dance steps.

The evening closed with Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, again a neo-classical plotless ballet that seemed to me a joyous celebration of summery days. The girls wore lacy tights, suggesting spiders’ webs, and they sported sequined bras over their very low cut bodices, while the boys matched their partners in turquoise, brown, brick red and green unitards. Here was a series of happy dances, some sprightly, others languid and leisurely but done with the ability to make the steps look easy and simple. Kochetkova again had us gasping with her speed and joie de vivre, while Sarah van Patten and Vanessa Zahorian demonstrated elegance and pzazz in their dances. The mix of music by Ezio Bosso and Vivaldi brought out Wheeldon’s vitality and ingenuity, and his dancers changed moods, from sheer exuberance to saucy pseudo ballroom, followed by a humorous finale that had them all clumped centre-stage, bobbing on one leg as the curtain fell.

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