Of the three programs presented so far in San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound: A Festival of New Works, Program C was the most conceptual. All three of the evening’s world premières began from a premise that was realized in abstract and tonal, rather than narrative ways.

Benjamin Freemantle in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem
© Erik Tomasson
Trey McIntyre’s work, Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, was a charming and emotionally poignant work. The choreographer came to the company’s preceding summer developmental sessions wanting to choreograph a ballet about his grandfather. His grandfather was tall, though not quite as tall as the six-foot-six choreographer, and athletic. Though McIntyre never knew his grandfather he believed they may have shared a perspective on life, and his grandfather’s dementia and death were essential features of the choreographer’s understanding of the man.

The ballet opened with a video of an eclipse projected high on the scrim at the back of the stage. The shadow moving slowly across the sun in quiet grandeur set an overall tone for the ballet. The music following was a series of songs by Chris Garneau, with voices that sounded young, almost childlike. Fragments of lyrics modified the galactic images with a very human presence. Benjamin Freemantle danced the opening solo, gorgeously, in the role of the grandfather as a dreamy young Adonis. The choreography was contemporary with a solid classic vocabulary broken by more athletic moves, hops, trembling hands and foot, runs and lots of floorwork.

Jaime Garcia Castilla and Lonnie Weeks danced a duet, which evolved into another duet between Castilla and a spritely Sasha de Sola; they were joined by Jennifer Stahl in a buoyant trio. Isabella DeVivo and Steven Morse took over the stage in light-hearted duet, and Esteban Hernandez and Alexandre Cagnat joined in a complex ensemble. The lights went dark and when they came up again the video reappeared, taking us to the other side of the eclipse. Freemantle’s ending solo was a duet with a stool, in which the stool acted not only as a support for the dancers' half-cartwheel half-handstands but also took on a metaphoric quality, its round seat mimicking first a face and then the moon. Playful, eloquent, humane, Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem is a tender celebration of the body’s grace and vulnerability.

San Francisco Ballet in Lopez Ochoa's Guernica
© Erik Tomasson
Annabelle Lopez Ocha swung to the other side of the emotional scale with the powerful Guernica. The ballet is an homage to Picasso, referencing the 1937 painting, and focusing on emotive symbols of Spain – bullfighting and flamenco. The color red dominated the background, first as a wash of color on the upstage scrim and then as Lorca’s red moon from Blood Wedding. The questions Lopez Ocha pursued in making the ballet were how to use cubism in dance and how to capture Picasso’s spirit. But what was most compelling in the choreography was her ability to capture the movement of animals precisely and to translate those to the human body, creating a choreography that was wild, strange and abandoned, despite its intense detailing.

The ballet opens with Dores André and Vitor Luiz standing under four abstract lines of white light. Steam floods through these lines cascading on the dancers beneath and filling the stage. It’s as if a huge bull breathed clouds of fury on stage. The dancers are set in motion, and they too are reminiscent of bulls. On their heads are curved horns, their legs flick backwards in sudden kicks as if they were pawing the ground, their arms raise upward in the same curled curves as the horns on their heads.

The surrounding ensemble was in leotards with bits of Picasso’s Guernica stenciled on them: eye of the sun, jagged triangles and rectangles of buildings. The ensemble seethed around the couple in synchronous movement. A second couple  – Julia Rowe and Myles Thatcher – joined the action, increasing the fervor and thrill.

The music was a compilation of electronic and percussive works by Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead, Michel Banabila and Charles Valentin-Alkin. It often sounded like field recordings, which then tumbled into a harsh electronic sound. The ballet ended with André and Luiz in a passionate duet silhouetted against red. This is dancing that André and Luiz excel at: earthy, muscular, dynamic.

Frances Chung and Angelo Greco on Welch's Bespoke
© Erik Tomasson

The program opened with Stanton Welch’s Bespoke. Set to Bach’s Violin Concertos in A Minor and E Major, the ballet was an abstract neoclassical piece for six couples. Welch commented that the piece is about dancers’ love for their art form. The ballet began with Angelo Greco doing steps resembling a dancer’s center floor exercises. It’s beautiful and controlled. As was the entire piece, which was full of repeating and synchronous dancing, superbly achieved. Moments of wistful tenderness appeared in Carlo Di Lanno and Mathilde Froustey’s adagio. As did vivacious dancing by Frances Chung and Sasha De Sola.