San Francisco Ballet Shows Artistry, Not Luck, in Seven Sonatas

Janice Berman on April 7, 2016
Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin in Ratmansky's Seven Sonatas. | Credit: Erik Tomasson


Seven Sonatas, Alexei Ratmansky’s beautifully modulated piano ballet, a dance for six set to Scarlatti, is a sneaky little number. At its San Francisco Ballet premiere, nestled sweetly between Helgi Tomasson’s Prism and Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush, it seemed the quietest of the three ballets on Tuesday night’s bill at the War Memorial Opera House.  But Seven Sonatas, created in 2009 for American Ballet Theatre (where Ratmansky is artist in residence), its keyboard sonatas played onstage by Mungunchimeg Buriad, was fascinating.

Created for a small stage (it premiered at Bard College), the piece never loses its sense of intimacy, putting the white-clad dancers in a multiplicity of groupings, most, but not all, romantic couples, against a deep blue backdrop. The moods and the steps range widely. Gennadi Nedvigin, the dancer I’ll miss most next year — he’s leaving to run the Atlanta Ballet — captures the eye in a soaring solo entrance, then partners Frances Chung in a lyrical yet precise Petit point of piqués and hopping turns, liquid but staccato. Mathilde Froustey, dancing with Joseph Walsh, is pliantly yearning, reaching for her partner, then despairing as he steps away from her. No worries; he returns, she bourrées, and at the end of those tiny steps on point he catches her. It’s a glimpse of a relationship; it feels we are there as his little “how-can-I-love-you-if-you-never-go-away” episode goes away, and he lifts her in his arms.

Life turns sunnier and relationships move more freely. Nedvigin and Chung play through a series of jumps and, for him, stiff-legged walks. Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian run through sunny turns and bright pointe work; she runs up him, lands on his shoulder, and he spirits her away.

Once the three couples are introduced, it’s time to mix it up a bit; there are men’s trios, women’s duets, a trio of women and another of men. They’re folky, bright, and shift back into duos, which turn reflective, which is a great moment to appreciate the work of pianist Buriad. The closing moments feel peaceful, reflective, and grateful. Thank you, Scarlatti.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush got its customary great performance, with special energy contributed by Lauren Strongin, Francisco Mungamba, Jahna Frantzikonis and Max Cauthorn, all on target with Bohuslav Martinu’s 1950 Sinfonietta la Jolla, conducted by Martin West. Maria Kochetkova, partnered by Joan Boada, who is retiring this year, made a sublime duo, as she stepped up into a gorgeous inverted lift in his arms.

Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham in Tomasson's Prism. | Credit: Erik Tomasson

It’s shocking how we often take the quality of this company for granted; the performances are absolutely secure, but never dull. In Prism, set to Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in C Major — choreographed in 2000 by artistic director Helgi Tomasson — Sasha de Sola, lifted like an airborne duchess, was radiant in the first movement, partnered by Vitor Luiz and Carlos Quenedit, and showing off her pretty feet in a series of little steps on pointe.

In the second movement, Sofiane Sylve, in shimmering red, partnered by Luke Ingham, highlighted the prismatic quality that perhaps inspired the title in her series of huge, impeccable and constantly shifting arabesques.

The third movement belonged to Taras Domitro, an arrow in navy blue, executing a breathtaking grand jeté in second position, soaring through a circle of leaping turns. With Nedvigin about to leave, it’s good to know that there are other high fliers with superb technique to take up the slack. And it’s not just the principals; in the work of the entire corps de ballet, superbly visible in Prism, you can see the future, and it’s looking most promising. Roy Bogas was the pianist, and Martin West conducted.

San Francisco Ballet's Program Six runs through April 16, 2016.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Rush. | Credit: Erik Tomasson


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