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White swan, black swan, love and death at S.F. Ballet

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Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets appear in Helgi Tomasson’s “Swan Lake” on San Francisco Ballet’s Program 3. (Courtesy Erik Tomasson)

Good versus evil rarely has center stage in popular entertainment, unless it’s a movie based on Marvel Comics. We shy away from the big dichotomies because we feel we are more sophisticated than that. But this is the terrain of classical ballet, and sometimes, it is worthwhile to revisit. If you had only one chance to see one ballet in your life, it should be “Swan Lake.”

On Friday, San Francisco Ballet opened artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s 2009 interpretation of the classic with Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets reprising their roles as Odette/Odile and Prince Siegfried.

Tan, always ethereal, embodies the maiden-turned-swan Odette with her fluid arms and quirky bird-like movements. Her innocence and purity shine in Act 2, The Lakeside. Costumed in her white tutu, she protects her attendant swan-maidens and then falls in love with the handsome Siegfried. The surprise comes in Act 3, at the Ballroom in the Palace. Tan’s Odile is the opposite of her Odette: she is brash, smug, and almost lascivious in her movements as she beguiles the gullible Siegfried.

Helimets is a true danseur noble who invests his Siegfried with a youthful vulnerability, while at the same time exhibiting strength and power in his movement.

Dorés André, Taras Domitro and Sasha De Sola were outstanding in the pas de trois in Act 1, combining beautiful physical technique with elegance and charm.

Evil sorcerer Von Rothbart, as portrayed by Alexander Reneff-Olson, radiated malice and obsession through the smallest gesture of crooking his index finger. He was seductive, yet depravity itself: his long hair falling lose, his garments tattered, his face unnaturally pale, as if he were some half-drowned creature rotting in the waters of Swan Lake itself.

In the final act, as he harries Odette, you feel his power over her, his black gloves on her white bodice look like tendrils of corruption.

The corps de ballet was glorious as Odette’s attendant Swans. On Friday. they were superb in their unison. The Spanish, Czardas, Neapolitan and Russian Princess variations in the ballroom scene were executed with high levels of skill.

One quibble with this production: The large rock serving as the means of Odette’s and Siegfried’s final exit was visually ineffectual. The lovers seemed as if they rolled off the side rather than leaped from the apex. If ever there was a place for high, old-fashioned drama, it was this.

REVIEW
Swan Lake
San Francisco Ballet Program 3
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Feb. 23-25, 8 p.m. Feb 26, 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 27, 2 p.m. Feb. 28
Tickets: $30 to $255
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org