The most thrilling moments of San Francisco Ballet’s world premiere of Justin Peck’s “In the Countenance of Kings” come toward the end.
Entering the stage from the right, one by one, the dancers drop to the floor, falling like dominoes into a line — but facing forward, similar to sphinxes, almost confronting the audience. The whirl of movement stops, and it’s arresting.
The dance, which closed Program 7’s Saturday matinee at the War Memorial Opera House, is set to pop music’s Sufjan Stevens “The BQE,” a “symphonic exploration” of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, according to program notes.
Orchestrated by Michael P. Atkinson, the fast-paced piece could be a soundtrack for an adventure film or Western, and it nicely complements the pleasant, if not earth-shattering, classically-inspired-yet-contemporary movement by Peck, the trendy 28-year-old New York City Ballet dancer-choreographer.
On Saturday afternoon, Francisco Mungama as “The Protagonist,” Daniel Deivison-Oliveira as “The Foil,” Henry Sidford as “The Hero,” Isabella DeVivo as “Quantus,” Norika Matsuyama as “Electress” and Lauren Strongin as “Botanica” were strong in the spotlight roles; however, the dance didn’t explain the grandiose names for the parts. And the costumes looked like workout togs.
Program 7’s other works — George Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations,” set to Tchaikovsky, and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Continuum,” set to avant-garde keyboard compositions by Gyorgy Ligeti (played beautifully by Mungunchimeg Buriad and Natal’ya Feygina) — offered a notable contrast to Peck’s congenial dance.
Led by an impeccable Frances Chung and Vitor Luiz, the company displayed the prowess for which it’s known in Balanchine’s famously technically challenging tutu-and-tiara classic. Anything but staid, it was beautiful.
On the other hand, “Continuum,” from 2002, had an angst-filled yet appealing modern edge. Wearing simple, dark leotards, four couples — Vanessa Zahorian, Luke Ingham, Koto Ishihara, Esteban Hernandez, Sasha De Sola, Carlos Quenedit, Myles Thatcher and Strongin – efficiently and effectively carried out the sculptural, minimalist, jagged and acrobatic movement.
San Francisco Ballet Program 7
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. April 12-13, 8 p.m. April 15,2 p.m. April 17
Tickets: $30 to $255
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sf ballet.org