S.F. Ballet 2016 gala offers classics, couples

San Francisco Ballet opened its 83rd season Thursday with lovely classics and lots of couples in a show not quite as “Provocative” as its one-word title promised.

Playing to the festive, packed audience (the pre-performance “Prosecco Promenade” in the War Memorial Opera House was more of a traffic jam) amid a gala crowd (with ladies decked in fur and cut-out gowns), the program of 12 selections beautifully showcased the skilled, gorgeous dancers.

Yet with four pieces by George Balanchine (reflective of longtime artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s passion and background), and many duets, the performance could have offered more variation and been a bigger sneak preview to the 2016 repertory lineup.

“Waltz of the Hours” from “Coppelia,” with Jennifer Stahl and adorable students in pink tutus, started the show; it will be reprised with program 4’s full-length “Coppelia.” Coming in program 2 is Balanchine’s “Rubies,” represented Thursday with a sharp pas de deux by Maria Kochetkova and Pascal Molat. Another Balanchine, the finale from “Theme & Variations” showcasing the corps, will come up in program 7, while the pas de deux from “Swan Lake,” featuring Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan, will be seen again in full-length program 3.

Sofiane Sylve amd Carlo Di Lanno stood out in a too-brief excerpt from “Pas/Parts” by William Forsythe; the moody, contemporary piece set to stark, modern music by Dutch composer Thom Willems gets its North American premiere on program 1, opening Sunday.

Sadly, some of the most appealing numbers won’t be repeated in 2016: Lyrical ballet school student Natasha Sheehan charmed with three men in Tomasson’s rousing “Bartok Divertimento”; couples Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz and Dores Andre and Joan Boada were sultry in excerpts from “Carmen” and “Carousel,” respectively, and Joseph Walsh, Hansuke Yamamoto and Gennadi Nedvigin (who also paired with reliable Frances Chung in another Balanchine pas de deux) really tore up the stage in Hans van Manen’s fast-paced, playful “Solo.”

Yet the evening’s highlight was the impeccable Yuan Yuan Tan (in a flowing red dress), Tiit Helimets, Carlos Quenedit and Luiz and solo pianist Ming Luke in the company premiere of “Gentle Memories,” an appropriately titled, wistful 2012 dance by Czech choreographer Jiri Bubenicek, set to Karen LeFrak’s poignant score.

Other notable showcases included the orchestra, led by Martin West and celebrating its 40th anniversary, serving up powerful Stravinsky (“Infernal Dance” from “Firebird”) and veteran ballerina Vanessa Zahorian, paired with Taras Domitro (in an excerpt from “Don Quixote”) and leading the corps (with Luke Ingham) in the finale.


San Francisco Ballet 2016 Season
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
Tickets: $30 to $255
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.fballet.org

Program 1
(Jan. 24-Feb. 5)
Helgi Tomasson’s “7 for Eight,” Yuri Possokhov’s “Magrittomania,” William Forsythe’s “Pas/Parts”

Program 2 (Jan. 27-Feb. 6)
Mark Morris’ “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes,” Liam Scarlett’s “Fearful Symmetries,” George Balanchine’s “Rubies”

Program 3 (Feb. 19-28)
Tomasson’s “Swan Lake”

Program 4 (March 8-13)
Alexandra Danilova and Balanchine’s “Coppélia”

Program 5 (March 16-22)
Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering,” Possokhov’s “Swimmer”

Program 6 (April 5-16)
Tomasson’s “Prism,” Alexei Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas,” Christopher Wheeldon’s “Rush”

Program 7 (April 7-17)
Christopher Wheeldon’s “Continuum,” Justin Peck’s “In the Countenance of Kings,” Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations”

Program 8 (April 30-May 8)
John Cranko’s “Onegin”

Leslie Katz

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