Art that makes you feel stupid is not a good thing. Of course, it’s possible that you just don’t understand it because you’re not very bright in the first place. But how would you know that Wayne McGregor’s "Eden/Eden" is art? The circumstantial evidence is indisputable: This 30-minute work, which had its U.S. premiere in the War Memorial Tuesday night danced in white heat by nine members of the San Francisco Ballet, cannot be anything but "art" — and yet how is one to understand it?
Program notes speak of cloning. To one of Steve Reich’s more percussive and less successful pieces of music (from "Three Tales"), "Eden/Eden" unfolds with dizzying and obscure projections of symbols. The "naked" (body-stocking-clad) soloists — including a painfully thin Muriel Maffre and Gonzalo Garcia — dance their hearts out in William Forsythe-type angular,
convulsive movements, and there is a deliberately slurred, ambiguous narration, reminiscent of what Laurie Anderson made old hat three decades ago.
There is a tree and the first man, except that it’s a woman. A man (Adam-come-lately?) joins her, but there is no apple, and nobody gets kicked out of the place. There is nothing paradisaical aboutthe setting, so the no-sin/no-expulsion deal doesn’t seem like a good deal. There are more Adams and Eves, and their angular-convulsive movements are becoming more automaton-like, and enough of the narration comes across to pick up on carbon-based versus silicon-based life — presumably the second Eden of the title. Dolly the Sheep (actually part of Reich’s music) does not appear, alas. But let the intellectual substance (if any) of the piece go, and focus on the dance.
To this avid fan of the giant of Frankfurt, McGregor’s pseudo-Forsythe choreography is a weak sister. Even Forsythe started imitating himself ("In the Middle Somewhat Elevated" towers over the San Francisco company’s recent production of "Artifact Suite"), but the dazzling energy is always there; McGregor is just pushing his dancers, his efforts and theirs all showing. Effort and dance don’t belong in the same sentence — or the same show.
Choreography and dancing in the program-opening Paul Taylor "Spring Rounds" were effortless, although Martin West conducted portions of the Richard Strauss-Couperin divertimento with a heavy hand. Vanessa Zahorian and Garrett Anderson anchored well the charmingly inconsequential spring-green frolic.
And yet, however fine the soloists and the corps were, such minor Taylor pieces always look more substantial and satisfying when performed by his company. (And perform they will at the end of the month, in Yerba Buena Center, see www.performances.org.)
This viewer incomprehension continued when exposed (for the third or fourth time) to Helgi Tomasson’s faux-Oriental "Chi-Lin" to Bright Sheng’s faux-Chinese music, albeit with the genuine Chinese prima ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan, brilliant as human Play-Doh here.
Advertised as "a striking interpretation of Chinese iconography," Tomasson’s piece piles it on: much posing and athletic solos for Tan, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, Tiit Helimets and Hansuke Yamamoto (sporting samurai wigs against all those Chinese icons), the score providing a grand solo for concertmaster Roy Malan, and at the end — attention, San Francisco Fire Department! — actual fireworks on the stage.
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Sunday, 8 p.m. March 22, 2 and 8 p.m. March 24
Tickets: $10 to $205
Contact: (415) 865-2000 or www.sfballet.org