Tragedy has attracted artists since time immemorial, and Yuri Possokhov’s “Francesca da Rimini” is no exception.
The brief but tumultuous piece is the second part of San Francisco Ballet’s Program 7 mixed bill, and its ultimate highlight.
Based on the tale of Paolo and Francesca – lovers immortalized in Dante Alighieri’s 14th century poem “The Divine Comedy – “Francesca” is, essentially, a condensed “Romeo and Juliet.”
Francesca is married to Giovanni – an unattractive, mean-spirited husband played by the sneering Tara Domitro on Thursday’s opening night. But she loves Paolo, a married man, and a tryst begins.
Caught in the act, the lovers are murdered by Giovanni and doomed to hell’s second circle, where they swirl around each other in a never-ending, tortuous cyclone – touching but never to embrace again.
Dante’s damnation has captivated painters, sculptors, playwrights and composers for centuries, including Tchaikovsky who composed his own impassioned “Francesca da Rimini” – which Possokhov uses with aplomb.
Both dramatically skilled, Joan Boada and Maria Kochetkova made a sparkling pair on opening night.
Boada’s initial seduction, a lengthy kiss, is effective. Her body wilts before snapping against him like a magnet; they entwine in a way they will never be allowed in hell. Kochetkova’s feet curl and flex during lifts, she writhes and is anxious, her agony and attraction both patently apparent.
George Balanchine’s 1972 “Symphony in Three Movements” feels like gym class for ballet dancers – not necessarily a bad thing.
Lined up in a diagonal across the stage, 16 girls in white leotards get Stravinsky’s pulsating title score off to a ripping start with windmill arms; sadly, they were not all in angular or musical sync. Playful, jumpy antics frame the work, complete with Mr. B’s signature flexed wrists, pedestrian power-walking and whipping ponytails.
Clara Blanco’s exceptional poise and Sasha De Sola’s chirpiness echoed cheerleaders, while Yuan Yuan Tan looked uncomfortable until her cool pas de deux with Vito Mazzeo.
Balanchine never lacked sexual frankness, and Tan’s head, shoulders, neck and pelvis tilt at seductive angles. The couple is icy hot; coy but open to the game.
Helgi Tomasson’s “Criss-Cross” from 1997 is a meandering, two-part piece set to Scarlatti and Schoenberg.
Davit Karapetyan, with his usual gregarious panache, was particularly precise and on form. He was also the only aspect of “Criss-Cross” that had any conviction. The choreography itself lacks authority and command, falling short of the firm identity necessary to carry a piece and imbue dancers – many of whom were not in sync – with confidence.
S.F. Ballet Program 7
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. Tuesday and April 19, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, 2 p.m. April 21
Tickets: $20 to $325
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org