San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Borderlands’ eerily familar 

click to enlarge San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova and Lonnie Weeks dance in Wayne McGregor’s “Borderlands.” - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • San Francisco Ballet’s Maria Kochetkova and Lonnie Weeks dance in Wayne McGregor’s “Borderlands.”

Although British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s “Borderlands” made its world premiere at the War Memorial Opera House on Tuesday night, the piece looks rather familiar.

The finale to San Francisco Ballet’s Program 1, “Borderlands” feels like a B-side to McGregor’s 2006 work “Chroma” – which SFB performed just last year. The works share similar sets, costumes, lighting and staging but use different music.

“Borderlands’” score, by Joel Cadbury and Paul Stoney, sounds like a 1980s industrial soundscape infused with melodramatic piano.

McGregor’s movement vocabulary is wormy and writhing, and has changed little since “Chroma.” Female dancers dive their heads down, snake up and push their rears backwards, like an animal mating ritual. They also rock their bodies into heels, jut hips and fling legs to hyperextensions at breakneck speed, in a relentless onslaught of technical virtuosity.

Women grapple the men or are grappled by them: Maria Kochetkova hoisted up by Lonnie Weeks – his hands clutching her inner thighs – or Frances Chung on the ground in the fetal position, Carlos Quenedit’s knees on her back.

Unlike William Forsythe’s 1987 piece “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” which thrives on sexual dynamism between peers, “Borderlands’” sexual tension feels conventional if not limp – like Kochetkova’s arms that often die at her sides, resigned.

Dating from 1943, Serge Lifar’s “Suite en Blanc” hasn’t aged well. Lifar was George Balanchine’s first “Apollo” and “Prodigal Son,” a golden dancer in his day. Yet in the 804-page tome “Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets,” only one of Lifar’s 11 mentions is as a choreographer, and it is not positive.

The dancers wear all white (making principal Tiit Helimets look like David Bowie’s “Thin White Duke”) and pose and prance at antiquated angles to Edouard Lalo’s wandering score. The dancers don’t look comfortable. It’s not because the choreography is too difficult – it’s just awkward and stilted.

While there are romping moments – especially when Chung and Kochetkova appear – “Suite” doesn’t flow.

While older works are repertory necessities for the purposes of training, history and reinvention, “Suite en Blanc” lacks the timeless qualities of line and musicality necessary to keep a work alive 69 years on.

Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night,” an elegant sextet choreographed to Chopin Nocturnes, can be heartbreakingly beautiful, but Vanessa Zahorian and Sofiane Sylve were stiff – not just physically but emotionally. Only Lorena Feijoo, coupled with veteran thespian Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, breathed some musical and dramatic life into the work.

San Francisco Ballet Program 1

  • Where: War Memorial Opera House, 401 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
  • When: 8 p.m. Jan. 31-Feb. 1; 2 and 8 p.m. Feb. 2; 2 p.m. Feb. 3
  • Tickets: $20 to $295
  • Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org

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Lauren Gallagher

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