The corps de ballet – those young dancers usually in the background, behind principals and soloists – are at the heart of "Swan Lake."
Thirty danced beautifully and with Radio City Music Hall Rockettes-precision at Saturday’s San Francisco Ballet opening in the revival of Helgi Tomasson's 2009 "Swan Lake."
In this, his 25th year running the company, Tomasson has achieved an awesome discipline in the corps.
The first entrance of the swans – in the manner of the grand pas classique from Petipa's "La Bayadère" – is breathtaking.
Entering one by one, the dancers in white tutus and uniform shower cap-like wigs filled the stage in a serpentine pattern, 60 legs and 60 arms moving as one.
Add Tchaikovsky's music, and you have something remarkable and memorable.
As Odette and Odile, Maria Kochetkova danced both the fragile heroine and the evil temptress spectacularly, shining more in the white role, her arms moving with unique grace and beauty. The hero, Prince Siegfried, was Davit Karapetyan, a virtuoso dancer who landed after every jump, no matter how high, like a feather, defying gravity.
But something was missing between them, not just chemistry. Their relationship – in expression and movement – reflected general lack of passion, often the case in Tomasson's elegant and languid choreography.
It takes more than poses and gestures to free and win a woman under a terrible ornithological spell, especially when the culprit is as scary and overwhelming as Damian Smith, who danced Von Rothbart with manic excellence.
Properly but unfortunately, the fire was also mostly missing from the otherwise fine performance by the orchestra, under Martin West's direction. It is proper to play Tchaikovsky slowly and evenly, reining in amorous excess when that's what the choreography dictates; yet the music missed the composer's ardor.
Soloists excelled throughout, from the Act 1 pas de trois with Frances Chung, Elizabeth Miner and Vitor Luiz, to the cygnets' dances – Miner again, with Clara Blanco, Bryn Gilbert and Margaret Karl, to the Russian dance with Chung, Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, Garen Scribner and Hansuke Yamamoto.
Broadway designer Jonathan Fensom's sleek sets worked well, Sven Ortel's video design and projection of birds – including the surprise ending – served the story the way Tomasson presents it.
Admittedly a personal issue: I missed the traditional climactic finale with the lovers' triumph, to Tchaikovsky's fevered music; that was the moment that turned me on to ballet at age 10.
Presented by San Francisco Ballet
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday-Friday; 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $20 to $275
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org