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SF Ballet dancers open 78th season with gusto

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A strong, entertaining opening night gala Wednesday night signaled the beginning of San Francisco Ballet’s 78th season.

Two great selections bracketed the program: the opening excerpt from William Forsythe’s dazzling 1996 “The Vertiginious Thrill of Exactitude” and  the finale’s fourth movement from Georges Bizet’s “Symphony in C” featuring George Balanchine’s landmark 1947 choreography.

Frances Chung and Jaime Garcia Castilla were the lively standouts in “Thrill,” seemingly overcoming gravity, represented by the surprisingly earthbound, stomping interpretation of Schubert’s Great C Major Symphony by Martin West’s Ballet Orchestra.

The corps was Balanchine-perfect in the intricate geometric forms of Symphony in C, and the soloists the jewels in the corps’ crown: Elana Altman and Anthony Spaulding in the first movement, then Lorena Feijoo and Vito Mazzeo; Chung and Isaac Hernandez in the third movement; and  Sarah Van Patten and Artem Yachmennikov leading the finale.

By this time, the orchestra freed itself from whatever tied it to the ground at the beginning, fulfilling the difficult obligations of providing music for the dancers and performing the music to its maximum value and true nature.
Premieres included Yuri Possokhov’s “Talk to Her,” an atmospheric by not entirely clear pas de deux (with Feijoo and Vitor Luiz), based on Pedro Almodovar’s film, “Habla con ella,” and its soundtrack by Alberto Iglesias.

Val Caniparoli’s new work, “Double Stop,” to music by Philip Glass, received a beautiful performance from Van Patten and Helimets — the pair appearing in “Giselle’s” leading roles at Sunday’s matinee.

Humor and charm were well represented in the Russian Divertissement from the Helgi Tomasson/Tchaikovsky “Swan Lake,” with rich Russian-themed costumes, complete with big fur hats, and in the U.S. premiere of “Mermaid” choreographer John Neumeier’s “New Pizzicato Polka” with Vanessa Zahorian, Taras Domitro and Castilla, set to music by Johann Strauss Jr.

In an excerpt from “Alles Walzer,” choroegraphed by Renato Zanella and set to another Strauss piece,  Joan Boada and Gennadi Nedvigin were strong — both in top form, having sustained injuries in the past.

Yuan Yuan Tan, as usual, made her mark on the gala, with Edwaard Liang’s lyrical “Somewhere in Time,” to music by Ravel. She was well-partnered by Damian Smith, and Roy Bogas was the piano soloist.

The performance was bookended by gala benefit events, which raised some $1 million of the company’s $40-plus million budget for its three-month-long main season.

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