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SF Ballet goes contemporary in 2017 gala

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San Francisco Ballet dancers rocked the world premiere of Benjamin Millepied’s “The Chairman Dances.” (Courtesy Erik Tomasson)
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There were tutus in just two of 11 numbers in San Francisco Ballet’s season opening gala at the War Memorial Opera House on Thursday.
Perhaps forecasting a growing focus on contemporary works in the troupe’s 84th season, the lively concert, as typical, showcased the company’s beautiful, versatile dancers, mostly in pairs.

It also was a rowdy party. The decked out crowd reveled, and board chair Carl Pascarella said the sold-out bash (called “Ever Magical”) was the most successful gala in the company’s history.

Newcomers Natasha Sheehan and Angelo Greco began the show, accompanied by pianist Natal’ya Feygina in Myles Thatcher’s 2016 “Foragers,” a dramatic, almost angst-inspired, duet set to Liszt.

The mood lightened with Lorena Feijoo and Wei Wang flowing in Liam Scarlett’s “Promenade Sentimentale”; the orchestra, led by Martin West, sounded fantastic playing Debussy’s “Petit Suite.”

Distinctive sounds by Stravinsky set the tone for the trio from George Balanchine’s “Agon,” danced with sass and symmetry by Jaime Garcia Castilla, Dores Andre and Sasha De Sola.

Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno (and pianist Ronny Michael Greenberg onstage) filled the stage in SFB Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s traditional feeling “Valses Poeticos,” while Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham strutted to pop tunes (including the Zombies’ great song “This Will Be Our Year”) in street clothes, in Trey McIntyre’s crowd-pleasing (if not immediately evocative) world premiere “Presentce.”

The performance’s first half closed with a bang, with the intrepid, tutu-clad Vanessa Zahorian (dancing in her last season with SFB) and thrilling Taras Domitro in the pas de duex from Vassili Vainonen’s classical, patriotic 1932 “Flames of Paris.”

Benjamin Millepied’s world premiere “The Chairman Dances,” set to syncopated music John Adam composed while working on his opera “Nixon in China,” was the concert’s most exciting number. Wearing bright blue and orange, Maria Kochetkova, Di Lanno and 10 dancers ran, spun, whirled and fox trotted with pulsing urgency.

Yet Frances Chung and Vitor Luiz were equally appealing in James Kudelka’s playful “Purple” from “Terra Firma,” and the fun extended with Joseph Walsh, who bounced to the Andrews Sisters’ “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” in a solo from Paul Taylor’s “Company B.”

Yuan Yuan Tan and Aaron Robison raised the drama in a duet from Stanton Welch’s “La Cathedrale Engloutie,” before the sparkling finale, featuring Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets and the corps (the women in tutus) in Balanchine’s classical, white “Diamonds.”

Interestingly, “Diamonds” is the only piece that will appear again this season, in March’s all-Balanchine Program 4.


IF YOU GO

San Francisco Ballet 2017 Season
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
Tickets: $25 to $375
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org

Program 1 (Jan. 24-Feb. 4)
Helgi Tomasson’s “Haffner Symphony,” Jirí Bubenícek’s “Fragile Vessels,” Justin Peck’s “In the Countenance of Kings”

Program 2 (Jan. 26-Feb. 5)
Alexei Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas,” Yuri Possokhov’s “Optimistic Tragedy,” Willam Forsythe’s “Pas/Parts 2016”

Program 3 (Feb. 17-26)
Liam Scarlett’s “Frankenstein”

Program 4 (March 7-18)
George Balanchine’s “Stravinsky Violin Concerto,” “Prodigal Son” and “Diamonds”

Program 5 (March 9-19)
Possokhov’s “Fusion,” Arthur Pita’s “Salome,” Scarlett’s “Fearful Symmetries”

Program 6 (March 31-April 12)
Tomasson’s “Swan Lake”

Program 7 (April 5-18)
Tomasson’s “Trio,” Myles Thatcher world premiere, Christopher Wheeldon’s “Within the Golden Hour”

Program 8 (April 28-May 7)
Wheeldon’s “Cinderella”

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