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Stagecraft overpowers dance in SF Ballet’s ‘Salome’

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Dores André dances the title role in Arthur Pita’s “Salome” in San Francisco Ballet’s Program 5. (Courtesy Erik Tomasson)

It’s easy to see how choreographer Arthur Pita was inspired by David Lynch films in his world-premiere “Salome” for San Francisco Ballet.

Yet the cinematic production filling the War Memorial Opera House ultimately registers like an ad in Vogue; his modernized take on the Biblical tale about the young woman who dances and serves up the head of John the Baptist, while darkly eye-catching, feels empty, despite the super slick presentation.

The second number of the ballet’s “Contemporary Voices” Program 5 opens with the arrival of a smoke-shrouded, black stretch limousine (it got mighty applause at Saturday’s matinee), and male guards in slick, tailored suits.

Out comes Salome (WanTing Zhao on Saturday, Dores André at last week’s opening), sleek in a fire-engine red, backless gown, celebrated with multiple blasts of confetti. She’s surrounded by her stepfather Herod (Ricardo Bustamante) and mother Herodias (Katita Waldo, in emerald green), who get nothing to do but stand around in this dance-theater piece.

Frank Moon’s mysterious score, like a soundtrack to a crime thriller, appropriately complements the action.

The ensuing dance between Salome and her shirtless male hostages (at one point they’re covered in black fabric) isn’t seductive — it’s hard to read its intention — and the same goes for the interaction between the admittedly striking young woman and John, although sensuous movement created for the role (Luke Ingham stood out Saturday) is the piece’s most interesting.

When John’s head comes out on a platter, it feels weird rather than dramatic, and, in the end, the scenic and costume design by Yann Seabra are what give this “Salome” its character — not the choreography.

The program opens with Yuri Possokhov’s 2008 “Fusion,” a jazzy piece with Eastern influences – particularly at the start, with four men attired as whirling dervishes, moving to sounds by Bollywood composer Rahul Dev Burman.

They music morphs into saxophone-piano jazz by Graham Fitkin, as four men and women in blue, in modern dress, fly on the scene, blending pointe work, duets and contemporary moves. Above them, 13 banners hang, changing hue with changing light.

While not unpleasant, the combinations in “Fusion” don’t terribly illuminate each individual element, or add up to anything remarkably resonant.

The evening’s most successful piece is the reprise of 2016’s “Fearful Symmetries” by Liam Scarlett, set to John Adams’ pulsating score of the same name, and an exciting contrast to Scarlett’s recent “Frankenstein” on Program 3.

“Fearful Symmetries’” opening is especially thrilling, as 14 dancers, dressed like they’re from a “Mad Max” movie, burst through a set of geometric neon lights, embodying a physical manifestation of the driving sound.


San Francisco Ballet Program 5
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. March 14-15, 8 p.m. March 17, 2 p.m. March 19
Tickets: $25 to $375
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org

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