Helgi Tomasson ushered in his 35th season as San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director Thursday at the War Memorial Opera House with, unsurprisingly, a program mixing classical and contemporary pieces showcasing the troupe’s impeccable dancers.
While the duet-heavy concert opening the company’s 87th season perhaps wasn’t quite as enthralling as the gala evening’s title “Spellbound” suggested, it offered many lovely performances and the solid orchestra led by Martin West.
At the outset, Tomasson (after brief comments from gala hosts Sunnie Evers and Bob Shaw and executive director Kelly Tweeddale), greeted the audience, saying he purposely opened the show with the patriotic “Men’s Regiment” from George Balanchine’s “Stars & Stripes” because, “despite our differences, at heart we’re all Americans.” The men looked lively dancing to John Philip Sousa’s rousing march music.
The second number, Val Caniparoli’s world-premiere “Foreshadowing” with Jennifer Stahl as Anna Karenina, Tiit Helimets as Count Vronsky and Elizabeth Powell as Kitty provided the evening’s most powerful moments. Caniparoli, with the company since 1972, and the dancers captured the tension of Tolstoy’s novel’s love triangle in the compelling contemporary dance set to music by Ludovico Einaudi; Jim French’s silhouette-laden lighting design added drama.
On the other hand, the show’s most fun dance was the oldest: Max Cauthorn and Esteban Hernandez, attired in silks, were playful in August Bournonville’s 1876 “Jockey Dance.”
Company veterans Yuan Yuan Tan (with the troupe a record-breaking 25 years) and Vitor Luiz (in his final performance before retiring and taking a position at University of California, Irvine) dazzled in the Pas de Deux from “Bells.” The pair, wearing form-fitting orange, sizzled in Yuri Possokhov’s fiery 2011 duet set to Rachmaninov’s Piano Sonata No. 2 featuring excellent soloist Mungunchimeg Buriad.
On the classical side, Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco showed off their technical skills in the Pas de Deux from “Le Corsaire” (based on Marius Petipa’s 1899 choreography), as did Wona Park and Wei Wang in “Grand Pas Classique,” Victor Gsovksy’s 1949 dance.
Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno were pretty in the Pas de Deux from David Dawson’s 2016 “Swan Lake” created for Scottish Ballet; however, on first viewing it dragged, and didn’t look as though the choreographer completely succeeded in his attempt to update a classic while maintaining its spirit. Violinist Cordula Merks and cellist Eric Sung sounded great playing Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music.
Likewise, the movement in Myles Thatcher’s premiere “05:49,” a contemporary piece with Sasha De Sola and Benjamin Freemantle dancing in front of a digital clock on a countdown, didn’t particularly reflect any pressure suggested by a ticking timepiece.
A recording of Nina Simone singing “Wild Is the Wind” perfectly accompanied Danielle Rowe’s sultry 2017 “For Pixie,” danced beautifully by Dores Andre and Joseph Walsh. Walsh also looked great paired with graceful Mathilde Froustey in the balcony scene from Tomasson’s “Romeo & Juliet,” which closes the company’s season in May.
A reprise of the Pax De Deux with Sarah Van Patten and Henry Sidford (who were fine) from Justin Peck’s 2018 “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming” didn’t register; an electronic soundtrack and street wear costumes don’t necessarily make up for not particularly original movement.
The show closed with the corps sparkling in Balanchine’s’ “Diamonds,” nicely topping off the glamorous evening; director Tweeddale noted that the sold-out event raised $3 million for artistic and education initiatives.
IF YOU GO
San Francisco Ballet 2020 Season
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
Tickets: $29 to $399
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org
Program 1 (Jan. 21-Feb. 1)
Christopher Wheeldon’s “Cinderella”
Program 2 (Feb. 11-22)
Stanton Welch’s “Bespoke,” Liam Scarlett’s “Hummingbird,” Mark Morris’ “Sandpiper Ballet”
Program 3 (Feb. 13-23)
Edwaard Liang’s “The Infinite Ocean,” premiere of Trey McIntyre’s “The Big Hunger,” Harald Lander’s “Etudes”
Program 4 (March 6-15)
George Balanchine’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”
Program 5 (March 24-April 2)
Helgi Tomasson’s “7 for Eight,” David Dawson’s “Anima Animus,” premiere of Cathy Marston’s “Mrs. Robinson”
Program 6 (March 26-April 5)
Yuri Possokhov’s “Classical Symphony,” Benjamin Millepied’s “Appassionata,” Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Seasons”
Program 7 (April 15-21)
Program 8 (May 1-10)
Tomasson’s “Romeo & Juliet”