Making its fifth program title “Lyric Voices” particularly notable, San Francisco Ballet’s premiere Wednesday night of choreographer-in-residence Yuri Possokhov’s “… two united in a single soul …” featured a luscious performance by up-and-coming countertenor Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen, who appeared onstage front and center with the dancers.
The kinetic piece, while not entirely emotionally engaging, showcased the strong Joseph Walsh in the primary role of Greek mythology’s Narcissus, famously undone by his obsession with his own beauty. A quote from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” was on display on the curtain before the dance began.
Clad in a flesh-toned leotard, he not only admired himself, but faced off with Cohen (a participant San Francisco Opera’s Merola and Adler programs) dressed head-to-toe in black, singing Daria Novo’s modern, dynamic composition taken from various Handel arias. Martin West conducted the orchestra with finesse.
In the evening’s most classical piece, the women sometimes en pointe amid mostly rapid movement, Narcissus had lively interludes with six couples (wearing unisex white, purple and blue leotards). But his demise after coming in contact with a huge silver orb upstage —the inexplicable set also included some stairs and a big upright rectangular structure — left little lasting impression.
Reprises from 2018’s Unbound Festival of New Works rounded out Wednesday’s somewhat homogeneous program.
In Trey McIntyre’s “Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem,” set to Chris Garneau’s catchy, twee pop soundtrack with vocals, soloist Benjamin Freemantle commanded the stage in opening and closing scenes under a moody eclipse backdrop.
Playing a character based on the choreographer’s grandfather (according to program notes), he was fresh and young, in football knickers at the outset; at the end, he was in underwear, confused, stripped of dignity, yet elegantly interacting in a compelling duet with a stool.
Pleasant down-home vignettes in the middle, apparently scenes from the fellow’s life, featured the troupe’s good-looking principal, solo and corps dancers in both playful and angst-touched duets and ensembles with contemporary movement.
“Bound To,” Christopher Wheeldon’s piece warning about the inhumanity of technology, set to a varied score by Keaton Henson, also worked best at its opening and closing. In the beginning, members of the ensemble wearing dark bodysuits were glued to lit-up cell phones they held as they executed jagged movements, against a video display with tech-themed images.
Lovely but not remarkable (mostly peaceful) happy, romantic scenes with electronic-free performers in solos and small groups followed.
Yet angst-filled distressed soloist Lonnie Weeks (in a another outstanding performance of an evening appealingly spotlighting men) captured the attention of the audience, and his fellow dancers who help him, in a brief touching moment before the dancers coldly went back to their phones.
While admirable, the piece’s heavy-handed message doesn’t feel fresh in the 21st century.
San Francisco Ballet Program 5
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 and 8 p.m. March 30, 7:30 p.m. April 2; 8 p.m. April 5; 2 p.m. April 7
Tickets: $32 to $375
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sf ballet.org