San Francisco Ballet gala stylish and substantive

The San Francisco Ballet got its 80th season off to a start with a gala performance Thursday at the War Memorial Opera House that pleasantly included popular selections and substantial pieces in equal measure.

Among the old favorites were the third-act grand pas de deux from “Don Quixote” in which Frances Chung and Taras Domitro danced with brilliance and affecting musicality.

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Lorena Feijoo was as regal and commanding as ever (a few months after giving birth) in Raymonda’s solo from Act 3 of “Raymonda.”

More challenging offerings included the world premiere of company dancer Myles Thatcher’s “In the Passerine’s Clutch,” set to music by Wojceich Kilar and featuring fascinating costumes by Thatcher and Smuin Ballet dancer Susan Roemer. Dores Andre, Dana Genshaft, Joan Boada and Jaime Castilla were impressive in the piece, whose title refers to perching birds.  

From 2005, but still grand, was the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” featuring veteran company stars Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith. Concertmaster Roy Malan and pianist Michael McGraw played Arvo Pärt’s gripping music.

A new star, soloist Sasha De Sola (promoted from the corps last year), was notable in the evening’s first number, Balanchine’s “Tarantella,” with the wonderful Pascal Molat. De Sola also excelled in the program-closing excerpts from Serge Lifar’s 1943 “Suite en Blanc” to Edôuard Lalo’s music.

Sofiane Sylve, Vanessa Zahorian, Tiit Helimets and Davit Karapetyan had leading roles in the endearing, whimsical “Suite en Blanc. “ The neoclassical spectacle will be performed in full on the ballet’s first program of the 2013 season, which opens Tuesday.

Other tried-and-true selections at the gala were Maria Kochetkova and Vitor Luiz in the Act 1 pas de deux from John Cranko’s “Onegin” (reprised from 2012 and on Program Five this year); and Zahorian and Karapetyan in the crowd-pleasing barn-burner pas de deux from Balanchine’s “Stars and Stripes.”

Gennadi Nedvigin partnered Clara Blanco beautifully in the classic Bournonville pas de deux from the “Flower Festival at Genzano.”

Sarah van Patten, Vito Mazzeo and Helimets danced in San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s “Trio.” Set to a Tchaikovsky string sextet, it is among his best and most lasting works.

The programs

  • One: “Suite en Blanc,” “In the Night,” “Borderlands,” Tuesday-Sunday
  • Two: “Nijinsky,” Feb. 13-19
  • Three: “Beaux,” “Guide to Strange Places,” “The Rite of Spring,” Feb. 26-March 10
  • Four: “From Foreign Lands,” “Within the Golden Hour,” “Scotch Symphony,” March 1-9
  • Five: “Onegin,” March 21-28
  • Six: Act 3 of “Raymonda,” “Ibsen’s House,” “Symphonic Dances,” April 9-20
  • Seven: “Criss-Cross,” “Francesca da Rimini,” “Symphony in Three Movements,” April 11-21
  • Eight: “Cinderella,” May 3-12
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