Alexei Ratmansky’s “Shostakovich Trilogy” has been met with wide praise, and it was highly anticipated when it made its San Francisco Ballet premiere Wednesday night. But much of the hype seems, well, over-hyped.
The work, first presented by American Ballet Theatre, goes down easily. It neither shocks nor garners awe. But it isn’t exactly subtle, either.
An obvious homage to Dmitri Shostakovich, one of Russia’s most revered composers, the sometimes distracting sets were designed by George Tsypin, the art director for the Sochi Olympics opening ceremonies.
“Shostakovich Trilogy” keeps the dancers busy. They’re so busy they seem late, especially in the first section, which looked like a rushed dress rehearsal. While the music and choreography require fleet-footed mastery, dancers had different interpretations of timing and epaulement, a trend that continued throughout the ballet.
Heavily laden with Balanchine motifs, the first section is set to Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony. Character-wise, it is hard to pin down.
An earnest James Sofranko danced with abundant energy and a jazzy, Broadway zip. Sarah Van Patten was, as usual, intensely focused. The corps hustled — some dancers smiling, some deadly serious.
Rudolf Nureyev would have liked principal Taras Domitro, who always moves with purpose. Whether suspended in an endless series of jumps or turning like a top, the Cuban danced with subtle command Wednesday, moving with an ownership in a work that lacked an anchoring presence.
Set to Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony, the second section has a clearer narrative. Disheveled and shirtless under a black velvet suit, Davit Karapetyan looked like the definition of an existential crisis.
Representing the composer, Karapetyan partners three women who characterize Shostakovich’s three great loves. There is some pretty partnering, but the three principal females — Sasha De Sola, Lorena Feijoo and Mathilde Froustey — were often not together.
The final section is the most fun, and featuring Shostakovich’s first Piano Concerto, it is probably the most musically familiar. Maria Kochetkova nearly skates across the stage, and gets the more buoyant, sprightly choreography — the opposite of her parallel principal, a staid Yuan Yuan Tan.
It goes against the grain to say that Ratmansky’s choreography, though musical, is not revolutionary. Balanchine’s influence rises again in the final movement, and it’s possible if the execution had been less ragged, maybe the work would appear stronger.
But when 20-year-old (and older) works by Maurice Bejart, William Forsythe, Jirí Kylián and John Neumeier look more modern than a 21st-century work, it gives pause. While different is not always better, when someone is snoring in the 10th row, the envelope is not being pushed enough.
IF YOU GO
Presented by San Francisco Ballet
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 8 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 2 p.m. April 13
Tickets: $49 to $335