Hits and Misses in San Francisco Ballet's Final next@90 Premieres
January 26, 2023—Last night, San Francisco Ballet opened the third and final production of the next@90 Festival with an uneven set of three performances. Celebrating the Company's 90th anniversary, the Festival has presented three premiere productions, each by three choreographers. The final production includes premieres by choreographers Claudia Schreier, Nicolas Blanc, and SFB's Choreographer in Residence, Yuri Possokhov.
The performance opened with Claudia Schreier's Kin. Set to music by Tanner Porter, Kin portrays the power dynamics between two women, portrayed superbly by principal dancers Dores André and Wanting Zhao and backed by a cast of sixteen. The women were costumed in one-piece bodysuits of muted blues and black, the men in sleeveless tops and pants of the same colors with gold trimming.
André and Zhao convincingly convey two women locked in an emotional struggle, approaching and repelling, at times intercepted by the cast who clearly represent external forces, such as time or circumstances beyond the women's control. This is a beautiful piece to watch, a very polished work that communicates its concept clearly with emotional conviction. Kin is Schreier's first work for SFB and hopefully not the last.
Not as successful was Nicholas Blanc's Gateway to the Sun. Blanc is a former Principal Dancer at SF Ballet, where he choreographed works for the SFB School. He is currently Choreographer at The Joffrey Ballet. Gateway to the Sun is set to Anna Clyne's Dance for cello and orchestra. The piece features a nameless poet, danced last night by Max Cauthorn, who watches the emotions that his poetry inspires in people. The program explains that the dancers represent the "thoughts and worlds" of his poems. The work overall seems disjointed. At times, it's not clear what pathos is being played out and why. Sasha De Sola was partnered with Wei Wang and Jennifer Stahl with Luke Ingham, backed by a cast of eight. While the lead dancers were outstanding, especially De Sola's graceful and effortless chain pirouettes, at times the cast seemed out of sync. Men and women were both costumed in unusual, pleated knee-length half skirts that were open in the front. Designed by artist Abigail Dupree-Poston, the half-skirts were an unattractive distraction from the dancing.
Last on the bill was SF Ballet's Resident Choreographer Yuri Possokhov's Violin Concerto, named for and set to Igor Stravinsky's 1931 classic. The lead, a Muse, was danced by Sasha Mukhamedov, with principal couples Wona Park and Joseph Walsh, Julia Rowe and Estaban Hernandez, and Carmela Mayo with Cavan Conley. They were supported by a cast of eight dancers. Possokhov chose to re-create costumes from his ballet Reflections of 2005, including entertaining small, stiff, black and white tutus for the women. Looming over the dancers were huge background projections of Stravinsky's face. Although intended as a tribute, the giant portraits seemed intimidating and sort of 1984-ish, like Big Brother is watching. The choreography starts out seriously, but becomes fun in the latter half of the performance, especially when the women face their partners and move their shoulders and hips in time to the music. Wona Park looked especially graceful in Walsh's lifts.
The next@90 Blanc / Schreier / Possokhov Premieres has a lot of offer for serious ballet fans as well as casual observers. Performances run through February 7th at the War Memorial Opera House. For more information, see sfballet.org.