San Francisco Ballet's Program 4: Supernaturally Captivating La Sylphide, Joyful but Confusing The Seasons
March 17, 2022—San Francisco Ballet's Program 4 contrasts a timeless, classic Bournonville ballet with a west coast premiere by Ratmansky. La Sylphide, staged by Helgi Tomasson with Anita Paciotti and Katita Waldo, lives up to its venerable tradition. Bournonville's La Sylphide (not to be confused with Fokine's Les Sylphides), with music by Herman Løvenskiold, dates to 1836. Ratmansky's The Seasons, conceptually based on Petipa's work of 1900, premiered in 2019. The contrast between these two ballets in Program 4 could not be greater.
On Wednesday evening the program opened with La Syphide, set at a fireside inside a Scottish lodge. On the eve of his wedding, James dreams of a beautiful sylph, a magical creature of the air, dancing around him. He awakens to find she is real, yet no one else can see her. Doris Andre was the very essence of a winged, lighter-than-air magical being, flying about in grand jetés. James tries to embrace her, but she escapes into the fire. The pre-nuptial wedding celebration is a grand event, with 35 kilted dancers in intricate partnering with port de bras and battement patterned after traditional Scottish dancing. Max Cauthorn as James was outstanding in his tourneés and multiple in-air turns. As the witch Madge, Anita Paciotti was wicked, yet likable, in this plot-turning role. (Of local interest, the role of Madge was at one time performed at American Ballet Theater by Dennis Nahat, later the Artistic Director of the former San Jose Ballet.)
La Sylphide has beautiful and intricate dancing, resplendent costumes, impressive scenery, and magical powers. The scene of twenty assembled sylphs in white tulles dancing in the forest is one of the most beautiful in ballet.
The Seasons is burstingly brilliant in sound, colors, and movement. Ratmansky has apparently worked a step into each note of Alexander Glazunov's rapid and vibrant score. The result is a challenging work for both brilliant dancers and Martin West's brilliant orchestra, and a feast for fans of technical ballet. As theater, The Seasons is strange and confusing. There is no staging to represent each season, and the costumes, by Robert Perdziola, do not always obviously represent the seasons they signify. I overheard people behind me whispering their guesses as to which season this performance opened with. It was winter. And the costumes for spring and summer are colorful so that those seasons just sort of blend into each other. Maybe that blending is intentional, but it is confusing.
Wednesday evening's cast featured Luke Ingham in the role of Winter, with Jennifer Stahl dancing Frost, Wan Ting Zhao as Ice, Sasha de Sola as Hail, and Sarah Van Patten as Snow. Although the excellent printed program describes the plot, without a cast sheet (the Opera House, like many venues, now expect you to look up the cast on your phone) it was virtually impossible to tell which role each dancer represented and to know what was going on. Giovanny Garibay and Remi Wagner were funny as the mischievous Gnomes running about and waving red bandanas, signifying fire, bringing an end to winter.
Spring featured Wei Wang as Zephyr (wind), Julia Rowe as The Rose, and Wona Park as The Swallow, all accompanied by several Roses. Summer was more complicated, with Frances Chung as The Spirit of the Corn, Lucas Erni as The Faun, Diego Cruz and Myles Thatcher as Satyrs, and several Cornflowers, Water Men, and Poppies. Frances Chung was all grace and vitality, but the actions between and among the various characters, although fun, were at times a mystery.
Autumn was more readily identifiable by the yellow and red costumes, but the activity represented the revelry of a wine harvest, with Isabella Devivo and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira as Bacchante and Bacchus, respectively, accompanied by several Bacchantes and Fauns. The rapid, challenging dancing is difficult, even for SFB's accomplished artists. There was at least one awkward misstep in partnering out of a pirouette. The Seasons closes with dancers from all seasons together in a joyous romp.
Enjoy The Seasons for the fabulous dancing and sheer fun. If you want to interpret the action among the characters, you might want to print out the cast list from the SFB website here and bring it with you.
San Francisco Ballet's Program 4 runs through March 20th at the Memorial Opera House. For more information, see sfballet.org.