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At the San Francisco Ballet's Repertory Program "The Kingdom of the Shades" is Natalia Makarova's excuse for fifteen minutes of breathtaking beauty. The ballerina's production and choreography after Marius Petipa's Act 2 of "La Bayadere," is perfect in every way.

We first see a spirit in a haze on a platform at the back of the stage. She moves down a ramp to the edge of the stage, cuts back on the ramp back down into the stage, and is followed very methodically by twenty-two other dancers. The ensemble dancers mesh, flutter on pointe, kick one leg out to the front, then to the back, go down on a knee, back up on pointe, and split into two groups on either side of the stage. Three Shades do a jaunty pas de trois with jumps and kicks, while the other twenty dancers join in.

"La Bayadere" is the story of the warrior Solor who is tormented by repentance and love for the dead Bayadere Nikiya. The Shades are his opium induced vision of her multiplied into infinity. The temple dancer appears on an invisible platform at the base of the stage in a hazy light. Nikiya is in a white tutu, as are all of the Shades. Solor is mesmerized at the vision of her and kneels below her. The vision disappears, and she comes down live and they do a pas de deux as she skims across the stage on pointe.

Roman Rykine's Solor is strong, powerful, and sensitive. He does some very athletic leaps and scissors, and one thing where he jumps, kicks one leg over his head, rolls back, lands on one leg and spirals up and back again like this, all across the stage. Tina LeBlanc's Nikiya is scintillating. She's lighter than air as she takes flight and kicks one leg out then the other as she jumps, pirouettes, and spins around the stage. She dances with a long scarf, and at the end she and Solor do a pas de deux with the scarf to symbolize the unification of the two in love as Nikiya lifts him to her lofty plane.

Tina LeBlanc is a simply amazing dancer. all great dancers are smooth and effortless in their execution. You get the sense that Darcey Bussell worked long and hard to achieve that perfection and effortlessness that is second to none. Not so with Tina LeBlanc. It seems to flow from her naturally. You get the feeling that she moves like this when she walks down the street or does housework. With Tina you get the feeling that his is simply how she moves. You feel nothing of the hours and hours she spends perfecting her art. You simply get the sense that she is her art. Tina LeBlanc does it again!

Natalia Makarova's "The Kingdom of the Shades" hits the mark with classical elegance, precision, and sheer beauty. Emil de Cou led the orchestra in the music of Minkus.

 

The first piece on the Program is Sir Kenneth MacMillan's "The Invitation." This is serious drama and has none of the lightness and beauty of La Bayadere." The stage has statues of classical Greco-Roman nude figures, both male and female. It's a story of a girl, her romance with her young cousin, and the intervention of an older, unhappy couple and their romantic pursuit of the young couple.

"The Invitation" seems to mock Victorian virtues. The mother is very stiff and proper, while her two older daughters try to break free with a lively, high stepping dance. They never really are able to let go, though. They cover the statues with cloths. They kick their legs out a little, shake their feet, but are never able to soar. While the girl and her cousin become a little intimate, the ensemble crowds around and leaps and scissors. The guys almost goosestep, but very elegantly.

The older couple are very stiff and reserved, but very athletic. He lifts her, holds her straight out, wraps her around him through his legs and up again. It's all very stiff, though. There is a coldness in the movement, and an almost complete lack of grace. The lack of warmth, combined with a level of athleticism involved in this is almost shocking.

Julie Diana as the girl does a solo on pointe. She skitters lightly across the stage, with amazing footwork. She kicks front, back, goes down flat, up on pointe repeatedly. She falls for the older man and they do a pas de duex as he lifts her over his head, she rolls down his back, and leaps in his arm. Three couples do a lively high stepping gallop.

The strangelydressed entertainers are very powerful and athletic. The two guys have heads that look like chickens, and circle and fight. They drop down to the floor, rock from front to back, jump up and back down. They lift the girl high. Matyas Seiber's music is almost Gershwinesque here. The effect reminds one of Kurt Weil and Bertholdt Brecht.

The older couple dance. The man spurns his wife as the girl appears at the back. He dances with the girl, lifts her high, swings her around, down, through his legs, and wraps her around him. When she tries to break free, he pulls her back. The tension builds until he rapes her, and she collapses in a heap. In the final scene he pursues her again, but she is terrified. His wife, in a corner watches and finally leads him away.

Sir Kenneth MacMillan's "The Invitation" is a shocking work that comments on society on many different levels. He takes on the rigidity and coldness of Victorian morality and values, to the hideous brutality and the lasting scars of the assault. "The Invitation" is ballet as dramatic social commentary. Scott Speck led the orchestra at the San Francisco Ballet.

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