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At San Francisco Ballet, "Program 1" opens with George Balanchine's "Ballo della Regina" to the Act 3 ballet music from Verdi's "Don Carlo." Balanchine had set a number of divertissements to Verdi operas in the 1920's and early '30's, but it wasn't until 1977 that he created this work outside the opera house. Balanchine had said that his early association with Verdi had taught him to choreograph for a large ensemble and set it off against his principal dancers. "Ballo della Regina" opens with six couples, all women, in three groups of four dancers each. Vanessa Zahorian and her Cavalier, Sergio Torrado perform against this backdrop.

The ensemble dancers weave in and out as the Principals do dramatic lifts, smooth leg kicks, and delicate extensions. The ballerina flutters on point, spins, then up in arabesque. There are four soloists, all women who appear, one after the other, in a series of lively jumps and leaps as the pace speeds up. The Cavalier does rolling leaps, kicks, and turning pirouettes against the backdrop of the ensemble. Two groups form a line with arms raised, hands touching, as others walk under the arms. The company do leg kicks, straight out front as the Cavalier spins to the musical crescendos, then off to the side. The ballerina holds her leg, extended high, then brings it down in four staccato movements that appear as stop action images. Backed by the ensemble, and partnered by the Cavalier, she extends her leg up, and snaps back around him. Balanchine's "Ballo della Regina" is a fun work with a lot of fine technical detail.

Next up is Helgi Tomasson's "Chi-Lin." San Francisco Ballet did the world premiere last year and it's every bit as good the second time around. Rather than concentrate on the meanings and legends involved, this time I just sat back and enjoyed the dancing, which is spectacular. Yuri Possokhov's Dragon opens it. He's strong and powerful. His sweeping arm movements are accompanied by strong spins, jumps, and splits as he projects strength and power everywhere. The tortoise enters against a backdrop representing water. He and the Chi-Lin seem to swim. Slow and sensuous, they move with the deliberation of a tortoise. He spins, lies down on his back, and lifts her straight up. Standing again, she falls back over his arm, extends her legs straight up and down in a smooth and sensuous total extension. On his back again, he lifts her over him where she makes swimming motions with her arms and legs.

Bowls of fire frame the stage for the Phoenix. He's attended by five girls with long flowing cuffs and yellowish costumes that make them look like flames, their hands and arms all move in unison as they stretch up and out before falling at his feet. Four men with flags appear with the Chi-Lin. It's a very strident number as they spin her around and lift her on their flag poles.

Yuan Yuan Tan is a commanding presence as the Chi-Lin. She kicks her legs up and back, and almost touches the back of her head. They pick her up and roll her backwards over them. She kicks her leg up, out, then traces little circles in the air with her foot. She snaps her legs back to wrap them around the men. The ballerina seems to be made of elastic as she whips her entire body around to every conceivable position. She's tall and slender, so there's a lot of limb to move, bit it's just mind boggling to see her effortlessly whip her body around in movements that would put mere mortals in traction for weeks. Rockets explode at each side to conclude Helgi Tomasson's "Chi-Lin."

James Kudelka's "Dreams of Harmony" is choreographed to Robert Shumann's "Symphony No. 2." The symphony was begun when the first hints of the composer's tragic illness had started to appear. He wrote that "the First Movement is full of struggle and is very capricious and refractory." In "Dreams of Harmony," the First Movement is entirely with men. A solo dancer turns, thrusts, and spins. It starts out slow, and he picks up speed. He's joined by more men, in pairs, and it becomes powerful and vital, like the music. There's a sun projected on the backdrop that sums it all up. In the Second Movement, three women join in. They do their own Pas de Trois with lively jumps, hops, and completely controlled arm movements. They are joined by six men for a series of Pas de Trois, pairing 2 men with each woman. They lift the girl, she extends out and up in a very lyrical scene.

The slow movement is beyond beauty. A number of couples do lifts and turns, all slow and supremely sensuous. They spin as one, the men lift the women in a rich tapestry of motion and music. This is love personified and manifested in dance. Goethe said that "No evil can touch him who looks on human beauty, because he feels at one with himself and the world around him." This is the prevailing thought here. In the Fourth Movement, Muriel Maffre is out front, and indeed, everywhere with sweeping arm movements and powerful spins. If God herself was up there, you would still have to look at Muriel. The work picks up speed with a large ensemble as light triumphs over darkness in this exquisitely layered setting of dance to Schumann's Second Symphony in James Kudelka's "Dreams of Harmony." Andrew Mogrelia led the orchestra at The San Francisco Ballet. The season continues through May 4.