San Francisco Ballet's Program Four opens with "Paquita" choreographed by Natalia Makarova after Marius Petipa. The music is mostly by Ludwig Minkus. This piece is essentially a series of vignettes to show off the elegance and grace of ballet. It opens with four ballerinas from the right, then four from the left. Others enter in pairs. Lorena Feijoo is partnered with Vadim Solomakha as Silver. They do a slow, sensuous pas de deux, with especially lyrical arm movements, all of which are reflected by the corps. There are arabesques and turns, culminating in a grand lift as the corps splits off into two lines on either side of the principals.

Lively corps dancers mainly in quartets are next. It has a Spanish flavor as the groups enter, exit, merge and split in kaleidoscopic motion, like refracted light. A trio in red do elegant, easy leaps and soft kicks. It picks up speed as Solomakha does big leaping turns, kicks in the air, then on the ground. Feijoo does a light stepping solo before launching into a blinding series of fouettes. It's fast, sharp, and in some she kicks her leg out, but in others she keeps it in. Vadim leaps with sharp, rapid kicks, beats his legs in the air while flying across the stage. Lorena flies across the stage, seems to change direction in mid-air, seemingly like she hit an invisible wall, and back for a climactic lift to his shoulder while framed by all the other dancers in the stunning conclusion to this quintessential classical tour de force, "Paquita."

"7 for Eight" is the world premiere production by Helgi Tomasson. It's set to selections from four keyboard concertos of J.S. Bach. The eight dancers are all in black, on a dark stage with virtually no set. They cycle through a complex series of theme and variations fitted into seven musical movements. Repeated motifs accent its cyclical nature.

An adagio opens the piece, with two dancers in a slow, sensuous pas de deux. The softly undulating lifts and turns drip with passion. He stretches out an arm, like a balance bar and she lightly falls over it. Julie Diana and Vadim Solomakha create beautifully tender sparks as they melt into each other. Next is a fast paced movement with fluid kicks, turns, and spins. Vanessa Zahorian is light and almost flippant as she partners with Guennadi Nedviguine. He does big leaps, beating his legs, then spins into a high kicking Zahorian. These are two of San Francisco Ballet's more intriguing dancers. She is young, with beautiful movements. In the year since she's become a principle dancer, Zahorian seems like she's becoming much more comfortable and expressive. She may become a very special dancer as she matures. Nedviguine is someone I don't see very often. That's too bad because he may be the most athletic of the Russians at San Francisco Ballet. There's an electricity about him that's exciting to watch.

"7 for Eight" captures all of the nuances of Bach's multi-layered textures, in mostly pas de deux. In one, the girl softly rolls over the guy's back. They do a gorgeous upside down lift with her legs entwined with his arm. It's like a conversation of love between the dancers. This is an elegant piece, like finely cut diamonds, but with remarkable power.

Helgi Tomasson has so much confidence that he doesn't have to call attention to himself or the individual dancers. Everyone moves within the framework in conversation with each other. It's teamwork. Mediocrities need to showcase themselves through the spectacle of the individuals. It draws the eye and focuses the attention on the choreographer through the individual. It usually seems as contrived as it is, too. Helgi does none of this. He focuses on the whole, the end result, and the effect of the group. He doesn't need the sensational and seems to shun it. This is what makes his work so satisfying, at least to someone who can see beyond the flash and tinsel to penetrate the depths of art.

"Les Carnival des Animaux" is a fun piece choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky to the music of Camille Saint-Saens. It's got some great laughs. When the Lion rises up off the floor, the other animals don't know what to think of him as his wild hair flies around. He plays with the other animals, they run off, and one falls down. He's got his prey. He surveys it, then tries to shield it from three ballerinas who sneak up to him. They take the prey away, then give the Lion a soft little kick in unison before moving off.

The Elephant is a strange creature. Lorena Feijoo's exaggerated movements are great as she holds her nose like a trunk. There's a scene that seems like a parody of "The Nutcracker," with black Snowflakes dancing around Muriel Maffre's Swan/Jellyfish and red snowflakes falling from the ceiling. The highlight is "The Dying Swan," though. This is a hugely comedic spoof on Mikhail Fokine's piece for Anna Pavlova in 1905. Maffre is almost six feet tall and cuts a striking figure as she staggers among the dancers lying on the floor, waving their arms. This Swan seems to have drowned in a vat of whiskey or something. She stumbles awkwardly, but gracefully, as only a world class ballerina can in this outrageous "Le Carnival des Animaux. The only thing missing is electric green polar bears. San Francisco Ballet season continues through May 9, 2004.

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