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San Francisco Ballet's Program 7 consists of three works by Sir Frederick Ashton and "Elite Syncopations" by Sir Kenneth MacMillan. "Monotones" was devised as the piece d'occaision as part of a gala for The Royal Ballet Benevolent Fund. It had been expected to vanish, but was so successful it was added to the Royal Ballet's repertoire the following season. Since it was only ten minutes long, he decided to write a companion piece. Both are to music of Eric Satie. The first is a trio of two woman and a man to Satie's "Relache," the second, two men and a woman to "Parade."

"Monotones I" has a very exotic Eastern feel, like "Scherazade." There's a percussion rattle that reminds one of a snake charmer. The dancers move almost in a reptilian manner, like the figures on Greek vases. There's no glitz or flashy showmanship in any of this, just elegant simplicity that showcases the beauty of pure ballet movement. In one segment, both women lean forward and put a foot up on the man's shoulder, on either side of his head. He turns them, they hop/slide across the stage on one foot. They slide forward; he slides back between them. They bend back as a trio and stretch. It's all slow and sensuously exotic.

In "Monotones II," a woman lies on the floor with two men standing. They pick her up, turn her upside down, and she bends over forward. I love Muriel Maffre. The size of the tall, leggy ballerina adds to the smoothness and sensuality of her movement. She seems to unfold into forward motion. She keeps going up into arabesque between the men, dipping down, and turning. It's like they were working on several levels, like a three-tiered effect. In one passage they lift her in a sitting position, like an elegant Buddha. This piece has a lot of gentle lifts, sweeping arm movements, and soft flowing movement.

"Thais Pas de Deux" is danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Pierre-Francois Vilanoba. He's against a star studded backdrop. She floats on point, fluttering like a dream. Her head is covered by a light scarf for most of it. She's in constant motion, almost like an elusive lover that you never quite get. She throws off her scarf and runs to him for a grand lift. He spins, and elegantly lifts her and rolls her over his shoulder. They embrace, kiss, and she floats away, as in a dream. This is very soft and flowing, with a lot of undulating rhythms.

"Symphonic Variations" is to the work for piano and orchestra by Cesar Franck. I've really come to love that combination for ballet, because it leads some of the most elegant movement for ballerinas there is. This work is for three of them, and three men. It has a very classical feel, with the dancers in white costumes, something like Greek sculpture. There's a modern element to the bright green backdrop and proscenium with black lines like sine waves. It's very symmetrical, with two small dancers on either side of a tall one, both the man, and women. The men are at the back, the women out front. Damien Smith steps forward, and the girls form shapes around him, almost like a god. He lifts Julie Diana, swoops down with her, and Tina LeBlanc and Vanesa Zahorian do fast turns on one leg. It's always a treat to see Tina, and she never disappoints. Part of her magic is her bearing. Tall women are frequently regal in appearance, but it's rare for someone small, and if LeBlanc is anything, it's regal. Zahorian is just as smooth, but she seems to hold back, restraining herself. If she just lets herself go, and really emotes, she could be really special. Great art needs a certain amount of reckless abandon. You have to have enough confidence to just let yourself go. Preparation and experience will make it succeed. "Symphonic Variations" has a lot of undulating leg movements. It's simply technical, and fun ... very British.

The program concludes with the hugely entertaining, "Elite Syncopations" of Sir Kenneth MacMillan. This is smart, sassy, and sexy. Yuan Yuan Tan has three strategically placed red stars on her white leotard. She swivels her hips like they're silly putty. Yuri Possokhov does a very complicated lift with her. She slides across his shoulders and does an upside down kick, straight up. His hands are in constant motion as he moves her around above him. He swings her around, and down, where a man comes out from the ensemble, and on one knee hands her a bouquet. I've seen Yuan Yuan Tan numerous times, but I have never seen anything like this performance. She's so exposed here. Everything's so fast and relentless, and it's so smooth everywhere. Helgi Tomasson says of her "That it's hard for Yuan Yuan to make a wrong move." Never have I seen that more evident than here.

"Elite Syncopations" is set to ragtime music, mostly of Scott Joplin. It captures the spirit of that era perfectly in this marriage with classical ballet as sen through the eyes of the British master. It's the perfect piece to end the evening, and for me, the 2004 San Francisco Ballet Season. Andrew Mogrelia led the orchestra. The San Francisco Ballet Season continues through May 9 at the Opera House.

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