At The San Francisco Ballet, Repertory Program 5 opens with "A Garden" by Mark Morris. It's danced to Richard Strauss' "Tanzesuite (after Couperin)." The action is carried mostly by the men and the Pas de Deux. The set is simple, a sky blue backdrop with some clouds. The men are in burnt orange tops, black pants, and white slippers. The women are in flowing mid-thigh black dresses over white leotards and slippers, for a fairly stark contrast of colors. Everything is bright, lively, and lyrical, like the music.

It opens with two girls and two guys. More join in, a girl pirouettes half way across the stage and back. There are constant entrances and exits from the sides, like waves washing up on the beach. There are a lot of lifts, turns, and kicks. They're not the highest, or biggest, but they're some of the smoothest and most elegant, and they all fit together like clockwork. There are a lot of reverse turns, and at one point the guy lifts the girl and she does a reverse cartwheel over his shoulder. Generally, the pas de deux's are very tender and romantic.

This is 18th century French music seen through 20th century German sensibilities, and the choreography follows suit perfectly. Morris captures the ideal marriage of modern movement in classical form. It's fluid, deceptively athletic, and wonderfully understated. "A Garden" is a joyous celebration that captures perfectly this most elegant piece of music by Richard Strauss.

The World Premiere of Helgi Tomasson's "Chi-Lin" bridges classical ballet and Chinese mythology. Helgi finds that space between. It's choreographed on Yuan Yuan Tan and four men to music by Bright Sheng. She's the Chi-Lin, a creature that embodies both the male and female. The night Confucius was born, the Chi-Lin brought his mother a book of wisdom. This, along with the other three animals, the dragon, the tortoise, and the phoenix, represent the four elements and four directions. A computer generated film clip of four coins representing them is projected on the screen at the beginning, as we're sucked into the vortex.

The stage resembles a temple as we see the characters appear through a scrim. There are four vessels with fire, two on each side of the stage. The coloration of the costumes of the principals is a tarnished brass, or gold, taken from the coins. Tan's movement is slow and sensuous, like Tai Chi. Yuri Possokhov's Dragon is power and strength with high jumps, double turns, and thrusts up and out. The Tortoise is strength and endurance. In their Pas de Deux, Damian Smith lies on his back and lifts Yuan Yuan straight over him. She stretches out and makes swimming motions with her arms in an exquisitely beautiful scene.

Five women give what Claude Monet called "envelope" to Parrish Maynard's Phoenix. He's crisp and lively, as they follow and court him. They finally surround him and he thrusts his arms up. Four men with flags of the four coins join the Chi-Lin. This is simply spectacular as she does deep back bends and turns. She kicks her feet out and they whip her around. They carry her on the flag poles, she leans back and kicks her leg up. She does arabesques straight up as her toes touch her head. The men throw the flags back and forth. The guys leap past her, cartwheel to the sides, and roll back. They lift her and pass her around with a lot of undulating arm movements. The other animals return, lift the Chi-Lin high in a sort of pyramid. She does a deep backbend, and fireworks shoot up from the four vessels at the side in the stunning conclusion of "Chi-Lin," the newest work of Helgi Tomasson.

San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancer Joanna Berman has announced that she will retire following the 2002 season. Mark Morris choreographed "Later" as a tribute to her. It's an eleven and a half minute solo to Schubert's "Impromptu in B-flat." There's the piano on the left side of the stage, and Berman. She interacts with it a bit. There are some staccato kicks out to the side, then up. Schubert in the key of B-flat has an incredible poignancy and Morris captures it with turns and sweeping gestures that say farewell everywhere. This is classical ballet infused with modern movement, and she glides on pointe with big arm movements. Her kicks are generally not high, but numerous and smooth. Night falls as "Later" concludes with Joanna Berman in a grand lilting gesture to the piano at the side, looking away from the audience and off-stage.

The evening concludes with "Black Cake." It's choreographed by Hans van Manen to music of Tchaikovsky, Massenet, Stravinsky, Mascagni, and Janacek. It opens with a grand ballroom scene to Tchaikovsky's 5th. It picks up speed with pirouettes, sweeping lifts, and turns, as the music crescendos. It's all very rhythmic. There are three pas de deux's in the middle. Lorna Feijoo kicks high, turns, and slides to the floor, as Guennadi Nedviguine raises her, she leans back to the floor, and he spins her and lifts her over his shoulder. As the second couple come out, they look back and leave. It's sharp jazz rhythms now. Cyril Pierre carries Muriel Maffre on his back, and they jump straight up and down. He walks on all fours like a dog as he grovels at her feet, then picks her straight up. She crouches and he dribbles her head like a basketball. Everything's exaggerated as he drags her off with great difficulty.

The third couple, Lucia Lacarra and Stephen Legate are dramatic and theatrical. She spins, kicks high, and falls. He rushes across the stage and sweeps her into his arms. He lifts her high, she flattens out, kicks her leg straight up, down, and she falls into his arms. Everything's an exaggerated melodrama now. It's back to the ballroom for a talking, laughing cocktail party. Muriel Maffre is hilarious as she staggers, drunk, away from the crowd as only a ballerina can. The waiter walks across the stage, and the entire group follows, leaning in unison off to one side, then back to the other, before he refills their glasses. This is like Fred Astaire, Lawrence Welk, and W.C. Fields meets the ballet in this outrageous climax to Program 5 at the Opera House. Three more programs remain, concluding with Helgi Tomasson's "Giselle" May 3-12 at The San Francisco Ballet.



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