At San Francisco Ballet, Helgi Tomasson's "Silver Ladders" is choreographed to Joan Tower's score of the same name. The curtain rises on 3 dancers suspended on ladders about halfway down from the top of the stage. They're seen through a scrim, and are centrally lit against darkness. This is a mysterious work, and the opening sets the stage. There are a lot of groups who, when they finish dancing, remain to watch, and sometimes take part again.

There's an ensemble of eleven women fluttering on pointe. They part and one, all in white, comes forward with a lot of soft turns and kicks to the woodwinds. The ensemble then crisscross in layers and move to the front corner of the stage. The male principal does a powerful solo of leaping splits around the stage and is positioned as a balance against the women who come out and surround him. Two men lift the principal woman and give her to him.

Lucia Lacarra and Cyril Pierre are beautiful partners in the pas de deux. He's big, thick, and strong, while she's slender and feminine. It's a slow, sensuous pas de deux as he holds her, carries her, and lifts her on his back, over his head where she does a deep back bend. It picks up speed and he does athletic leaps to a vibraphone solo. The corps moves in groups that encircle and reveal the principals. Six men do leaps and cartwheels with sweeping arm movements. Lucia jumps into Cyril's arms and kicks her legs up behind her. He lifts her to his shoulders, she stretches out, then back, as they're encircled by the corps. The ladders are lowered, the three rise as the scrim, then the curtain falls on Helgi Tomasson's "Silver Ladders."

The world premiere of Yuri Possokhov's "The Dammed" is a dramatic tour de force about commitment, betrayal, and vengeance. It's based on Euripides' play "Medea." She helps Jason win The Golden Fleece, and forsakes her home and family to return to Greece with him. When he betrays her, she kills his lover, the Princess, then kills their two children. It's danced to Ravel's "Pavane" and "Piano Concerto for the Left Hand." The set is a gnarled old dead tree trunk. The corps, both men and women, appear as a Greek Chorus dressed in long flowing white skirts as they observe.

The ballet opens with a beautiful pas de deux with Jason and the Princess. Yuan Yuan Tan is lighter than air as Roman Rykine tosses and catches her and lovingly holds her head in his hands. He leaps around the stage with high kicks and lifts her over his back. These two are in love.

The Chorus is ghostly as Medea and the children are at the front of the stage. They rise and fall as she sends the children off. She vibrates with a tormented passion in twisting convulsed movement as she writhes across the stage. She's sharp but smooth as she pirouettes in her black dress. The Chorus shadow and surround her, almost mockingly. She's surely a stranger in a strange land, and the Greeks don't let her forget it. Jason is a commanding presence, standing in the center of the stage, and she floats to him on pointe.

The difference in the pas de deuxes is the difference in the entire story. They twist and turn. The children embrace each. The Chorus divides in two. Medea is given the red cape, and her movements are sharp. The kids and the Princess are in the background. The Princess wraps herself in the cape and seems to burst into fire, as flames shoot up. She has been killed by the poisoned cape, while Medea, writhing at the front of the stage is projected as a giant shadow on the backdrop.

Medea does a tormented solo. She envelopes her children in her black cloak and kills them. The music changes to the solo piano "Pavane" with Jason surveying the carnage. Computer generated storm clouds sweep over the barren set in the thunderous climax to Yuri Possokhov's new ballet, "The Dammed." Medea is the final role to be choreographed on Joanna Berman, who retires at the end of the season, and she's simply spectacular in the part. She drips passion and makes you feel every ounce of her pain and the totality, but emptiness of her revenge.

Program 7 concludes with "Sandpaper Ballet" by Mark Morris to a medley of Leroy Anderson songs that does not include the title song. It's light and sparkling with a lot of snappy ensemble numbers. "Typewriter Ballet" is sharp and witty, with a large ensemble. They move like a typewriter in masses that remind one of a college marching band. It's a skill level that captures the tapity-tap, click, and return with as much wit as the music. "Bugler's Holiday" is a smooth, lively pas de deux, but it has a touch of poignancy to it. There are a lot of entrances, exits, and a fun soft shoe.

Muriel Maffre is a striking figure, as the six foot ballerina is partnered with a number of men, all shorter than her in one section, then with men taller in another. "Syncopated Clock" is a large ensemble that breaks into groups that mesh in an incredibly layered tapestry of motion. A soloist spins madly, while everyone else leaves and the curtain falls on this fluffiest of pieces. This is the second time I've seen "Sandpaper Ballet," and I never have much to say about it. There's nothing particularly profound, but it's just a lot of fun. Morris uses a lot of large groups, and it's just a lot of people having fun. It's the perfect ending to send you off into the night with a smile. The San Francisco Ballet concludes it's season with Helgi Tomasson's "Giselle" running May 3-12.


Oil on canvas


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