More Commitment and Artistry from San Francisco Ballet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom San Francisco Ballet, Programme D (choreography by Wheeldon, McIntyre, Dawson): Principals, Soloists and Corps de ballet of San Francisco Ballet. Royal Ballet Sinfonia / Martin West (conductor), Sadler’s Wells, London, 6.6.2019. (JO’D)

David Dawson’s Anima Animus (c) Erik Tomasson.

Choreography – Christopher Wheeldon, Trey McIntyre, David Dawson

Music – Keaton Henson, Chris Garneau, Ezio Bosso

‘My favourite is always the one they have just performed,’ a woman in the row behind me said during an interval in the fourth and final San Francisco Ballet triple bill at Sadler’s Wells. If by then it seemed that the company had come to London with an embarrass de richesses, Programme D was the richest of all.

It began with Christopher Wheeldon’s somewhat heavy-handed Bound To (2018), to music by Keaton Henson. The title refers to our 21st-century relation with technology. A scrim on which letters and symbols are insistently projected rose (to applause) to reveal a group of dancers, in dark blue, holding what are meant to be mobile devices. To start the first pas de deux, a woman has to divert her partner’s attention from the phone in his hand. She is not able to divert him for long.

The setting then switches to a technology-free Arcadia, a version of the Bohemia of the choreographer’s The Winter’s Tale for The Royal Ballet in 2014. Here the dancers, now in green, relate to each other more directly and often as same-sex couples. Christopher Wheeldon is the choreographer who makes you most aware, for whatever reason, of knees and elbows and ankles and the angles they form when pointed or flexed. Four, semi-naked men are allowed more fluid, sweeping movement as they rise in quick succession from the floor and raise one upward-pointing leg in turn.

Men figure prominently in Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem (2018). Rather vulnerable-looking men who move in the uneasy atmosphere created by the refreshingly cynical music and lyrics of composer, Chris Garneau. Two women who move around them, in short nighties worn over leotards, seem stronger. One of them is Jennifer Stahl, pleasingly freed from the narrative constraints of Cathy Marston’s Snowblind (Programme B).

Combining film of a solar eclipse with the life of the choreographer’s grandfather, who suffered from dementia, Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem seems to be the most ‘American’ of all the pieces that San Francisco Ballet have performed: the America of John Cheever, James Purdy, Kansas as one imagines it in the 1920s, and Walt Whitman, from whose work the title is taken. It ends with a solo by Benjamin Freemantle (whose body is a poem) that must count as one of the most interesting and moving solos for male dancer to be performed at Sadler’s Wells.

And then David Dawson’s Anima Animus (2018), in which the dancers, in costumes of black, white and flesh-colour, dance expressionlessly in their own shadow like technically perfect spectres of ballet. When this choreographer’s The Human Seasons (2013) was performed by The Royal Ballet a second time in 2017, the man who staged it accused the dancers of ‘a lack of commitment’. This is not something he would have to say about San Francisco Ballet. Its dancers appear to understand the choreographer. They show commitment, and artistry, in spades.

John O’Dwyer

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