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alison

San Francisco Ballet season, Sadler's Wells, 2019

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San Francisco Ballet's season of four mixed bills begins at Sadler's Wells tonight.  All thoughts here, please.

 

The bills are:

 

1.   Ratmansky's Shostakovich Trilogy: "In a triptych of works, world renowned choreographer Alexei Ratmansky pays homage to Dmitri Shostakovich. Attracted by the theatricality of his music, Ratmansky has returned time and time again to the work of the Russian composer. The three works, Symphony #9, Chamber Symphony and Piano Concerto #1 reflect Shostakovich’s life and experiences in abstract form."

 

2.   Liang / Marston / Pita: "In The Infinite Ocean, Taiwanese-born American choreographer Edwaard Liang interprets loss and letting go. Cathy Marston adapts Edith Wharton’s haunting tale of adultery, Ethan Frome, in Snowblind. And, in a match made in Wonderland, the fantastically surreal choreographer Arthur Pita is inspired by the music of the Icelandic icon, Björk Guðmundsdóttir for his Björk Ballet."

 

3.   Welch / Scarlett / Peck: "Set to the violin concertos of Johann Sebastian Bach, Stanton Welch’s Bespoke explores dance itself in a love letter to ballet. The critically acclaimed Hummingbird by British choreographer Liam Scarlett is accompanied by Philip Glass’ Tirol Concerto, with shadowy designs by regular collaborator John Macfarlane. “Virtuoso of the form” (New York Times) Justin Peck uses the electronic music of M83 for Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming."

 

4.   McIntyre / Wheeldon / Dawson: "With the title lifted from the work of Walt Whitman, Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem inhabits the eccentric world of Trey McIntyre’s grandfather. Sadler’s Wells Associate Artist Christopher Wheeldon joins forces once again with the composer Keaton Henson to take on the modern world in Bound To. And, in his first work for the company, David Dawson’s Anima Animus is ballet technique stretched to its outer limit, set to Ezio Bosso’s Esoconcerto."

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Posted (edited)

I saw the Shostakovich Trilogy tonight.  'Theatricality' in the synopsis above is actually an insight for me, as that characteristic suffused the three pieces - assertive, pronounced, almost gymnastic movement at times. A hint of Broadway even, dare I say.  I enjoyed all three, but Chamber Concerto was the highlight, with Piano Concerto a close second.  I was pleased to see Mathilde Froustey and Yuanyuan Tan for the first time live, and Mathilde was particularly fluid and expressive -  a really lovely dancer. Those of us who lean to the ENB side here will also have been delighted to see Maddie Keesler back on stage at Sadler's.  Oddly, up in the second circle, quite a few people left in the first interval, and a few more in the second - the dancing was good, and Shostakovich is not everyone's cup of tea, but should hardly come as a surprise either.  I guess you can't please all of the proletariat all of the time. The orchestra was excellent, by the way. Looking forward to Welch / Scarlett / Peck next week.

Edited by Quintus
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3 minutes ago, Quintus said:

Oddly, up in the second circle, quite a few people left in the first interval, and a few more in the second - the dancing was good, and Shostakovich is not everyone's cup of tea, but should hardly come as a surprise either.  I guess you can't please all of the proletariat all of the time. 

 

I think quite a few people re-homed themselves in the gaps, as it was sadly not sold out. A shame, as I thought it was bloody fantastic triple bill!

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3 minutes ago, zxDaveM said:

 

I think quite a few people re-homed themselves in the gaps, as it was sadly not sold out. A shame, as I thought it was bloody fantastic triple bill!

 

I re-homed downstairs :) and yes I agree it was fantastic !

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Posted (edited)

I need to congratulate my former self for being entirely unreasonable and buying a boatload of excellent tickets for the San Francisco ballet. Must have been expecting a lottery win, but based on tonight's Shostakovich Trilogy I made the right decision. 

 

As as much as I admire Ratmansky, I thought that a whole triple bill by one choreographer might end up feeling very samey. Instead I felt a pang of disappointment that the dancing was over when the last piece ended.

 

The different pieces of Shostakovich set the tone for each ballet, starting with the energetic whirlwind of dancing in Symphony #9, followed by a more introspective, near-narrative Chamber Symphony and ending with the sprightly yet slightly melancholic piano concerto #1. I loved how Ratmansky's choreography never fought the music, every movement seems connected to the score.

 

The company looked rather impressive to me, with heaps of talent across the ranks - though I have no clue who most dancers were. Lovely to see Aaron Robinson and Yuan Yuan Tang again, and some unfamiliar-to-me dancers particularly caught my eye - after much staring at the programme, I think they were Mathilde Froustey, Dores Andre and Wei Wang. 

 

I particularly loved Symphony #9, and at some point felt nearly overwhelmed with emotion, though in all fairness that might have been down to the Royal Ballet Sinfonia spinning their musical magic. Would it be wrong to ask their brass section to have a word with the ROH orchestra?

Edited by Coated
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Wonderful evening, beautiful company, Ratmansky is a master !

 

And Sofiane Sylve an exceptional dancer !

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An excellent evening of choreography, music and dance, I thought.  A full evening of Shostakovich might sound a bit heavy, but far from it!  I particularly enjoyed the first piece, Symphony #9, which was for the most part bright and bouncy, with darker interludes - I'd happily watch it on a loop for quite a while, I think, just to appreciate Ratmansky's craftsmanship, because the choreography is so good, intricate, witty and musical.  I think a little more in the way of programme notes might have helped me appreciate the middle piece, Chamber Symphony, a bit more, as it's focused on Shostakovich's personal life, which isn't something I know much about: he had 3 wives, but I'm not sure what happened with all of them and what was being reflected in the choreography (or indeed whether I was taking it all too literally).  Also, according to the programme the Chamber Symphony is based on one of his string quartets, none of which I thought I was familiar with, yet I recognised a substantial amount of it - I'd have said it was from the cello concerto, or something?  Bookending it, the final piece was Piano Concerto #1 (for piano, trumpet and string orchestra), which seemed to feature quite a few nods towards Balanchine - Rubies in particular - and also something of MacMillan's, which might have been Concerto, as there were some similarities in the drilling of the corps. 

 

A very enjoyable evening, and one I'd recommend to anyone interested in ballet.  The dancers were obviously really enjoying themselves (getting a nice brain workout, I should think), and I'll guess the musicians were, too: it can't be often that the Royal Ballet Sinfonia gets a chance to get its teeth into such meaty music!  Sadler's Wells is known for its enthusiastic audiences, but the reception tonight was at another level completely.

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6 hours ago, alison said:

Also, according to the programme the Chamber Symphony is based on one of his string quartets, none of which I thought I was familiar with, yet I recognised a substantial amount of it - I'd have said it was from the cello concerto, or something?

 

There's a *lot* to be said about this particular string quartet, but the reason it sounded so familiar if you didn't already know it is probably because it features the DSCH motif so heavily: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/DSCH_motif

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Posted (edited)

Agree - this is an amazing and engrossing triple.  Ratmansky is incredibly musical and I have never seen anyone manage a corps so well - it was utterly 'organic' and unpredictable - never settling into "solo, pas de deux, solo, ensemble" patterns.  Grabs and keeps your interest for every second of the piece.   

 

And SFB has some really excellent dancers.  Wei Wang is a technical phenomenon and it was great to see Yuan Yuan Tan and Sofiane Sylve still looking so amazing. And Ulrik Birkkjaer, leading the second act last night, was a revelation.  I wasn't planning to see any of the other new works, since every programme has at least one choreographer (and more than one composer) I find a bit meh, but am now tempted to grab a ticket or two just to see what else their dancers can do.

Edited by Lindsay
typo
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8 hours ago, Lindsay said:

Agree - this is an amazing and engrossing triple.  Ratmansky is incredibly musical and I have never seen anyone manage a corps so well - it was utterly 'organic' and unpredictable - never settling into "solo, pas de deux, solo, ensemble" patterns.  Grabs and keeps your interest for every second of the piece.   

 

So true, Lindsay!  I'm horribly envious of those who're watching it (again) tonight.  I'd hoped to go, but knew it was unlikely I'd get out of work in time :(  I do wish they'd scheduled A/B/C/D rather than A/A/B/B/C/C/D/D (okay, slight exaggeration), because I'd have appreciated the chance to decide at my leisure what I wanted to see a second time.

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Here is Sofiane Sylve talking about Piano Concerto 1

 

 

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We had Yuan Yuan Tan this evening in this piece - very enigmatic!

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Loved Shostakovich Trilogy! I basically agree with all the comments above. Thrilling to see a whole evening of wonderful, new, expressive, interesting, original, confident, witty, moving classical ballet, and to music by one of my favourite composers. There's life in the old art form yet!!

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Posted (edited)

A terrific evening of dance.  Being from the U.S. I have always wanted to see the San Francisco Ballet, and finally had the opportunity here in London.  

 

What immediately caught my eye was the depth of the company, both the men and women.  Much is expected of the corps in all three ballets, with challenging choreography and complex patterns weaving in and out of the principals, that a company must have tremendous top-down strength just to dance Ratmansky.  Every corps dancer looked as though he or she could have stepped into a principal role at a moment's notice and given a creditable performance, if not much more. 

 

As a choreographer Ratmansky is demanding in every conceivable way:  technique, musicality, partnering, formations, phrasing.  You're aware from the first five seconds of "Symphony #9" that it's going to be an intensely physical night, with new principal Esteban Hernandez opening the work center stage before the corps begin to dart in and out.  The pacing is so fast the audience can barely breathe (imagine the dancers!), but there are moments of melancholy and humor such as the pas de deux of Mathilde Froustey and Luke Ingham.   Froustey has a softness to her work with expressive eyes which contrast the more straightforward, technically ironclad approach of Sasha De Sola.  Hernandez and Hansuke Yamamoto took full advantage of Ratmansky's buoyant phrases for the men while also being cognizant of the idiosyncratic score. Yamamoto does not have the nicest turn-out nor the greatest feet, but he is one of those dependable, rock solid technicians who is seemingly never out of control.  Hernandez was all of that with an even nicer aesthetic. In contrast Ingham was lagging technically and even forgot a step at one point; fortunately his partnering was much better.

 

"Chamber Symphony" was my favorite work of the three.  While remaining an abstract work it is clearly the most narrative-based.  Shostakovich (Aaron Robison) appears as a character in the ballet, which delineates the relationships of his three wives and his oppression during Soviet Russia.  While the corps women, quartet of men, and principal women are onstage throughout the ballet, the work is unique in that it becomes somewhat of a one-man show.  Robison was more than up to task with a riveting, dramatically moving performance.  His dancing was seamless and his descent into madness modulated to avoid histrionics.  The quartet of men were used to great effect, such as how they would throw a ballerina for Robison to catch in a full presage, and hide another woman while she slipped out of his grasp.  There were superb visual details not to mention a thorough sense of narrative, especially the ending where the entire cast created a tableau onstage while Robison trudged upstage left, alone.  Of the three ballerinas, Dores Andre was my favorite and probably had the most to work with in her central pas de deux.  Jennifer Stahl had a beautiful extension but was comparatively nondescript, and Jahna Frantziskonis didn't have the same quality of line.  

 

"Piano Concerto #1" was like fireworks.  Yuan Yuan Tan was magisterial in the first ballerina role and at 42 still has the energy (and arabesque) of someone half her age.  Technically there are occasional creaks but what a masterful presence and artist.  Tiit Helimets, if not the most explosive dancer, was still her regal and authoritative partner.  The second principals were the dynamo couple of Isabella DeVivo and Vitor Luiz.  DeVivo has an affinity for allegro but was missing some of the off-balance angular quality that Yuan Yuan captured.  A couple of Luiz's pirouettes went awry but he had such an ingratiating presence with tremendous strength of footwork that I don't think anyone cared.  Both principals had quirky, challenging lifts including a full 360 turn to a shoulder sit and a full presage with the ballerina looking down on the guy in a stag position.  The six corps couples seemed especially sharp in the evening's finale.  The changing of colors with the six women (their costumes grey in the front and red in the back) was a particular highlight.  

Edited by MRR
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"Both principals had quirky, challenging lifts including a full 360 turn to a shoulder sit "

 

I'd forgotten that: my jaw probably hit the floor at that point - it looks fiendish!

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Posted (edited)

I saw it on Wednesday night and while I did really enjoy it it was a bit more of a mixed bag for me.  Although firstly I should say that I loved the dancers...I've always wanted to see this company and they didn't disappoint in any way.  I don't know the company at all so I can't really single anyone out so I'll just say everyone was superb.  Also I've wanted to see Ratmansky so was really looking forward to this mixed bill. 

 

Symphony #9 was my favourite piece- the choreography was just so clever, everything worked so well and I could really feel the energy from the dancers.  It was very uplifting in some places and quieter and more thoughtful in others- I thought the whole thing was just brilliant.

 

Chamber Symphony was a piece I didn't like very much.  It was unusual and I really wanted to like it but I couldn't connect to it in any way.  I bought the programme but there was no info in it regarding what it was broadly about so now after reading this thread I'm thinking I missed an awful lot.  I think maybe if I'd known more background I would have gotten more out of it but maybe it simply wasn't for me.

 

I thought Piano Concerto #1 was brilliantly choreographed and danced but unfortunately I just really did not like the music at all which obviously had a huge impact on my enjoyment.  I could see it was great, but the score for me was quite an exhausting listen...but a very exciting piece nevertheless.

 

Anyway, it was great to see SFB in the flesh after only seeing them on youtube before.  I've booked to see the Welch/Scarlett/Peck programme so looking forward to that, esp the Peck piece.  

Edited by serenade
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On 30/05/2019 at 01:09, Quintus said:

Oddly, up in the second circle, quite a few people left in the first interval, and a few more in the second - the dancing was good, and Shostakovich is not everyone's cup of tea, but should hardly come as a surprise either.

 

I think it isn't Shostakovich, it is the choreography, infinitely inferior to the music. I saw "Shostakovich Trilogy" before and I didn't think much of its Red Square May Day parade group displays of gymnastics.

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7 hours ago, assoluta said:

 

I think it isn't Shostakovich, it is the choreography, infinitely inferior to the music. I saw "Shostakovich Trilogy" before and I didn't think much of its Red Square May Day parade group displays of gymnastics.

 

Assoulta, where did you see it?  Was this the one that premiered/done for ABT?  As far as I am aware it is only done by DNB in Europe ... but was also done (in parts) by SFB in Paris.  Which did you see - or did you see it in North America? Grateful for your kind advice. 

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Posted (edited)

Edwaard Liang / Infinite Ocean

 

Speed: glacial to tai-chi, with interludes of slightly faster swirls and slow jogs
Lighting and costumes: conspired to make dancers appear astonishingly pallid. Also, beige/gold gauze-like tight tops with high necks and applique + matching tiny shorts ain't my thing.
Music: not my cup of tea but maybe appreciated by people who are fond of long repetitive violin solos with strings strumming along as accompaniment. Though not as bad as the Glass piece that blighted the last ENB triple for me.
Dancing: generic with some gymnastics. Couple of nice-ish solos, but my attention wandered so I can't be sure.
Overall: yawn yawny yawn.

Though judging by the enthusiastic applause, others enjoyed it.

 

Cathy Marston / Snowblind


Snowblind was a completely different kettle of fish. Cathy Marston at her clever best. Being a heathen who hasn't read any Wharton, I peeked at the synopsis of Ethan Frome, which probably helped, but I suspect I would have caught the gist of the story without a primer.

The movement was beautiful, loved the lifts where he swirls her around and around at a 45 degree angle.

The ending was poignant, the wife changing from a psychosomatic invalid to the person who becomes the (unwilling, I assume) carer for her husband and the rival she'd been trying to get out of her house. The last tableau of the 3 protagonists was heartbreaking, standing in a circle with their arms interwoven in its centre, locked together in misery.

Jennifer Stahl was the wife, and her slightly restraint aura worked beautifully for the role. Mathilde Froustey was a passionate Mattie, and the exchange where the wife high kicked Mattie to get her out of the house is now one of my favourite ballet moments.

 

Arthur Pita / Björk Ballet

 

This is about as bonkers as it sounds. I was well entertained by the typical Pita offbeat staging, slightly reminiscent of a fetish nightclub at times. Most Björk references went straight over my head, but some triggered vague recognition. I was possibly slightly disappointed that Pita didn't go for a nod to the Swan dress she wore to the Oscars yonks ago. Too obvious I guess.

At some point Dores Andre arrived on stage dancing on a platform, carried by 4 men and looking exceedingly fierce (or possibly fiercely concentrating on not falling off). It was pretty neat when she was eventually tipped off the platform, tumbling straight into her partners arms and somehow managed to make it all look very balletic.

I might have missed a bit of the dancing watching a dancer sitting at the front of the stage with a rod, fishing in the orchestra pit, but overall it was frothy fun with some inspired moves, like the bit where the corps combined something like slow, hoppy entrechat feet with perfectly disco upper bodies.

 

Due to the siren calls of Naghdi and Osipova, I won't see this bill a second time, but hopefully this won't be the last time I see Snowblind and I suspect I'd still find the Pita amusing if I saw it again. Liang goes on my avoid list.
 

Edited by Coated
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Oh, it was Liang!  I was thinking it was McIntyre.  Different bill, I guess.

 

I think I'd have appreciated that bill rather more if it hadn't seemed to take forever - I didn't time the intervals, but I was running out of steam by the last piece.

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Posted (edited)

"Infinite Ocean" was one of those frustrating pieces which is neither great nor terrible, it's just.....there.  The work begins with six couples before they disperse into duets and solos.  The longer the piece went on the more you realized how little choreography was there: all the motifs kept repeating ad nauseam.  There was a cool lift at the end of the Sofiane Sylvie/Tiit Helimets pas de deux where, from the floor, she ends up flipping into a backward cambre arching toward him, but as "Ocean" wore on the acrobatic partnering became redundant.  I was also shocked how a solo for the technically peerless Sylve could make her look so contained.  There were lots of repeating phrases of fouettes into an a la seconde turns and other short pirouettes which didn't resolve into anything.  In the second PDD Yuan Yuan Tan was her usual imperious self with an arabesque for days, partnered by Vitor Luiz.  The ensemble finishes the ballet climbing a ramp and jumping off the cliff (much like Gloria), before Yuan Yuan runs up, turns downstage to jump off last as the lights go dark.  I wouldn't write off Liang for this piece: his "Age of Innocence" and "Murmuration" (choreographed on Joffrey and Houston Ballets, respectively) are far more inventive and choreographically developed.

 

"Snowblind" left me at arm's length, though this is my fault for not consulting a synopsis beyond the program notes.  The story involves the love triangle of Ethan Frome, an impoverished farmer; Zeena, his hypochondriac wife; and Mattie, his wife's cousin who is living with them with no place else to go.  But this is where I would recommend reading the full synopsis beforehand to fill in the gaps.  For instance, in the book Mattie suggests a suicide pact when she goes sledding with Ethan, but an image of Zeena inside Ethan's head causes him to steer off-course as they crash into a tree.  Neither dies, but Mattie is paralyzed and Ethan left with a permanent limp, forcing Zeena, now cured of her "illness," to care for both of them.  The way the reigns shift in the last scene with Zeena establishing her control over Mattie and Ethan is masterfully done.  Marston's partnering is inventive and constantly establishing and developing the relationships of Ethan and his two women.  As I said in the last rep Mathilde Froustey has tremendously expressive eyes; her Mattie was effervescent and naive which was powerful against the austere, anxiety-ridden Zeena of Jennifer Stahl.  Ulrik Birkkjaer was subtle and powerful as Ethan, showing a clear shift of physicality and dramatic depth when his character becomes a cripple.  Overall I'm not convinced this story can be adequately conveyed through dance, but the principal trio gave it their best.

 

"Bjork Ballet" will not appeal to everyone but for me was somewhat of a guilty pleasure.  Having recently seen "O" in Las Vegas, I found the work very reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil, with a dizzying array of costumes and movement and a heightened sense of erotica.  No dancer is spared in creating the hyper athletic physicality inherent in Pita's choreography.  The ballet has a sketch of a narrative with the fisherman (Joe Walsh) alternating a sad mask in the first half of the ballet and a happy mask in the second.  Walsh is an excellent and freakishly agile dancer, but choreographically his interludes stalled the piece's momentum, and my interest waned in the second half.  Dores Andre in her multi-colored (primarily pink) costume was also underutilized given her obvious dramatic capabilities, but an exotic Carmela Mayo and sensual Elizabeth Powell were given free reign to utilize their glamorous stage presence.  The lighting, as well as the props--among them 40 pieces of silver grass which drop from the ceiling--were used to striking effect.

 

 

 

 

Edited by MRR
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Posted (edited)

Thanks for another wonderful review MRR.  I agree with all that you say - and say so effectively.  Only I fear I was one for whom the Bjork piece was simply - other than a few tinsel/Vegas moments - a waste of very talented dancers' space.  It was I fear simply not to MY taste ... 

Edited by Bruce Wall
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Terrific review MRR, my experience was as yours, even down to failing to consult the synopsis beforehand .... when will I learn ? 

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I've become aware over the years - ever since I watched her "Tom and Viv" for ENB - that Cathy Marston has far greater familiarity with English-language literature than I have.  So now, if I'm not familiar with the work she's adapting, I tend to either read it or at least read a synopsis before I watch the ballet!

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I agree with previous posters in that the Liang felt monotonous and dragged a bit for me, although I did like the ending. I wanted to love Snowblind but it didn't blow me away. I read a quick synopsis in the interval before it started but I was still confused about the 'accident.' I thought Mathilde Froustey was excellent and danced with total abandon and the ending was very effective. Bjork Ballet was my favourite of the evening. I love Bjork so that helped, and I also thought it was reminiscent of Cirque du Soleil, but I didn't mind that. I loved the Hyperballed section. I didn't get any deeper meaning from the piece but just enjoyed the spectacle. Looking forward to Shostakovich this afternoon.

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Well, I knew the Ratmansky/Shostakovich trilogy was a keeper, but am delighted to see that Sadler's Wells' time machine appears to indicate that it will have great longevity :) :

 

Shost.jpg.2b7c4c6dbc690212c57e3822293c47c8.jpg

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I was at the programme B performance last Friday and was very much impressed by all three so different ballets - it's impossible for me to say which one did I like most!
1. The Infinite Ocean by Liang - I was conquered by its beauty - the beauty of music, costumes and dancing. Also, like it says, it hovers in the space between life and death and is sort of based on the words of Liang's dying friend :" I will see you on the other side of the infinite ocean". I happened to be in the theatre together with a friend who herself balanced on the edge between life and death this winter ( cancer) , maybe that's why we both looked at that performance through the eyes of someone who experienced the closeness to that " infinite ocean" and we're very touched emotionally by what we saw. 
All dancers involved were great, but most of all I remember Sofiane Sylve with Tiit Helimets and Yuan Yuan Tan with Vítor Luiz.

     I liked the beauty of classical movements in the contemporary piece; I liked the unisex costumes but very clear different sex choreography, and the music was extremely beautiful - IMHO!
2. Snowblind. I 've been a fan of  Cathy Marston since I saw her " Dangerous Liaisons" created for the Royal Danish Ballet in 2017. Plus, Ulrik Birkkjaer was dancing the lead part here - and though I miss him greatly, now I 'm glad for him to be a part of a wonderful ballet company! Thanks a lot to Alison for a link about the synopsis of the novel, I read it while flying to London and was a bit more prepared for the evening. 

    Here I liked the choreography most of all - each movement in its place, well describing the person involved!

    All three principal dancers were superb, but Mathilde Froustey was especially touching and vulnerable.  This piece made me wish to read more of Edith Wharton's novels - as well as wish to see Cathy Marston in Copenhagen again!
3. Bjork Ballet. Well, that was surely a revelation for me, sort of a ballet umami, quite fresh and unexpected ( to say the truth, I wasn't acquainted with Bjork's creations until that evening). What a beautiful choreography, costumes, dancing! Each piece was a masterpiece - I can't name any specific part that I liked more than others and all dancers were perfect! I didn't think that Arthur Pita can create something like this! 
    All in all, I'm very glad I saw this programme and I'm looking forward now to SF ballet's visit to Copenhagen in the end of October - to see their " Romeo and Juliet"!

 

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Did anyone go and see programme C last night?

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