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  • Writer's pictureJen Norris

Review: San Francisco Ballet’s The Colors of Dance - March 14, 2023 War Memorial Opera House, SF

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

The Colors of Dance, San Francisco Ballet’s (SFB) final mixed repertory program of the 2023 season is a crowd pleaser through and through. Three pieces are arranged to build momentum from start to finish while showcasing the dynamic range of these performers. It’s a musically compelling program as well, beginning with Bach piano and chamber music and ending with recordings of James Blake contemporary electronic songs, with a stop in the middle for some Steve Reich vibraphone music.


While individual dancers shine, the evening is a testament to the power of the collective. We feel the dancers pushing each other to the limit, and bringing out the best in one and other, the way world-class athletes do. As they pulse their hips in synch at the beginning of Blake Works I, the dancers’ anticipation of, and appreciation for, each other’s talents is palpable and serves to amplify our enthusiasm.


As we usher in a new SFB era, led by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, it is fitting that we pause to appreciate one of former Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s enduring neoclassical works Seven for Eight. Built as a series of six small dances and an ensemble finisher, it’s the perfect vehicle for up-and-coming corps members like Luca Ferrò and Carmela Mayo who shine in the moody fourth movement quartet alongside strong soloists Norika Matsuyama and Cavan Conley.


The work is framed by the ever-exquisite dancing of SFB’s Prima Ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan and leading man Aaron Robison. The opening duet is tender, yet formal, paced to reveal Tan’s every gesture and the echoing shapes of Robison, his head tipped back perfectly to mirror hers. Robison carries Tan offstage over his arm, her body folded in a z-pattern, her head resting on his shoulder. They will reenter for the romantic sixth movement in the same configuration. Theirs is a partnership for the ages. The audience savors each moment, breathless, as he lifts, releases and catches her.


Display honoring SFB's The Colors of Dance program in the Opera House lobby; Photo: J.Norris


The stage premiere of Myles Thatcher’s Colorforms is highly anticipated. The film version, created and released during the pandemic, was a breath of fresh air. It freed us from our shelter-in-place gloom, with exuberant dancing, taking us on a tour of our beloved city with stops at SFMOMA, Yerba Buena Gardens and the Opera House.


As a company dancer and a choreographer, Thatcher wants SFB performances to be a welcoming place. The formal structures of classical ballet can serve us, but shouldn’t distance us from others. Thatcher’s dancers treat the formal white gallery setting in which they find themselves, as a literal jumping off point for greater exploration and fun. Esteban Hernández and Cavan Conley are some of the first to shed their streetwear, rolling on the floor to rise into a handstand. Feeling flirty, Sasha De Sola taps Aaron Robison on the shoulder and then dashes off, hoping he will follow. As he tosses and catches her, we enjoy their risk-taking partnership.


The 2023 Season has been soloist Jasmine Jimison’s coming-out party. She was transfixing as Giselle and devasting as the daughter in The Queen’s Daughter earlier this season. For Colorforms she is the cautious ingénue, hanging back afterhours to steal the gallery’s metallic model-plane. She observes the ensemble’s playfulness. A string of dancers develops, connected hand to wrist. They lean one direction and then the other, visible energy moving through their human strand.


When they depart, Jimison casts a glance our way, before chasing them through a giant gallery frame. Like Alice through the looking glass, her entry leads us to a new world backed by lighting and scenic designer Jim French’s turquoise and peach kaleidoscopic reflecting wall.


Dancers swirl their colorful paper-airplanes through space. Jimison, with her glittery aircraft in hand, serves as the conductor of the model plane suite. In the waning light, the launched planes float haphazardly over the stage, each on its own trajectory.


This sweet treat had the audience on its feet quickly. My only quibble was the busyness of the physical production. The scenery’s constant morphing, with dancers moving benches, curtains coming and going, and three costume changes for each performer was unnecessarily distracting.


William Forsythe’s Blake Works I, the 2022 repertory season favorite, returns to complete the program. SFB dancers have always reveled in Forsythe’s complex patterns and off-kilter spin on classical vocabulary that elevates the traditional by making us see it anew. His work is exacting but allows room for a dancer’s interpretation and timing to keep the piece vital and alive. Performed to a series of James Blake’s angst-ridden electronically-scored ballads, the performers find their own voices while intensifying each other’s.


Each section of Blake Works I is a gem, but the final two sections linger longest in my memory. Two Men Down begins with the quirkiness of five men crossing the stage in long backward strides, missing each other as they pass. As if trying out some steps in a rehearsal room, Joe Walsh dashes off some fleetingly fast footwork before sauntering to a new spot to offer three expansive arabesques balances. Others enter and a spontaneous club atmosphere develops. As the group grooves upstage, brothers Esteban and Isaac Hernández take focus with freestyle moves, garnering applause from their mates.


Left alone after the club scene, Sasha De Sola and Max Cauthorn perform a poignant duet to Blake’s Forever about the end of a relationship. Standing face to face, one arm extended, they cup each other’s cheek in their palms. Unable to stay together, each acknowledging “how wonderful you are,” as the lights fade. That’s just how I felt as the curtain rose for bows, amazed at the beauty and skill on display, sorry it was over, and wishing to thank all who made it possible.


Colorforms Program continues at War Memorial Opera House through Sunday, March 19. Tickets at www.sfballet.org


Review by Jen Norris, published March 16, 2023.

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Credits The Colors of Dance Program

March 14 Cast

7 FOR EIGHT

COMPOSER

Johann Sebastian Bach

CHOREOGRAPHER

Helgi Tomasson

Conductor: Martin West

Piano: Mungunchimeg Buriad

First Movement

Yuan Yuan Tan, Aaron Robison

Second Movement

Norika Matsuyama, Cavan Conley

Third Movement

Ellen Rose Hummel, Carmela Mayo

Lucas Erni

Fourth Movement

Cavan Conley, Luca Ferrò

Norika Matsuyama, Carmela Mayo

Fifth Movement

Lucas Erni

Sixth Movement

Yuan Yuan Tan, Aaron Robison

Seventh Movement

Ensemble

COLORFORMS

COMPOSER

Steve Reich

CHOREOGRAPHER

Myles Thatcher

Conductor: Martin West

JASMINE JIMISON

SASHA DE SOLA, AARON ROBISON

MISA KURANAGA

CAVAN CONLEY, ESTEBAN HERNÁNDEZ

ISABELLA DEVIVO, STEVEN MORSE

MAGGIE WEIRICH, DAVIDE OCCHIPINTI

BLAKE WORKS I

COMPOSER

James Blake

CHOREOGRAPHY AND SCENIC DESIGN

William Forsythe

I Need a Forest Fire

Sasha De Sola, Nikisha Fogo, Jasmine Jimison

Kamryn Baldwin, Thamires Chuvas, Isabella DeVivo, Gabriela Gonzalez, Blake Johnston, Swane Messaoudi, Nicole Moyer, Lauren Parrott, Leili Rackow

Max Cauthorn, Diego Cruz, Lucas Erni, Luca Ferrò, Esteban Hernández, Lleyton Ho, Alexis Francisco Valdes, Joseph Walsh

Put That Away and Talk to Me

Isabella DeVivo, Jasmine Jimison, Esteban Hernández

The Colour in Anything

Nikisha Fogo, Isaac Hernández

I Hope My Life

Sasha De Sola, Nikisha Fogo, Joseph Walsh, Max Cauthorn

Ensemble

Waves Know Shores

Isabella DeVivo, Diego Cruz, Alexis Francisco Valdes

Thamires Chuvas, Gabriela Gonzalez, Lauren Parrott, Lucas Erni, Luca Ferrò

Two Men Down

Joseph Walsh, Isaac Hernández, Max Cauthorn, Lucas Erni, Esteban Hernández

Ensemble

Forever

Sasha De Sola, Max Cauthorn


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