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  • Jen Norris

Review: SF Ballet Next@90 Caniparoli, Breiner, Oishi Jan. 21, 2023 San Francisco Opera House

San Francisco Ballet’s (SFB) ambitious next@90 festival opened their second triptych of new works on January 21. It includes a dance by American Val Caniparoli, continuing his long association with SFB. Company debuts by Bridget Breiner, an American ex-pat now living in Germany, and Japanese choreographer Yuka Oishi, who dances with Hamburg Ballet, complete the program.


Caniparoli’s EMERGENCE explores the experiences of dancers as they step back into the studio and stage following COVID’s required seclusion. The voice of a dancemaker speaking of the uneasiness of re-entry and the tenuousness of their art form in a pandemic ridden world plays as the curtain rises. Dancers in casual soft clothes, of varied cut and color, approach each other seeking reassurance, before tentatively rehearsing a few lifts.


As the first notes of Dobrinka Tabakov’s Concerto for Cello and Strings sound the stage lights, designed by Jim French, transition to deep electric blue. In white follow-spots, the dancers sequentially perform isolated solos. There is no interaction when two soloists share the stage for a moment. Some dance with great flare, while others are more tentative post-pandemic.


A bright stage wash replaces the saturated blue as four couples form, dancing confidently but independently from the other pairs. While the piece moves towards a harmonious group section, there are revealing moments of dissonance. Here and there a woman, her stiff arms locked at her sides, is lifted from behind, her partners hand's gripping her biceps. As he carries her, her legs splay out awkwardly until he sets her down once more.


Despite the excellent dancing, one senses an emotional reserve until a lyrical duet for two men is performed with tenderness by Angelo Greco and Lucas Erni. There is a natural intimacy and comfort here as they dance supporting one another. Face-to-face, poignantly, they cover their mouths and then their partner’s mouth with their hands. As the piece concludes the eight dancers finally moving as one, I longed for more moments of danced connection. Perhaps that was Caniparoli’s point, that as we emerge, we each yearn to meaningfully reconnect but struggle to do so.


next@90 fesitval slide projected on screen within gilded proscenium; photo: J. Norris

San Francisco Ballet’s (SFB) ambitious next@90 festival opened their second triptych of new works on January 21. It includes a dance by American Val Caniparoli, continuing his long association with SFB. Company debuts by Bridget Breiner, an American ex-pat now living in Germany, and Japanese choreographer Yuka Oishi, who dances with Hamburg Ballet, complete the program.


Caniparoli’s EMERGENCE explores the experiences of dancers as they step back into the studio and stage following COVID’s required seclusion. The voice of a dancemaker speaking of the uneasiness of re-entry and the tenuousness of their art form in a pandemic ridden world plays as the curtain rises. Dancers in casual soft clothes, of varied cut and color, approach each other seeking reassurance, before tentatively rehearsing a few lifts.


As the first notes of Dobrinka Tabakov’s Concerto for Cello and Strings sound the stage lights, designed by Jim French, transition to deep electric blue. In white follow-spots, the dancers sequentially perform isolated solos. There is no interaction when two soloists share the stage for a moment. Some dance with great flare, while others are more tentative post-pandemic.


A bright stage wash replaces the saturated blue as four couples form dancing confidently but independently from the other pairs. While the piece moves towards a harmonious group section, there are revealing moments of dissonance. Here and there a woman, her stiff arms locked at her sides, is lifted from behind her partners hands gripping her biceps. As he carries her, her legs splay out awkwardly until he sets her down once more.


Despite the excellent dancing, one senses an emotional reserve until a lyrical duet for two men is performed with tenderness by Angelo Greco and Lucas Erni. There is a natural intimacy and comfort here as they dance supporting one another. Face-to-face, poignantly, they cover their mouths and then their partner’s mouth with their hands. As the piece concludes the eight dancers finally moving as one, I longed for more moments of danced connection. Perhaps that was Caniparoli’s point, that as we emerge, we each yearn to meaningfully reconnect but struggle to do so.


THE QUEEN’S DAUGHTER is Breiner’s retelling of the Salome story through the eyes of the daughter. Salome. Sasha De Sola plays her as an insecure adolescent longing for her mother’s attention. Jennifer Stahl, the Queen, is a woman intent on domination of her new husband, King Herod, portrayed lustily by Tiit Helimets. She wraps herself around his back with her legs crossed over his stomach holding him in place.


In choosing to dance for Herod, Salome recognizes an opportunity to disrupt his relationship with her mother. Jurgen Kirner has designed a multi-layered costume for De Sola which she sheds gradually, during her seductive dance. As her inhibitions dissolve, De Sola fuels her sultriness with rage. Her conquest complete, she struts regally toward the Queen, dragging the supplicant King behind her. Rather than show weakness the Queen directs her daughter to have the Queen’s naysayer, the prophet and evangelist John the Baptist, killed.


John the Baptist is movingly portrayed by Wei Wang. His conviction and devotion to his God evident in his assured postures, lingering balances and sweeping gestures. In the background nine courtiers dance in ritualistic sequences often extraneous to the narrative.


Henry Sidford, Myles Thatcher and Lonnie Weeks perform a poetic quartet with Wang, as they prepare him for execution. His death, a flash of light, clears the stage but for De Sola who remains quaking alongside the body. Breiner relies on De Sola’s chest pounding to convey her heartbroken status, while I wanted her dance steps to convey her grief. Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto featuring violinist Cordula Merks carries the deep emotions of this piece beautifully, but can’t keep the endeavor from feeling stylistically dated.


The third act, Yuya Oishi’s BOLERO begins without the audience’s awareness. The orchestra is tuning, or perhaps playing scored tuning arrangements, created by Sinya Kiyokawa, composer of the music that plays in addition to Ravel’s Bolero. The houselights remain on, patrons chatter obliviously, as a dancer enters, regards the audience chamber, and then takes a place upstage, vibrating. More dancers trickle in, some sauntering, others dashing, all finding their spots in the line, shoulder to shoulder. Each is clothed in oversized blocky grey and black men’s suitcoat and trousers by designer Emma Kingsbury. As the percussion builds the dancers break formation, expanding into the space. Groups form and dissolve. A brief tableau features sixteen bodies comically intertwined at gradually increasing heights to create a human ramp.


The stage clears suddenly with the entrance of an alien-being, cone-headed, its body and face covered in a pattern of nerves and cells. A lone businessman remains, Esteban Hernández. He sheds his suit revealing an amoeba-printed bodysuit. Standing centerstage, his legs crossed in fifth position, he pulses up and down his knees opening and closing froglike. His arms are in opposition: one up, the other down, his hands flexed. Julia Rowe, in a matching body suit joins him. As she steps into his palm with one foot, arching up and melting over him, a new partnership is formed.


In the background body-suited dancers fill the stage. Lunging forward for several steps before rocking back a step they process steadily, cutting a diagonal across the space. Out of the group captivating duets develop between Yuan Yuan Tan with Joseph Walsh and Sasha Mukhamedov with Daniel Deivison-Olivera. Perhaps they are cells working ingeniously together.


BOLERO ends gloriously with all the dancers performing a fast-paced finale of leaps, jumps and twirls in near perfect synchronicity. All the parts have come together to create a whole of thrilling intensity worthy of Ravel’s Bolero’s brash culmination and ensuring its place in SFB’s repertory.


Review by Jen Norris, published Jan 23, 23

_______________________

Program credits:

Ballet's next@90 festival program

https://www.sfballet.org/tickets/2023-season/program-books/


EMERGENCE

Choreographer: Val Caniparoli

Composer: Dobrinka Tabakova

Conductor: Matthew Rowe

Cello: Eric Sung

Dancers:

NIKISHA FOGO, ELLEN ROSE HUMMEL, MISA KURANAGA, WANTING ZHAO

LUCAS ERNI, ANGELO GRECO, STEVEN MORSE, AARON ROBISON


THE QUEEN'S DAUGHTER

Choreographer: Bridget Breiner

Composer: Benjamin Britten

Conductor: Martin West

Violin: Cordula Merks

DANCERS:

The Daughter: SASHA DE SOLA

The Queen: JENNIFER STAHL

The King: TIIT HELIMETS

The Prophet: WEI WANG

The Executioners: Henry Sidford, Myles Thatcher, Lonnie Weeks

The Court: Thamires Chuvas, Leili Rackow, Jamie Adele Stephens, Davide Occhipinti, Jacob Seltzer, Alexis Valdes

The Girl: Anya Mae Krivkovich

The Boy: Dashiell Snape


BOLERO

Choreographer: Yuka Oishi

Composer: Maurice Ravel

Additional music composed by: Shinya Kiyokawa

Conductor: Martin West

Dancers:

YUAN YUAN TAN, JOSEPH WALSH

JULIA ROWE, ESTEBAN HERNÁNDEZ

SASHA MUKHAMEDOV, DANIEL DEIVISON-OLIVEIRA

Gabriela Gonzalez, SunMin Lee, Elizabeth Mateer, Carmela Mayo, Angela Watson

Luca Ferrò, Joshua Jack Price, Nathaniel Remez, John-Paul Simoens, Hansuke Yamamoto

Casting for Jan 21 Program



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