George Balanchine

April 7th, “Program 7”

San Francisco Ballet, choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Justin Peck, and George Balanchine

Watching Dance with Dad

Some of my earliest memories of watching dance are with my Dad.  The most vivid was seeing Pilobolus Dance Theater when I was about 13 or 14.  At the time, it was the “newest” kind of dance I had ever experienced.  The dancers slid across a wet stage for their curtain call; they were mostly naked.  It was odd, and I loved it.  As a ballet dancer in training, I didn’t know dance could be so big and different.

So when my Dad came to visit in April and mentioned that he really wanted to see the ballet, we ended up at the San Francisco Opera House for Program 7.  My Dad is an artist – although he might not call himself that – so he sees movement differently and notices relationships between moods, colors, and music that I might tend to ignore while watching dance.  It was fun to notice how my perspectives on the 3 dances moved the more my Dad and I talked about the pieces we saw.

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My Dad really liked Christopher Wheeldon’s Continuum – there was something there to relate to.  Maybe it was the clean stage and lighting or the way the choreography embodied the music.  There was an ease to the dancing that made its abstractness relatable, the “art” in the dance.  In the program notes, Wheeldon states that “audience’s shouldn’t just be entertained.  They should be challenged.”  While I can’t say for sure whether or not I was challenged by Continuum.  I did enjoy watching it with my Dad; he didn’t shy away from bursts of happy.

People are talking about Justin Peck’s, In the Countenance of Kings.  Even Vanity Fair has something to say or rather ask: “Is Justin Peck Making Ballet Cool Again?”  I’m not sure how I would answer this question, but it seems to imply that there is something “uncool” about ballet or maybe that ballet is, as Jennifer Homans claimed in her 2010 book Apollo’s Angels, dying.  Does Peck’s  growing popularity serve as a refutation this claim?   

Underneath the question posed by Vanity Fair is a fear – or the perception of a fear – that ballet is becoming irrelevant or less relatable to our present moment, which begs the question: Is In the Countenance of Kings relevant?  How does it matter?

In the program notes Peck states, “it’s not a narrative, but it’s like a semi-story.”  There is a protagonist, foil, and hero.  The corps de ballet is “the school of thought” and there are three others, Quantus, Electress, Botanica.  I’m not sure the names of the “semi-story” matter, but should they?  In the Countenance of Kings is a “semi-story” of a present moment that is “cinematic” with “freeze-frame kodak moments.”  There is a relatable surface here, but it is just that, a surface that is just skimming the possible and ways of perceiving the possible.  I want Peck to be more than “be cool,” and I want this dance to matter more because I truly like how Peck cuts the stage with his choreography.  For the record, my Dad only liked the second ½ of this dance.

Last on the program was Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.  My Dad really liked this piece – the tutus, the symmetry, the classical lines – I wasn’t surprised.  The woman sitting next me asked her partner if they could leave: “Oh god, not Theme and Variations.”  This begs the question: is Theme and Variations relevant? How does it matter?  For me, it was enough that my Dad enjoyed the dance – it mattered enough at the moment.   

Thanks Dad.

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February 4th, “Program 2”

San Francisco Ballet, choreography by George Balanchine, Mark Morris, Liam Scarlett

Back to the SF Opera House.

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I saw two San Francisco Ballet programs last season – both full length pieces (Giselle and Schokovitch Trilogy).  I didn’t write much about the dancing in either ballet.   This year started I with a mixed repertory program: Rubies (Balanchine), Drink to me with Thine Eyes (Morris), and Fearless Creatures (Scarlett).   I rather enjoyed “the whole” of the evening; it was nicely curated.  The pieces were abstractly similar even if they come out of different times and represent different aesthetics.  I got a little nostalgic with Rubies (1967) – some Balanchine choreography can do that to me.  Learning and performing Concerto Barocoo back in 1987/1988 was an incredible experience, and sometimes when I watch Balanchine’s choreography I enjoy (and appreciate) the work happening on stage.   I got a little dreamy watching Drink to me with Thine Eyes (1987).  There was buzz about Fearless Creatures (2015); I heard a rumor about standing ovations.  I watched a lot of creature in this piece but wanted more fearless.  A quick read through the program notes confirmed this observation: “anti-venom to the fairies;” “synergy within them (the dancers) as a pack;” “something prowling.”  I think our world needs more fearless right now, but I also understand and appreciate time spent in the beauty and wonder of a dance.  “Program 2” was a pleasant surprise, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that the next SF Ballet program will be just as tight and maybe a little more fearless.