United We Dance: An International Festival.
The ground rules for the unprecedented event, as shaped by SFB director Helgi Tomasson: each of the thirteen participating companies from five continents was to bring a premiere utilizing no more than twelve dancers and lasting not more than thirty minutes. The logistics may have been daunting but, regrettably, with a couple of exceptions the art was not.
The two standout events, for opposite reasons, were SFB's presentation of Mark Morris's Pacific and a rare appearance by Alicia Alonso and the National Ballet of Cuba.
With the premiere of Pacific, Morris emerges for West Coast audiences as an international choreographic leader, a masterful and boldly revisionist artist with the rare ability to work within ballet while simultaneously extending it.
Pacific, with its punning play on the festival's implicit theme of international harmony, as well as on San Francisco's geographic location, is set to the third and fourth movements of Bay Area composer Lou Harrison's Trio for Violin, Cello and Piano. In a beautifully orchestrated sense Pacific shows where Morris comes from artistically--from the weaving in of fleeting folk dance rhythms and lush, full-bodied swoons a la Humphrey--and where he is going--toward fast, fluent yet sharply individualistc choreography that celebrates the uniqueness of each performer. This is a dance with a sense of humor underlined by James F. Ingalls's scenic design, which drops to a smaller scale when Christopher Stowell and Tina LeBlanc, the most diminutive couple in the company, stride on for their romantic central duet.
At the opposite end of the artistic spectrum was the spectral appearance by Alicia Alonso and her worn-looking National Ballet of Cuba. Seventy-four years old and obviously blind, Alonso doggedly holds on to center stage throughout Alberto Mendez's In the Middle of the Sunset, a nostalgic glance back at Havana's colonial era. Aside from wobbly bourrees and a supported pirouette, Alonso's "dancing" is limited to arm gestures, while the attentive Orlando Salgado does hand springs off the back of her chair or scoops her up off the floor, where she also rests. The sense of this sad exercise seems to be dance as memory: personally, for a formerly great ballerina who cannot relinquish the stage, and nationally, for a Cuba in which the official ballet company of slack dancers looks ruefully backward rather than ahead.
While it might be argued that the National Ballet of Cuba was making a political statement indirectly, only one company, Uwe Scholz's Leipzig Ballet, directly essayed a political theme.
Pax Questuosa is a trio for two men and one woman set to Udo Zimmermann's sparse score and with text by Else Lasker-Schuler, a Jewish woman killed by the Nazis. The ballet is a series of movement designs that keep yielding forth the slight Sibylle Naundorf as, first, a cantilevered form like the prow of a ship and, later, a fetal coiled ball. There is the feel of gymnastics rather than dance to much of the phrasing, as images of beauty keep coalescing into images of pain. This brief ballet ends with Naundorf seated on the soles of the men's upturned feet as they slowly rock her back and forth, as if in a swing that seems to rest on the porch of the world.
Rambert Dance Company's Meeting Point, by Christopher Bruce, wryly mixes modern and ballet vocabularies in a zany dance for twelve men and women that looks like Kurt Jooss's The Green Table interpreted through a steroid haze; the diplomats' unctuous social graces are pumped up to social obscenities. Australian Ballet's Corroboree, by Stanton Welch, was an audience favorite for a driving movement vocabulary that demands that women pack the same ricocheting force into leaps and turns as men do. Heightened athleticism also marked Vicente Nebrada's Fever for the National Ballet of Caracas as well as Amedeo Amodio's Dialects for the Italian Aterballetto, where there is much of the flavor of William Forsythe in the punched and thrown-away actions of superathletic men.
Shanghai Ballet's Peach Blossom Pond, by Yang Yang Lin, showed a softening of a still-recognizable militaristic classicism (think Red Detachment of Women) while the Bolshoi Ballet opened the festival with Sergei Bobrov's Infanta and the Jester, a ploddingly blunt tale taken from an Oscar Wilde short story, with Sergei Antonov as the hapless victim.
Second only to the SFB dancers in the obvious quality of their training, Silja Schandorff and Kenneth Greve of the Royal Danish Ballet performed Anna Laerkesen's Partita with a clarity and grandeur that far outshone the classroom-simple choreography. Tokyo Festival Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, and Ballet British Columbia were the other companies participating in the festival.
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|Title Annotation:||War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco, California|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1995|
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