Sadler’s Wells, London
May 31, 2019
San Francisco Ballet’s Programme B was an evening of startling contrasts: pure dance, high drama, and breakout madness.
Edwaard Liang’s, The Infinite Ocean, is inspired by Olafur Eliasson’s 2003 art installation that set the Tate Modern aglow with a blazing sun. An orange orb, illuminated centre back, becomes a powerful focus for the work. The organic entanglement of bodies is totally in harmony with the life cycle of birth and death and also something deeper: a growing, if belated, awareness of our beautiful and fragile planet. Liang’s choreography moulds the dancers’ bodies into rare and lovely shapes in a work that provides genuine soul food while the commissioned score by Oliver Davis cossets and cocoon the dance.
Sofiana Sylve and partner Tiit Helimets are a powerful assured presence, making light of the complex layered partnering and technical challenges, Sylve scoring the final point as she dives into the infinity to close the work. Yuan Yuan Tan’s exquisite classical line takes us into the realms of poetry in Liang’s inventive duets and the winning card is the rush of emotion that Vitor Luiz adds with his sensitive partnering.
The ensemble of eight are fully incorporated and effectively used both in close linked groups and free-wheeling dance, notable the brief pas de trois that featured Julia Rowe, a captivating flash of quicksilver.
Cathy Marston’s Snowblind, based on Edith Wharton’s novella, Ethan Frome, is a harrowing tale of mismatched characters. Mattie, a spirited Mathilde Froustey, is sucked into this maelstrom of despair where despite the brightness of her pink frock she shrinks to a paralysed half-life. Jennifer Stahl as the needy wife grips the household in ice-cold frigidity. Stahl skilfully creates her as a suffocating presence, rarely central but never entirely absent.
Ulrik Birkkjaer, as Ethan, effectively captures the frustration and helplessness in bound movement and restless pacing that goes nowhere. A man, who in other circumstances could and would be good, he lacks the qualities that might overcome his impossible circumstances and his first passionate kiss with Mattie becomes an entrapment into a downward spiral.
The ‘snow’ chorus is a brilliant ploy. Avoiding every ballet cliché in their pale muddy dresses, they are constantly on call weaving in and out of the action and disseminating fear and menace in their wake. Marston successfully captures the inherent danger in the swirling snow that threatens to suffocate any human warmth. The music, arranged by Philip Feeney, is harsh and unrelenting with all the appeal of fingernails scratching down a window pane. The drama is both intolerably awful, and utterly compelling.
Arthur Pita’s Björk Ballet, a riot of clever design ideas and outrageous costumes, was the perfect antidote. It moves at a lively pace to a selection of Björk songs with only a brief moment of reflection permitted. This comes as woeful clown-faced Joseph Walsh, a bare-chested fisherman, casts his line over the pit. Miraculously he catches a smiley face and undecided about his mood, places one front, one back. He also grabs the best choreography of the work in a solo that adds a touch of gravitas.
The dozens of silver fringed standing lamps are a constant distraction and delight. They add to a breath-taking opening vision, hanging in lines above the hunched, geometrically precise lines of dancers, looking for all the world like an alternative corps de ballet of illuminated palm trees. They thud to the stage where they are taken in hand by the dancers and shifted to decorate the gaps between the action.
The choreography, some of it rather predictable, is animated by Marco Morante’s manic and amazing outfits. There are acrobatic duets, solos, dancing on canopies, or simply wherever there is a space. While Björk Ballet probably won’t find its way into the canon of the greats, it balanced the evening perfectly and again proves the versatility of these amazing dancers.
San Francisco Ballet continues with Programmes C and D at Sadler’s Wells to June 8, 2019. Visit www.sadlerswells.com for details and tickets.