Review: San Francisco Ballet -Programme B -Sadler's Wells

Performance: 14 - 23 September 2012
Reviewed by Germaine Cheng - Tuesday 18 September 2012

San Francisco Ballet Yuan Yuan Tan & Damian Smith in Wheeldon's 'Ghosts'. © Erik Tomasson

Performance reviewed: 15 September
Trio (Tchaikovsky / Tomasson); Ghosts (Winger / Wheeldon); Guide to Strange Places (Adams / Page)

San Francisco Ballet might be nearly eighty and the oldest professional ballet company in America, but one would never come close to that conclusion based on its performance at Sadler’s Wells on Saturday. Presenting three British premieres, the company is a picture of youthful exuberance, invigorated by dance’s rich heritage.

Helgi Tomasson’s Trio is the only work by a non-British choreographer on the programme. The long-standing Artistic Director of the Company, Tomasson is also its Principal Choreographer, with more than 30 pieces to his name. Trio, his latest work, is similar in structure to Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto , and its second adage movement borrows from the love-death tussle of his Song of the Earth.

Tchaikovsky’s glorious, infinitely danceable Souvenir de Florence dictates the mood and look of each of the ballet’s three movements. Vanessa Zahorian and Joan Boada lead five corps couples in the lilting first movement, decked out in shades of regal burgundy while Maria Kochetkova and Gennadi Nedvigin whizz through the last with insouciant grace and abundant energy. But it is Sarah Van Patten in the work’s middle movement who makes Trio really sing – her lithe body is wholly consumed by a desperate, anguished yearning.

Ashley Page’s Guide to Strange Places isn’t much of a guide to the strange place that is conjured up by John Adams’ titular score as eclectic sounds abound from the orchestra pit. The complexities of the music are compounded by the unrelenting pace of the dancing – neither of which illuminate the other for me. Page organises his cast into duets, employing them with geometric precision and filling the stage with a flurry of thrilling off-kilter manoeuvres.

In between, it is Christopher Wheeldon as I’ve never seen. Perhaps it is the fearless San Francisco Ballet dancers that inspired him. Ghosts is an elegant meeting of Giselle and George Balanchine’s Serenade; it is Wheeldon at his best – almost stripped of his British reserve and throwing caution to the wind. The women’s diaphanous skirts contribute to the ethereal atmosphere as does the silvery grey hue in which Mary Louise Geiger bathes the stage. The corps dancers glide, spin and arc with a quiet drive, dissipating their built-up momentum with a momentary gasp at the close of the first movement.

There aren’t enough superlatives to encompass the performances by the ballet’s two leading ladies Sofiane Sylve and Yuan Yuan Tan – the former, passionately present and the latter by contrast, breathtakingly translucent.

San Francisco Ballet are at Sadler’s Wells until Sunday 23 September with three mixed programmes.
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Germaine Cheng is a graduate of the Rambert School of Ballet & Contemporary Dance. She writes for English National Ballet’s Dance is the Word blog and contributes regularly to

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