I wish ballet companies due to visit London in the next few months could bring programmes that are as richly varied and neatly constructed as those presented by San Francisco Ballet last week. Artistic eclecticism as well as the ability to respond to a diversity of stylistic and technical demands are two of its most noticeable qualities. This 69-strong company, under the 20-year directorship of Helgi Thomasson, has matured into one of the best companies today.
I do not recall the last time I saw such an impeccable rendition of George Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, the crowning glory of the second programme. The complex intricacies of the dance phrasing, the subtle choreographic chiaroscuros and the rarefied atmosphere of this plotless, somewhat modernist and neoclassical 1946 work are not easy to come to terms with, 21 years after the death of its creator. Yet every artist on stage seemed to be perfectly at ease with the interpretative and technical demands of the ballet, thus revealing a rare understanding of Balanchine’s art.
And it was not just an isolated case, for the same evening started with an equally memorable performance of Ballo della Regina. Set to Verdi’s flamboyant, catchy music for the ballet in Don Carlos, the 1978 creation is a jollier, more carefree piece than The Four Temperaments, even though it is equally tricky and demanding. In line with the original theme of the opera ballet, it contains a number of ‘underwater’ movements, including ‘swimming’ and fish-like gestures that can easily slip into the ridiculous when badly performed and misunderstood. Luckily, the artistic sensibility of the San Francisco Ballet dancers overcame such a risk, bringing to the fore the brilliance and ingenuity of the ballet.