Hi everyone! I spent a cozy night in this Friday, because this last Wednesday was eventful enough. That’s right, gala season has begun. I attended this years’ San Francisco Ballet Opening Night Gala (appropriately entitled Phenomenal), which has to be one of my favorite events of the year. When else is it entirely appropriate to wear an evening gown on a weekday? Being a self-proclaimed ballet nerd, I, of course was altogether too excited to attend. I love the sense of tradition of it, from the prosecco promenade (aka drink as much free prosecco as you can in 10 minutes!) to the march to the city hall afterparty following the show. It also has some of the best people-watching around, especially if you appreciate over-the-top fashion. It’s most definitely a see and be seen event. Here’s a quick picture of myself and the lovely ladies I was with that night:
They were fantastic company, and both had never been to the ballet at the Opera House before! The grandeur of it is really something else, and I think it made ballet fans of them both. The program for the night was the typical mixed bill, featuring previews of programs for the season, as well as some gala exclusives. The gala performance began with a pas de cinq from Giselle, lovely “happy yellow dance.” Bear in mind that when I use this term, I don’t actually mean the dance involved an abundance of yellow, but use this generalization to indicate the the piece was cheerful, non-offensive and non-divisive; a lovely classic way to begin any performance. Following this was a pas de deux, “Talk to Her,” which initially premiered at the 78th Gala- one that I had also previously attended. With live accompaniment, this piece was exquisite and sensual. Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz’s spiraling movements added to the drama, a beautiful game of tug of war if there ever was one. Frances Chung followed with the only female solo from “Lambarena.” Sufficiently lightening the mood, this quirky African-inspired piece along with it’s predecessor, provided some diversity in the evening’s relatively classical line-up. Simone Messner and Ruben Martin Cintas presented an excerpt from “Who Cares?” You really can’t go wrong with good old George, in this case, both Gershwin and Balanchine. Hans van Manen’s Variations for Two Couples was quite modern and abstract. A thin rope draped across the upstage portion of the theater, dividing the space above and below the dancers. Both the movement and music reminded me quite strongly of John Neumeier’s “The Little Mermaid,” yet the high-gloss unitards the dancers wore were dated and somewhat unflattering. Contrasting the modern with the classic, “Diana and Acteon” followed, a premiere for SF Ballet danced by Vanessa Zahorian and Taras Domitro. They danced spectacularly, despite the obviously slick floor. What perplexed me the most about the piece was, oddly enough, the audiences reaction. Yes, dancers are human, they are allowed to slip and do. When the woman in front of me exclaimed out loud “Oh my god! What happened?!” I started to think that there might be something wrong with the general public’s view of the performing arts. Ballet places an almost reckless amount of emphasis on the ethereal- athleticism to an inhuman extent. The dancers that you so often see on stage have been forcing their bodies in to entirely unnatural positions since they could walk. Does your leg go upside of your head of it’s own volition? Imagine attempting this and then having to make it look easy. The unfortunate thing is, ballet teaches you to be self-scrutinizing to a fault. From my experience, almost no one is as hard on themselves as a dancer is. So, dear audience, lighten up. Did you not just see someone fall, and then get up and continue to deliver a beautiful performance with ridiculous vigor? Please stand and clap for the artistry.
Act II featured some of my favorite pieces: “Les Lutins,” a whimsical and engaging piece that integrated movement and music in more ways that one. With a pianist and a violinist onstage, the dancers, similarly clothed, engaged in some good-natured competition and flirtation. The audiences’s ensuing laughter was refreshing- it was a dance you couldn’t help but smiling through. The pas de deux from “Concerto” intrigued me. Set to the 2nd movement of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2, it’s impressive and thematic moments of stillness were complemented by three pairs of dancers hidden in the shadows upstage. Their movements echoing the featured couple, I found myself wanting them to engage more, but they were whisked offstage altogether too soon.”Grande pas Classique” showcased former Paris Opera soloist Mathilde Froustey (now SFB principal) and Davit Karapetyan with it’s quintessentially classic choreography. I believe my favorite piece was “Finding Light,” a San Francisco premier choreographed by Edwaard Liang, danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith. It began and ended with a rectangle of light onstage, framing the dancers in their simple grey costumes. It’s movement was spiraling and quite modern, with dancers coiling around each other and sliding along the stage.
The performance itself was entertaining, but then again, so were some of the colorful characters in the audience. Apparently some people do not realize that attending a ballet involves sitting. Ladies, please be thoughtful in your dress choices. That skin-tight, elaborate red dress with the giant crumb catcher may seem like a good idea, but when you can’t sit down properly and consequently block everyone’s view, we have a problem. On another note, if you’re bringing your straight male partner/significant other/spouse, make sure he is filled with coffee. No one wants to hear him snore during the whole second act of the ballet. And lastly, do not, I repeat do not get up out of your seat during the final curtain call when everyone is clapping. It is beyond rude and disrespectful to the dancers, as well as your fellow patrons at the ballet. You are not deplaning an airplane or at the movies while the credits are running. The artists deserve to be acknowledged for all their hard work.
I’m so glad San Francisco Ballet raised a record $2.4 million dollars with this year’s gala. It’s so heartening to see so many people give so generously to the arts, because it’s such a rare thing nowadays. As a classic art form, ballet wouldn’t be around to appreciate without public support. When I entered the opera house on Wednesday evening, there was barely enough elbow room to make it through the crowd comfortably- it was a completely sold out show. Good job, everyone. And thank you San Francisco, for another amazing and memorable night out. I’ll see you again soon.