Cinderella, a story ballet based on dance legend Vaslav Nijinsky, several world premieres, and the return of Onegin and other hits from last year are all part of the 2013 season of San Francisco Ballet, which runs from January 29 through May 12, 2013. In eight different programs performed at the War Memorial Opera House, the line-up demonstrates the ballet's technical mastery, boldness and its breadth. Here's an overview of the company's 80th season. Tickets are $20-310; more info is available on San Francisco Ballet's website or by calling the ticket office, (415) 865-2000, Monday-Friday, from 10 am to 4 pm.
** Program 1 (January 29-February 3): Suite en Blanc; In the Night; Borderlands **
In the neoclassical Suite en Blanc, choreographer Serge Lifar demands technical brilliance from all of the dancers and throws in surprises. Jerome Robbins' In the Night is set to Chopin solo piano music. The program also offers the world premiere of Borderlands, choreographer Wayne McGregor's first commission for SF Ballet (the company performed McGregor's Chroma in 2012).
** Program 2 (February 13-19): Nijinsky, by the Hamburg Ballet **
Hamburg Ballet artistic director John Neumeier choreographed and created the sets, costumes and lighting for Nijinsky in 2000, to mark the 50th anniversary of the iconic dancer's death--and he's bringing his company to San Francisco to present it. Neumeier is also the creator of The Little Mermaid, which SF Ballet performed in 2010 and 2011--and if Nijinsky is anything like Mermaid, it's a must-see.
Born into a family of dancers and trained in St. Petersburg, Nijinsky's gravity-defying jumps and dramatic characterization wowed Paris when he debuted there with Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes in 1909. Company choreographer Michel Fokine created works specifically for him. But in 1913, when Nijinsky impulsively married a socialite-groupie with whom he could barely communicate, Diaghilev, also his lover, fired him. After several other crises Nijinsky quit dancing, suffered mental breakdowns and was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Neumeier's ballet portrays the glamour, scandal and tumult of the larger-than-life Nijinsky, considered the greatest male dancer of the early 20th century. In the production, seven different men dance his various roles, including Harlequin in Carnaval and the Golden Slave in Scheherazade.
** Program 3 (February 26-March 10): Beaux; Guide to Strange Places; The Rite of Spring **
The first two works had their world premieres in San Francisco in 2012. Mark Morris' Beaux features the harpsichord and nine men in warm-colored unitards (think a camouflage pattern for springtime) fashioned by designer Isaac Mizrahi. Ashley Page, artistic director of Scottish Ballet, based Guide to Strange Places on the pounding, blaring music of the same name by Bay Area composer John Adams. The work includes a series of duets, each of which Page choreographed to fit the score and a specific pair of SF Ballet dancers (e.g., there's a "predatory and savage" duet, a "very sensual" one, and one for a "mercurial couple," Page says). The choreography is as fast and incessant as the music; the 23-minute ballet has about 40 cues. The lifts and other maneuvers, using all manner of pivots, gyrations, and bending and leaning of bodies, are novel. Blink at your peril.
Yuri Possokhov's interpretation of Igor Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring is a global debut and an apt follow-up to Program 2. This year, 2013, is the 100th anniversary of the premiere of the Ballets Russes production of The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps), choreographed by Nijinsky with the Stravinsky score. The ballet depicts pagan rituals celebrating spring, including human sacrifice. When it was unveiled to the world, in Paris on May 29, 1913, the audience erupted, heckling and even throwing things at the orchestra. The cops were called in, although the performance continued without interruption. "A failure" was the New York Times' pronouncement of the world premiere. Critics were split as to whether they disliked the avant-garde choreography, music, or both.
The score has survived better than Nijinsky's choreography, and the infamous debut is said to have signaled a cultural transition from romanticism to modernism. Stravinsky's composition is regarded as one of the most influential masterpieces of music of the 20th century.
** Program 4 (March 1-9): From Foreign Lands; Within the Golden Hour; Scotch Symphony **
From Foreign Lands is a world premiere by Alexei Ratmansky, artist-in-residence at American Ballet Theatre and a former director at the Bolshoi. Christopher Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour returns to the season's repertory, five years after San Francisco Ballet performed its world premiere. The jubilant Scotch Symphony by George Balanchine, repeating from 2012, has kilts and quick steps to Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3.
** Program 5 (March 21-28): Onegin **
Based on Alexander Pushkin's early-19th-century verse-novel, Onegin is a heavy-duty ballet and drama. Supercilious, self-absorbed city aristocrat Eugene Onegin becomes the object of infatuation by Tatiana, a sheltered countryside girl. Onegin spurns Tatiana, which leads to tragedy and an ironic turn of circumstances.
San Francisco Ballet audiences loved Onegin in 2012. The evocative choreography, by former Stuttgart Ballet founder John Cranko, is complex and vivid, and the score melds various Tchaikovsky pieces. SF Ballet's production borrows a lush set and costumes that the National Ballet of Canada commissioned from Santo Loquasto.
** Program 6 (April 9-20): Raymonda Act III; Ibsen's House; Symphonic Dances **
Rudolf Nureyev's Raymonda Act III, an encore from last season, is an opulent Russian piece that tests the dancers' classical ballet technique. Marius Petipa created a complete, three-act Raymonda in 1898. Nureyev first danced the ballet in St. Petersburg in 1959, and after defecting to Western Europe, he made adaptations of both the full-length ballet and its final act alone, Raymonda's wedding celebration. For his one-act version, Nureyev inserted three solos from the ballet's other sections so as to show off the ballerinas' artistry. The set and costumes are sumptuous and elaborate, like a fairy tale wedding dress.
Ibsen's House, by Val Caniparoli, was inspired by Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, who challenged Victorian mores about women, marriage and society in plays like A Doll's House, Hedda Gabler and Peer Gynt. The ballet has period costumes and is set to music by Dvorak.
Edwaard Liang choreographed Symphonic Dances to Rachmaninov's composition of the same name, a bold, complex piece that was the last music composed by the Russian pianist. The ballet had its world debut here last year. Liang is a former New York City Ballet soloist who grew up in Marin.
** Program 7 (April 11-21): Criss-Cross; Francesca da Rimini; Symphony in Three Movements**
SF Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson's Criss-Cross was last performed by the company in 1999 and is set partly to a reworking of twelve harpsichord sonatas by Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti. Francesca da Rimini, which company choreographer-in-residence Yuri Possokhov based on Dante's Inferno with Tchaikovsky music, returns from 2012, when it had its world premiere. George Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements is inspired by the Stravinsky score of the same name.
** Program 8 (May 3-12): Cinderella **
The season finale of Cinderella is a U.S. premiere and a joint production of SF Ballet and the Dutch National Ballet. With a Prokofiev score, Christopher Wheeldon's version of the children's classic is a tad grimmer than the norm (the choreographer borrowed from the Grimm brothers). It includes huge puppets, video and sets and costumes worthy of a child's imagination by Julian Crouch, who has also done designs for opera and the Broadway musical The Addams Family.
Like Cinderella, you can go to a ball on the ballet's opening night, which includes cocktails, dinner, the performance and an after-party with dancing and live music. Tickets go for the princely prices of $1000-3500, but you get to stay past midnight without your car turning into a pumpkin.