Here’s a thought, looking toward the year 2000. Perhaps ballet is returning to the pre-Balanchinian era, when star dancing took precedence over star choreography. This idea is prompted by American Ballet Theater’s past spring season at the Met and the San Francisco Ballet’s recent weeklong run at City Center. What a powerhouse team SFB’s Helgi Tomasson has developed!
Some of the 11 pieces on SFB’s opening bill are more interesting for their spin than for actual content. You see William Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, and you immediately understand why Tomasson started off with it; the ballet announces, We do classical but don’t worry, we’re also à la mode. The excerpts from l9th-century warhorses and also from Balanchine’s Agon don’t need explanation. All they need is great dancing, and this is what the West Coasters deliver.
Part of great dancing is manner. The San Francisco dancers have a wonderfully mature way of letting the steps unfold naturally, without pressing for dynamic effect or squeaky-clean execution. When Tomasson danced with the New York City Ballet, he was clean but he never made a big deal about it. Evidently, he’s been busy teaching his group how to dance, which is what you’d assume to be a normal function of an artistic director but, believe it or not, is one rarely manifest on today’s ballet stage.
Another aspect of great dancing is strong, honest technique. Here’s one example of it. The man in the pas de trois from Act I of Swan Lake has to do a double cabriole, which often breaks down into a fuzzy flurry in the legs while the man is airborne. Well, when Guennadi Nedviguine does a double cabriole, his legs beat together–bam! bam!–before his descent. Lest one relegate this delightful perfection to individual initiative, let it be noted that Vadim Solomakha does the same thing in Swan Lake‘s Black Swan duet.
As Forsythe’s title says, exactitude is thrilling. Doubly so when it’s company policy.