San Francisco Ballet - Helgi Tomasson - Fanfare - Jerome Robbins - Magrittemania - Rene Magritte - Yuri Posokhov - Royal Opera House - Covent Garden

You can imagine how privileged I found myself when seeing two of the three mixed programmes that the San Francisco Ballet brought to the ROH on 13-14 August 2001, part of programme they had in London's Covent Garden. It's one of the world's great theatres so splendidly refurbished. All this is thanks to Lilian and Victor Hochhauser. First, during the spring, they were in Paris and now London and later Spain for this season.

The SFB was founded in 1933, the oldest American ballet company, and one of the three largest ballet companies in the US with a roster of 71 members. Once apart of the San Francisco Opera Ballet, in 1942 they became totally separate from the opera and it was renamed San Francisco Ballet. The beginning of new era for SFB started when the era of Helgi Tomasson was hired as Artistic Director in July 1985.

SFB is based at The War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, the $13. 8 million building opened in 1983 and accommodates the Company and the School. They came for the first time to London in 1999 to Sadler's Wells with Tomasson as choreographer.

Helgi Tomasson was born in Reykjavik, Iceland, where he was trained. At the 17 he met Jerome Robbins who was so impressed by his dancing that he arranged a scholarship for him at the School of American Ballet in NY City. In 1970 he joined the NY City Ballet as a principal dancer and became one of the finest classical dancers of his era. George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins created several roles specifically for him. In 1980 Tomasson choreographed his first ballet. Since being the Artistic Director of the company, Tomasson, has choreographed over 30 ballets and his works have been performed by NY City Ballet, The Royal Danish Ballet, Houston Ballet, Alberta Ballet and Asami Maki Ballet. He was awarded by the governments of many countries including his own (Iceland), but in May 2001 was granted the rank of Officer in the French Order of Arts and Letters. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, who was also a ballerina, and their two children. In 1999 when SFB came to the Sadler's Wells (it had take them 60 years to reach London for the first time) they brought all 20 principal dancers along. The dancers are superbly trained and classically perfect. The choreography ranged from Perrot to Forsythe, three dancers on the stage at the time and the numbers lasting a few minutes. But at the end with Tomasson's Handel, A Celebration, the entire ensemble came on stage, and I got the sense of the company as a whole. It was such a great success that they are back again.

But for this performance at the ROH they danced three mixed programmes: 12 ballets in all, seven of them UK premieres; this time the principal dancers numbered 21.

They started with Fanfare, choreography by Jerome Robbins, which was created in 1953 to mark the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. Sir Frederick Ashton premiered in Homage to the Queen at convent Garden with the new city ballet, the music composed by Benjamin Britten (A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra). Emil de Cou (music director) said "It premiered with narrator and Britten wrote the narration himself. " The dancers represent various instruments.

But what really captivated me was Magrittemania. The dancers Rykine and Yuan Yuan Tan were excellent; they had their faces covered with scarves, quiet and transparent, which gave a rather ghostly effect. Posokhov said, "the odd, haunting quality of the canvas is reflected in the odd, haunting quality of the duet, which is filled with striking shapes and unusual lifts. She's not real. She's not a person he falls madly in love with. She is from the same place as the others, an image. It's strange love. " This ballet was premiered on 30 March 2000 with the SFB, music by Beethoven, and Juri Krasavin's music performed to a film score, with Beethoven passages such as Fur Elise or the second movement of the Sevens Symphony. The designs by Thyra Hartshorn are very clever, although there is no Magritte painting in the design of the ballet; she purely puts backdrop projections that suggest Magritte's canvases, with items like a lamppost from Dominio of Light. Yuri Posokhov choreographed the ballet. It celebrated the Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte 1898-1967, whose painting inspired the choreography and received the Isadora Duncan Award for outstanding choreography, in April 2001. These surreal visions of covered faces inspired the dance immigration of Posokhov with Magritte bowler hats, green apples, raining men, the cloud-filled sky, and the huge apple that crosses the stage; these images will always remain with me - really, really lovely!

Verinha Ottoni.


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