By Ann Murphy / Correspondent / San Jose Mercury News
"Swimmer," according to the program notes, is resident choreographer Possokhov's ode to Americana, as he'd envisioned it as a boy in the Soviet Union. Thanks largely to Kate Duhamel's video wizardry, Possokhov captures iconic midcentury scenes, ranging from an Eichler-style ranch house to Edward Hopper's iconic painting "Nighthawks."
SAN FRANCISCO -- In one of the company's quirkiest evenings, San Francisco Ballet launched this season's Program 7 with a splash at the War Memorial Opera House on Friday, and the audience avidly soaked it up.
The audience, in fact, roared approval as the curtain came down on the evening's last piece, Yuri Possokhov's world-premiere work "Swimmer," an ambitious multimedia dance whose abundant images of water banished thoughts of California's drought for most of its 41-minute program.
With only "Romeo and Juliet" remaining on this season's calendar, Program 7 was a dependable hodgepodge -- a trio of dances that by turns frothed, prowled and swam across the stage in a lineup that made a strange kind of sense by the evening's end.
"Swimmer," according to the program notes, is resident choreographer Possokhov's ode to Americana, as he'd envisioned it as a boy in the Soviet Union. Thanks largely to Kate Duhamel's video wizardry, Possokhov captures iconic midcentury scenes, ranging from an Eichler-style ranch house to Edward Hopper's iconic painting "Nighthawks." John Cheever's celebrated tale "The Swimmer" is the fulcrum here, and the dignified but expressive Taras Domitro took on the role of John Cheever's narcissistic anti-hero, who blithely gives himself the challenge of swimming back home via the pools in his neighbors' backyards. Along the way, he plunges into an increasingly surreal world.
The dance's scenes have titles like "House to Hollywood" and "Final Swim (Martin Eden)." Duhamel gives them a picture-book flow with ever-shifting and complex imagery, which Possokhov fills with moving bodies, supported by Alexander V. Nichols' ingenious series of platforms, which become the spine of the action, real or virtual. As in a Wes Anderson film, the environment becomes a central star of the dance.
The actual choreography for "Swimmer" is largely unremarkable, but that doesn't matter because the dance is a minor character. The star here -- and the news -- is that the company has mounted a stunning video dance that's youthful, quirky and visually arresting. It is set to a patchwork of music by Kathleen Brennan and Tom Waits, as well as the ballet orchestra's own double bassist, Shinji Eshima. If developing young audiences for San Francisco Ballet is a priority (and no doubt it is), such tech-savvy, eye candy work will play a key role.
Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson's own ballets are reliably pretty and well-constructed. They also tend to be arid and to suffer from a lack of musical complexity, as was the case with Friday's reprise of his "Caprice" (2014), which opened the evening. Against a backdrop of moving striped columns (Alexander V. Nichols), two dominant couples are echoed by six secondary pairs, who stole the show as they washed from wing to wing in sharp changes of direction and fleet "capricious" action. By contrast, the lead couples seemed trapped center stage in a force field of stodgy classicism. Holly Hynes' drab classical costumes only deepened the sense of static bravura, which talented soloists Maria Kochetkova, Davit Karapetyan, Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham were unable to overcome.
Ironically, "Caprice" felt less academic in light of George Balanchine's fiercely austere "Four Temperaments" (1946). Depicting the four medieval humors (melancholic, sanguine, phlegmatic and choleric), Balanchine set such a high bar that this dance both supported, and made sense of, the rest of the program. Pascal Molat in Melancholic was a broken puppet, and Davit Karapetyan in Phlegmatic made us see Balanchine's witty allusions to water and sea life. Frank and powerful, Sofiane Sylve performed "Choleric" with the spirit of "Giselle's" Myrtha -- anger as a cold, implacable offering.