Dance Review: NEXT@90 CURTAIN CALL (SF Ballet)

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by Christopher Beale on April 4, 2024

in Dance,Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

San Francisco Ballet kicked off their 2024 season, the first curated by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, with Next@90 Curtain Call, a look back at performances from last year’s Next@90 Festival.

Jennifer Stahl and Luke Ingham in Gateway to the Sun

We open on a slice of windswept desert. A lone poet (Isaac Hernández) is standing in full light, contrasted against the swaying, silhouetted forms of the ensemble (vibrant lighting by Jim French). As he moves across the stage the poet brings those shadows to light and into his dance one-by-one, then two-by-two as those same shadowy figures burst with vibrant color. Based on the 13th-century poem “Dance” by Persian-Muslim poet Rumi, in Gateway to the Sun the principal dancer witnesses the physical personifications of the thoughts in his own heart with great joy. The nods to the source work are present in the Persian-inspired scenery and costumes by Katrin Schnabl. Nicolas Blanc, who is said to have insisted on working with as many female-identifying collaborators as possible, sets his satisfying work to Anna Clyne‘s bewitching score.

Gateway to the Sun with Isaac Hernández
Max Cauthorn in Gateway to the Sun

Yuri Possokhov’s Violin Concerto is a beautiful modern ballet set to the 1931 Igor Stravinsky piece of the same name, and a visual love letter to the late Russian composer. Eight dancers bring this ballet — informed by classicism — to life beginning in an abstract of a dance studio; soon larger than life images of Stravinsky himself appear on the walls as the dancers move through a beautiful, flowing, plot-free expression of movement. Even the classic “tutu” gets a reboot by costumer Sandra Woodall. Sasha Mukhamedov, as Muse, commands the stage with poise and presence, and each couple brings a playful style and interpretation to the classic music. The music in Violin Concerto stars a more than 300-year-old Milanollo Stradavarius Violin played by SF Ballet’s Concertmaster Cordula Merks, and it pops through the orchestra with grace and boldness.

Sasha Mukhamedov and Joseph Walsh in Violin Concerto
San Francisco Ballet in Violin Concerto

“You are now about to see something you’ve never seen before, something you’ve never even dreamed of. Shh. But remember, it’s only in your head.” The opening lines of MADCAP, the brainchild of Danielle Rowe. This piece takes inspiration from the gritty, fantastical world of the circus. Swedish Composer Pär Hagström sets the tone with accordions, snare drums, xylophone, and music box sounds that create a childlike but altogether spooky atmosphere for our clown protagonist (Myles Thatcher) as he works to entertain the others. We learn that this clown’s drive to entertain is less about laughs, and more about self-protection. The immersive staging, eclectic choreography, thrilling music, and imaginative costumes by Emma Kingsbury combine for the most Cirque du Soleil-like ballet I have ever experienced … and that’s a huge compliment. Rowe worked with her cast to create unique dance moves and plot lines that push the limits of the imagination, and the body. MADCAP is an incredibly well-staged ballet that pays tribute to our collective childhood and that deep place in our imagination where magic lives, but you’d have to watch it a few times to catch everything.

San Francisco Ballet in MADCAP

photos © Lindsay Thomas
poster photo of Parker Garrison and Myles Thatcher in MADCAP © RJ Muna for San Francisco Ballet

next@90 Curtain Call
San Francisco Ballet
War Memorial Opera House
ends on April 13, 2024
for tickets, call 415.865.2000 or visit SF Ballet

Gateway to the Sun: 31 min
Intermission: 20 min
Violin Concerto: 27 min
Intermission: 20 min
: 33 min

Christopher J. Beale is an award-winning journalist, media host and producer based in San Francisco

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