SF Ballet “Shostakovich Trilogy”

San Francisco Ballet
Shostakovich Trilogy
Ballets by Alekei Ratmansky
May 7-12, 2019
San Francisco Opera House

Music, Movement and Politics

Ratmansky set the three pieces by Shostakovich for his company, American Ballet Theatre in 2013. SF Ballet staged them in 2014 and has brought the “Trilogy” back to close the 2019 season. Formerly the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet before joining ABT, Ratmansky devotes these ballets to Shostakovich himself, the composer who lived and worked under the Stalinist regime. The music proves Shostakovich’s ability to break free from soviet realism. The choreographer has used those ideas, as well as the composer’s own story as the scenarios for these works. He was awarded the Prix Benoit de la Dance in 2014 in recognition of their worth.

Chamber Symphony is the most biographical of the three. In it, Ulrick Birkkjaer portrays the composer and his three ‘loves’, a young girl, his first, then his second wife. The women are beautifully danced by Sasha De Sola, Mathilde Froustey and Yuan Yuan Tan. A corps of women and a quartet of men provide dramatic energy. Birkkjaer displays adequate emotional gesture but it falls short of a depth of acting that should illustrate the three relationships. Technically, the movement is amplified with the many lifts that the choreographer is fond of. Although this is most ‘dramatic’ work on the program, it falls short of completing its promised story line. The backdrop of looming faces (are these images of the Soviet command?} are distracting at best.

In Keso Dekker’s sleek red and blue-get bodysuits, the company closed the program with Piano Concerto #1, played elegantly by Mungunchimeg Buriad on piano and Adam Luftman on trumpet. The soloists were Sofiane Sylve, Carlo De Lanno, Won Park and Angelo Greco. This “neo-classical” work is danced in front of a backdrop of red ‘working tools” and again evokes the Soviet work motif. The dancers apparently enjoyed this fast moving event with its many entrances and exits. Among the most notable was that of Mingxuan Wang.

The program opened with Symphony #9 for 21 dancers featuring Jennifer Stahl, Aaron Robison, Dores André, Joseph Walsh and Wei Wang. All are dancing beautifully. The backdrop by designer George Tsypin was grey with splashes of red, “recalling the works of Socialist Realism.” Although the Russian themes are prevalent in all these works, the excellent and elegant dancing by the company shines through and above any ‘thematic’ inferences. For this reviewer, Ratmansky’s otherwise fine, but busy choreography is permeated with too many endless and sometimes fearfully acrobatic lifts.

Martin West led the SF orchestra with great skill and excellent musicality. It is always a great pleasure to have him as conductor of the ballet’s fine musicians.

Joanna G. Harris

Photo:San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky’s Piano Concerto #1. (© Erik Tomasson)