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Flash Review 1, 2-13:
"White is for Virgins"
Racy Ad Campaign Draws in Younger Crowd at S.F. Ballet for Edgy
By Therese Poletti
Copyright 2001 Therese Poletti
SAN FRANCISCO -- "I've
never seen anything like this before," murmured an astonished usher
at San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House, as she watched the
line of people picking up tickets snake slowly around the massive
foyer for Saturday's performance of the much-hyped ballet, Hans
van Manen's "Black Cake."
Indeed, the crowd seemed
as mixed as the San Francisco Ballet had been hoping for. Younger
couples in their 20s, 30s and 40s, some wearing leather jackets,
funky shoes and boots, or just basic black, mixed with the older
socialite types that typically attend the ballet. A racy ad campaign,
with one slogan, "White is for Virgins," has obviously captured
the attention of younger San Franciscans, as they ride the bus,
walk around the city and read newspapers.
The ads, by Goodby Silverstein
& Partners, certainly caught my eye, with a woman dancer, SFB principal
Lucia Lacarra, wearing a sexy black dress and dance shoes with high
heels, more appropriate for the tango. So with a whetted appetite,
I went to see if "Black Cake" lived up to the hoopla. In my humble,
woman-on-the-street view, it did. "Black Cake," getting its San
Francisco premiere, was delightful, not too rich and with plenty
of darkness beneath the surface.
The ballet takes place on
a sparse set, painted only in black in the first section. As the dancers
emerge at a party -- the women in shimmering black or silver mid-calf
dresses and black heels and the men in black tops and sheer black
pants -- the mood is that of a sultry Argentine tango bar. And the
dancers, in pairs, move sometimes as if they are performing bits of
a tango and the paso doble, facing each other in the squat of a plie,
arms outstretched, eyes locked. Only the sound of Igor Stravinsky's
"Scherzo a la russe," and a few moves made to look awkward in heels,
remind you that this is a ballet.
A passionate pas de deux
follows, with Julie Diana and Roman Rykine entwined in a sensual
dance, followed by a humorous pas de deux with Muriel Maffre and
Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, whose athleticism was one of the saving
graces of the otherwise-tepid "Nutcracker" here in December. Maffre
and Vilanoba at times dance like mechanical dolls, each popping
up and down, as they face each other, playing a game of cat and
The fifth "layer" of
the Black Cake, as van Manen likes to call each section, reunites
the ensemble, drinking and laughing together, as a waiter pours
champagne. The dancers have real liquid in their glasses and appear
to be very tipsy and off balance. The choreography here is more
like precise inebriation, as the dancers topple, swagger, and alternate
from laughter to crying, then race after the waiter when their glasses
are empty. And in that last-ditch effort to find someone before
the party is over, the men pinch the women in the derriere, only
to end up with chaste kisses on the lips. The scene's humor and
sadness is underscored by the music of Tchaikovsky's symphony, Pathetique.
"Black Cake" was preceded
by "Sea Pictures," choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, the retired
dancer of the New York City Ballet, a lyrical, haunting story of
a fishing village, where the men go off to sea, leaving the women
alone, and of their return, which brings joy to all but one woman.
The five songs, composed by Edward Elgar, are sung by mezzo soprano
Katia Escalera. It was like going to the opera without the libretto,
and it was a bit much for this average patron of the arts, who is
not fond of opera. But Lorena Feijoo was excellent and her solo
depicted a hysterical, frenetic woman, tossing about as she cannot
face her grief.
The one highlight of
the mostly staid "Prism" by S.F.B. artistic director Helgi Tomasson
was Lacarra in a pas de deux with Cyril Pierre. Lacarra was the
center of attention and while an amazing dancer, she seems at the
same time to be as fragile as a piece of Dresden china. The dancers,
though, all seemed especially happy to be back in their toe shoes
and pastels, after "Black Cake"'s high heels and black dresses.
"Prism" premiered last year at the New York City Ballet.
"Black Cake" premiered
at the Nederlands Dans Theatre at The Hague in 1989.
Therese Poletti covers
technology for the San Jose Mercury News, and is a former correspondent
for Reuters news service.
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