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Flash Review 2, 4-5: See ya "Later" Ballerina
Morris's Gift to Berman -- and Ballet
By Aimee Ts'ao
Copyright 2002 Aimee Ts'ao
SAN FRANCISCO -- Ostensibly this review is to reflect on "Later,"
the new dance Mark Morris made for principal Joanna Berman for her
last season with San Francisco Ballet. But Berman's name can hardly
be mentioned without thinking about her entire career. In the early
'90s, I remember going with The Dance Insider's own Paul Ben-Itzak
to see Jerome Robbins's "In the Night" because he was smitten with
principal Evelyn Cisneros. She was scorchingly stunning, partnered
by Rex Harrington, proving again that her strength is the dramatic.
I pointed out to PBI that there is another kind of brilliance and
artistry and that Berman is an excellent example. More of this next
month when I write of her farewell performance in "Giselle."
On hearing that she was retiring after this season, Morris, who has
worked with Berman in all the commissions he has created for SFB,
told artistic director Helgi Tomasson that he wanted to choreograph a
solo for her to honor the occasion. "Later" premiered on January 30
at the opening gala of this season and is scheduled to run through
April 13 on this program.
As always with Morris, the music is an inspired choice, Schubert's
"Impromptu in B flat" for piano. The theme and variations structure of
the music reflects perfectly in the choreography, which begins simply, then
explores a range of emotions and elaborations on the steps. Not a tour
de force in the usual sense, yet perhaps even more difficult in seeming
to be not difficult. Berman says in the program notes that Morris
didn't want to see her "performing," and she approaches the piece with
disarming naturalness. There is a hint that we are watching her
improvising in her living room or anywhere besides the stage. Slowly
the piece evolves and we are carried along. The most intimate moment
comes at the end, when Berman walks toward the piano and silently thanks the
pianist. More than the abstract idea of a dancer acknowledging
the music, it becomes a larger context, personally and historically.
Roy Bogas has played for the San Francisco Ballet since 1958, long
before Berman arrived on the scene, and hopefully will continue for some
time, and undoubtedly she also could not help but remember other
performances where Bogas provided the essential musical support. "Later"
sends out gentle ripples in an ever-widening circle that will continue
to be felt in our hearts for a long time. What a gift from Morris to
Berman in capturing her so well, and to us for his wanting to create it in
the first place.
Tuesday night also featured the premiere of Tomasson's new piece,
"Chi-Lin" [Unicorn]. Choreographed for the Shanghai-born ballerina Yuan
Yuan Tan to music by Bright Sheng, also originally from the same city
(as was my own father), this piece came as a pleasant surprise. I had
been dreading hearing Westernized Chinese music that was jokingly
said to be composed by committee, but all fears were allayed by Sheng's
seamless blend of his own vision of East-meets-West, or more accurately,
East and West intermingle. The stage design and costumes by Sandra
Woodall are gorgeous. It would have been all too easy to fall into
kitschy exoticism, but Woodall hits the perfect balance of Oriental
flavors, with excellent lighting and projections by Clifton Taylor. (Two
small complaints: I thought Chi-Lin's headdress too ornate and prefer
the publicity photo version, and I could have done without the fireworks at
the finale.) The four principal dancers, Tan as Chi-Lin, Yuri Possokhov
as the Dragon, Damian Smith as the Tortoise and Parrish Maynard as the
Phoenix were all excellent. Though the choreography for Tan really
shows off her beautiful line and lyrical arms, the variations for the
men are too similar and don't read as individual animals.
Also on this program, playing through April 13, are two ballets from
last season, Morris's "A Garden" and Hans van Manen's "Black Cake."
The company seems to have settled into them and I enjoyed them both
more this time around.
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