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Out of the Fog, 5-31: Swan's Way
Maffre Bids Adieu to SF Ballet
By Aimée Ts’ao
Copyright 2007 Aimée Ts’ao
SAN FRANCISCO -- Recently everyone I know, myself
included, seems to be experiencing loss of one kind or
another. I've come to the conclusion that distraction
is a necessary survival mechanism to cope with it. On
Sunday, May 6, help arrived in the form of Muriel
Maffre, dancing her farewell performance with the San
Francisco Ballet. For the past 17 seasons, she has
bourréed and jetéd her way across the War Memorial Opera House stage at a level that few members of that company have ever attained and this evening was no
exception. It was a bittersweet event, marking the
end of a rich stage career that is indelibly etched in
the minds of many and the beginning of a life with new
interests and goals for Maffre. It was also a
glorious evening, obliterating my personal sadness for
a brief time before I had to reflect that in the
future I won't have the guaranteed escapes into the
riveting interpretations of this matchless artist.
San Francisco Ballet's Muriel Maffre and Yuri Zhukov in "Swan Lake." Marty Sohl archival photo courtesy and copyright Marty Sohl.
The program opened with the 2nd Movement from Jerome
Robbins's 1983 "Glass Pieces," with
Maffre partnered by Pierre-Francois Vilanoba against
the backlit corps de ballet of women, followed by the
pas de deux from Balanchine's 1957 "Agon," with Tiit
Helimets, then "The Alaskan Rag," from Kenneth
MacMillan's 1974 "Elite Syncopations," featuring
Maffre in hilarious cahoots with James Sofranko, to
close the first half.
After the intermission she danced Michel Fokine's "The
Dying Swan" (1905), then the pas de deux from
Christopher Wheeldon's 2002 "Continuum," with Damian
Smith, before concluding the evening with Part 1 from
Willaim Forsythe's 2004 "Artifact Suite," in which she
was joined by a cast of 28 dancers, including
|San Francisco Ballet's Muriel Maffre and Tiit Helimets in Balanchine's "Agon." Erik Tomasson photo copyright Erik Tomasson and courtesy San Francisco Ballet.
The excerpts and ballets chosen didn't accurately
reflect Maffre's enormous range, as four were pas de
deux in much the same vein. Interestingly, "Agon,"
now 50 years old, and danced superbly on this program,
made the other three look like cheap choreographic
knock-offs. Just seeing Maffre on stage triggered a deluge of memories of many of her roles. Two that I would have loved to
see again were her otherworldly presence in Frederick
Ashton's "Monotones," a trio for two men and a woman, and the intensely emotional solo from Yuri Possokhov's "Damned," in which, when I saw her in the role, she delivered an exquisite, utterly seamless performance where technique and interpretation were completely in service to each other.
Perhaps the long pauses between numbers, to give the
etoile time to change costumes and catch her breath,
could have been filled with video clips of Maffre in other ballets or being interviewed, or even just the orchestra playing the
music from these works, to help sustain the momentum
of the show. The stop and go format had a very deadening effect.
There is no doubt that the dance audience in San
Francisco has lost one of its most versatile
performers. I was frequently in Alonzo King's class
with Maffre starting in 1990, when she first arrived
in town from France, and now often find myself with
her in classes given by Yuri Zhukov and Joanna Berman
-- both of whom danced with her in SFB. Not only was I able to
witness her artistic development on stage over the
span of her tenure at SFB, but I continue to observe the keen intelligence and diligent work ethic that she applies to her daily
class work, which in turn informs her performances. I
cannot imagine that she will be any less successful at what ever she tries her hand at in the future.
To read more about Muriel Maffre in performance, click here, here, here, and here.