Dance: California dreaming

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WHAT IMAGINATIVE programming for London by Helgi Tomasson, to show in a single week that his San Francisco Ballet can tackle classics and creations, razzmatazz and lyricism, with a range from Swan Lake or Balanchine to Forsythe and Morris.

The Swan Lake is his own production and compares handsomely with any current competition from British companies. He and his designer, the late Jens-Jacob Worsaae, got away from traditional Gothic heaviness by relocating the action in 18th-century France. No specific reason for that, except that it looks good and helps to achieve a welcome sobriety in the court scenes.

The only major changes are the elimination of the intermission between the last two acts, to maintain the flow, and a new final duet for Odette and Siegfried in place of the usual ensembles. Danced to an unfamiliar Seranade melancholique which Tchaikovsky wrote shortly before starting Swan Lake, it fits well musically, is beautifully played by Paul Barritt and the English Chamber Orchestra under Emil de Cou, and allows a tender reconciliation before the lovers defy their oppressor Rothbart and die happily. But it's a pity the production plays down their ardour earlier on.

Tomasson's ex-Kirov associate Irina Jacobson maintains the true Ivanov style for the main lakeside scene. The corps de ballet perform marvellously. Their dancing has a rare harmony; to call it well-drilled would be misleading and insulting, since it comes from all of them moving beautifully together with the music.

Petipa's Act 3 duet for Siegfried and Odile is also kept but the rest of the choreography is by Tomasson and, sensibly, he does not depart far from standard versions; in particular, he keeps the mime scenes but tidies them up for clarity. His new dances give the male performers more scope in the ensembles and he elaborates the man's solo in the pas de trois, providing an attractively lively Neapolitan dance.

The performances show excellent teamwork. You might well see a principal dancer, the fluently dazzling Lorena Feijoo, in a small role partnered by the strong, springy Gonzalo Garcia. Frankly, it does not matter too much which cast you catch; standards are sustained.

Four couples danced the leads at successive performances. I thought Lucia Lacarra the best Odette; she and her Siegfried, Cyril Pierre, defied the general reticence and made their trembling emotion almost palpable. But she was surpassed for brilliance and drama as Odile, the other half of the ballerina's double role, by Joanna Berman (amazing in the infamous 32 fouettes), the admirably precise Yuan Yuan Tan and by Tina LeBlanc whose balance of dancing and emotion was arguably the best. Their partners, respectively elegant Stephen Legate, romantic Vadim Solomakha and hunky Roman Rykine, were well matched to each.

So why did we have to wait so long to see this company? They have endeared themselves to the London public and we should not have to wait too long for another visit.