San Francisco Ballet, Sadler’s Wells, London


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The Independent Culture

Many ballet companies struggle to stage new works. For San Francisco Ballet, it looks like a breeze: they’re dancing eight in this London season, spread across a generous three programmes. Two nights in, you can see a clear company style. The dancing is expansive and open, with vivid personality from the many soloists.

They opened with a single established classic. Created in 1956, Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15 is serene and intricate. There are touches of coltish athleticism amid the tutu’d graciousness, a back-to-front twist in partnering or a showgirl edge to a pose. The San Francisco dancers dive into the many solos with confidence and strength. Koto Ishihara is speedy, while Sasha DeSola has grand sweeping line. Vanessa Zahorian sometimes forces her quicksilver steps, but she doesn’t blur the details.

Most of the new works are straightforward company display pieces – not too individual as ballets, but showcases for fine dancing. Edwaard Liang’s Symphonic Dances is an o-wild-west-wind-thou-breath-of-autumn’s-being number, with lots of floating chiffon and overhead lifts. It’s danced with gusto and gleaming technique. Ballerinas Yuan Yuan Tan, Sofiane Sylve and Maria Kochetkova surge and sway to Rachmaninov, romantic and free. 

Christopher Wheeldon’s Number Nine is more distinctive, with bouncy energy and a quirky bite to the steps. Lines of brightly-dressed dancers sink to the floor for a rolling exit. In duets, women unfurl in their partners’ arms, reaching into space. Frances Chung and Daniel Deivison sparkle in the first duet.

Wheeldon’s Ghosts, the centrepiece of the second programme, dresses its dancers in white, to misty, atmospheric music by C.F. Kip Winger. Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith dance in long, long phrases, going from floor work to a soaring lift in what feels like one breath. Other dancers throng and hover. Even when they circle the stage in flying jumps, the ballet remains soft and mysterious.

Trio, by company director Helgi Tomasson, is set to Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous “Souvenir de Florence”, warmly conducted by Martin West. The steps are heavily influenced by Balanchine’s Serenade, complete with fated encounter for a couple and a death figure. Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets engaging as the couple and Maria Kochetkova sparky in the quick final movement. Mark Zappone’s costumes are variations on evening dress, with deeply unfortunate tuxedo jackets for the men.

Ashley Page’s Guide to Strange Places is a workout to music by John Adams. It’s packed with fast steps, but speed does not add up to momentum. It’s danced with brisk attack by a very likeable company.

Season runs until 23 September. Box office 0844 412 4300.