- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The San Francisco Ballet’s performances at the Kennedy Center Opera House last week showed the company triumphing in major ways: the creative outreach of its opening program, followed by a lively staging of the iconic romantic ballet “Giselle,” given a fresh sheen by the company’s Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson.

The pre-Thanksgiving program crackled with modern works, including George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments,” a 1946 ballet that holds its own with two hot-off-the-press ballets commissioned by SFB - “Joyride,” by the inventive Mark Morris, and “Within the Golden Hour,” a breathtaking work by ballet’s wunderkind, Christopher Wheeldon.

“4 Ts” (as dancers refer to Mr. Balanchine’s stunning work) was given a strong performance on opening night, marred only by a weak orchestral reading of the Paul Hindemith score and a cheesecake approach to the opening first theme, with hyperextended mile-high arabesques distorting the clean, simple lines of the original choreography.

“Joyride” is not one of Mr. Morris’ more interesting works. The movements seem undernourished, but his masterful control of overall patterns and striking use of exits and entrances save the day.

“Within the Golden Hour” shows Mr. Wheeldon at the height of his power in the dreamlike encounters he sets for each of three couples. He uses the ballet vocabulary like a poet, creating an entrancing landscape and setting it to a haunting score with combined music by Antonio Vivaldi and Ezio Bosso. The responsive dancers on opening night were Katita Waldo, Damian Smith, Sarah Van Patten, Pierre-Francois Vilanoba, Maria Kochetkova and Joan Boada.

After a Thanksgiving break, the company returned with Mr. Tomasson’s bold and thoughtful setting of “Giselle.” It’s a pleasure to see the director’s inspired imprint on this enduring masterpiece.

During its Friday night opening, the young Miss Kochetkova had the ethereal grace, lovely line and strong technique for the part. She is an entrancing Giselle at the beginning of her career and undoubtedly will make her own distinctive mark as she grows in the role.

As Count Albrecht, Mr. Boada was dashing and impetuous. Pascal Molat was especially convincing as Hilarion, the rejected suitor. Sofiane Sylve brought regal authority to the role of Myrtha, Queen of the Willis.

Mr. Tomasson has transformed the familiar peasant pas de deux of the first act into a technically brilliant pas de cinq for two male and three female dancers. It was performed with brio by Frances Chung, Clara Blanco, Elizabeth Miner and especially Taras Domitro and Isaac Hernandez.

There are many pleasantries in Mr. Tomasson’s staging. Most important, perhaps, is the clear way he tells the story - using some of the time-honored gestures of 19th-century ballet and blending these archaic gestures with strong wordless acting that makes the story line feel contemporary and crystal clear.

At Sunday afternoon’s performance, another appealing dancer, Vanessa Zahorian, gave a glowing account of the title role. Davit Karapetyan played the conflicted Count Albrecht, and Elana Altman brought regal elegance to the role of Myrtha.

Yet with all the well-thought-out motives projected in this “Giselle,” the picture of Albrecht remains opaque. Is he a careless aristocrat who only realizes when it’s too late that he has destroyed a young girl with his flirtation? Or is he genuinely in love and believing it will all work out? With all the fine dancing and excellent partnering of the two Albrechts I saw, this lack of clarity left a deficit.

Last week’s standing ovations point to an enthusiastic audience eager to see more of this splendid company. I heartily second the motion.

Those who missed out on San Francisco Ballet’s performances last week can take heart: The company’s lavish “Nutcracker” can be seen on WETA-Channel 26 on Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 21 at 2:30 p.m.

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