As we take our seats, busy computer codes flood the stage curtain. It goes up to reveal a group of dancers completely absorbed in their mobile phones. Their movements are automatic, meaningless, as their eyes remain riveted to the screen.
Throw away the mobile phones, though, and a whole world of possibilities opens up. Working on a bespoke score by his favourite composer, Keaton Henson, Christopher Wheeldon starts exploring the myriad of connections that happen when humans notice other humans.
Wheeldon is expert at blending supremely elegant balletic movement – dreamy lifts, fluid partnering – with pregnant pauses: two motionless women lock eyes and for a moment we hold our breath. Slowly their hands touch.
Later the mesmerising Yuan Yuan Tan enters in a midnight blue tunic (Scenic and costume design by Jean-Marc Puissant) surrounded by a swirl of colour such as you might see in a screensaver.
San Francisco Ballet, Yuan Yuan Tan in Christopher Wheeldon's Bound To (c) Erik Tomasson
Birdsong is heard above the music. She is joined by Carlo de Lanno in a slow pas de deux, entitled Take A Deep Breath.
The final section, Trying to Breathe, is an anxious solo for Lonnie Weeks perhaps missing the safety of his screen? It ends with the whole cast inexorably returning to their mobile screens.
If Wheeldon’s heartfelt plea for human connection is self-explanatory, the second piece of the evening, Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, needs a little prior knowledge to make sense.
The first day of McIntyre’s rehearsals with San Francisco Ballet coincided with a solar eclipse. That, combined with a haunting 1920s photograph of the grandfather he never knew, led him to imagine the eclipse offered him an opportunity to travel through time to meet his grandfather.
Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem starts and ends with the slow projection of the moon first covering the sun and finally moving away. In between the dances to gentle (that mood again), yearning ballads by Chris Garneau draw vignettes from what grandpa McIntyre’s life might have been.
San Francisco Ballet in Trey McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem (c) Erik Tomasson
They give off the same nostalgia old photographs do, spurring your imagination with a little humour, a little whimsy and unhurried steps; until the final solo for a man dancing with a wooden stool points to the pain of dementia that gripped McIntyre’s grandfather in later life.
The evening ends with a bang – and what a bang! For Anima Animus (pictured up top), the veteran choreographer David Dawson asked his dancers not to do something they know, but rather ‘do something beyond. Unbound.’
Designed in clean black and white lines by John Otto (sets) and Yumiko Takeshima (costumes) and set to an insistent Violin Concerto by Ezio Bosso, Dawson’s Anima Animus is a study in virtuosity that touches on acrobatic.
It’s loosely inspired, but not bound by Carl Jung’s concept of the male/female duality in individuals, here denoted in the play of black and white in the dancers’ costumes. It’s intense, with dancers flowing onto the stage like a turbulent current, a mood that is maintained throughout, in particular in the first and third movements.
And it has moments, most notably in the second movement, where the manhandling of the lead women – the majestic Sofiane Sylve, well matched by a vibrant Wona Park – by two male dancers each is extreme and quite uncomfortable to watch.
Dawson’s Anima Animus is, nevertheless, a vibrant, classy work from a very experienced choreographer, a fitting end to a fascinating season. May San Francisco Ballet return to this shores soon.
|What||San Francisco Ballet Programme D Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
06 Jun 19 – 08 Jun 19, 19:30 Dur.: 2 hours 20 mins approx inc two intervals
|Website||Click here to book|