A meditation on the arc of a lifetime. A message piece about soul-eroding communication technology. A frenetic exploration of Jung’s notion of male and female psychic elements. Such was the heady fare in a bracing evening of new works from San Francisco Ballet Wednesday night at the Kennedy Center.
This was one of two programs here in D.C. that, with their combined six works, constitute half of the Unbound festival the troupe produced in its hometown last spring under artistic director Helgi Tomasson. The offerings highlighted the performers’ grace and speed.
Trey McIntyre’s moving “Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem” – the title a quote from Walt Whitman – was inspired by a photo of his grandfather in a football uniform in the 1920s and by a solar eclipse when McIntyre was choreographing.
The strapping six-foot-three athlete became an undertaker and suffered from dementia in his last years, wandering outdoors in his underwear. Projected eclipses by lighting designer James F. Ingalls bracket the dance, eliciting visions also of a primordial eye opening and closing. There is a vivid sense of moment – we are in a fragile temporal pocket.
Soloist Benjamin Freemantle’s initial movements are childlike and playful. They’re echoed and kaleidoscoped by other men, reflecting an exploration of self, life path, socialization. Then that group is energized by a swirl of diaphanous women who bring romance, excitement, adulthood. The arc ends in bittersweet symmetry to childhood, a disoriented Freemantle dancing with a shallow stool that becomes, harrowingly, his blank face.
We start in bewilderment. We subside the same way.
Quirky acoustic songs by Chris Garneau underpin that sense of will, of disorientation, of pleasure and wonder. “Your Flesh” breaks free of the particulars of one man’s story, becoming a captivating existential study of us all.
Unbound: A Festival of New Works
The San Francisco Ballet at The Kennedy Center
closes October 28, 2018
Details and tickets
Christopher Wheeldon’s “Bound To” is thematically ham fisted but powerful all the same. Its clear directive: Put down your damn cell phone. And who can argue, looking around the city at the stooped, LED-glowing ghouls we’ve all become?
Awash in a projected Warshowski-esque digital matrix by Jean-Marc Puissant and Alexander V. Nichols, the dancers, costumed by Puissant in grays, blacks, and blues, struggle to unglue themselves from their devices, see the world anew, interact with each other, and rediscover themselves. A wonderful musical score by Keaton Henson mirrors that journey from a seductive shimmering web of electronica to thick lush caresses of orchestral strings under the direction of Martin West.
In a melancholy duet, Dores Andre struggles to retrieve Freemantle from his iObsessions. Angelo Greco melts, in a possessed and possessing solo, into a mesh of human rather than digital rhythms. An octet of four women and four men plunge into the grace of flirtation – no swiping left and right, but gliding, partnering, lifting, twirling, loving.
In the end, though, Wheeldon’s prognosis for us lithium-powered zombies is not optimistic. Lonnie Weeks tries to rise above the suffocating tempo and fluorescence of contemporary life, briefly attracting the succor of friends, but then left supine and alone as they wander off the same way they began, absorbed in some irresistible alert or distraction beckoning at them from their evil, luminous little rectangles.
The British choreographer David Dawson’s “Anima Animus” is the study of Jung’s male component of the female psyche and vice versa. I enjoyed its unstoppable kinetic energy. I did not enjoy the Ezio Bosso violin concerto it is danced to, although violinist Cordula Merks performed it well. The music has undeniable energy, but is also repetitious and grating, not in a Philip Glass hypnotic, subtly shifting, deeper into the realm sort of way, but in a lordy won’t you please make it stop sort of way.
That aside, the choreography – classical with brash, modernistic tweaks – highlighted its ten dancers’ strength, linearity, and confidence. Their white and black costumes by Yumiko Takeshima are largely silhouetted in a white set with asymmetrical black borders designed by John Otto. The dancers brought to mind long-legged, determined birds at a beach, an invasion of superior beings through the portal of a Mondrian painting, or Matisse cutouts come to glorious life.
San Francisco Ballet, presenting works, in two programs, from the company’s Unbound festival. Kennedy Center through Sunday, October 28. Artistic director and principal choreographer: Helgi Tomasson. Music director and conductor: Martin West. Choreographers featured in Program A: Trey McIntyre, Christopher Wheeldon, and David Dawson. Reviewed by Alexander C. Kafka.