What is it? Ballet fully unbound. Cool athleticism, modern classicism, and Björk-ian excess mean this program has a little something for everyone.
Who’s it for? Sports fans, art museum-goers, and anyone who took advantage of one of those cheap flights to Iceland over the past few years.
What am I seeing? Made for 15 men and 1 woman, Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes turns ballet convention on its head—something choreographer Justin Peck, a soloist at New York City Ballet, has been doing a lot lately. From same-sex partnering to ballets in sneakers, he is interested in exploring how the traditional architecture and technique of ballet can adapt to modern ideas and worldviews. This ballet is athletic, competitive, and virtuosic, but also allows space for these male dancers to be vulnerable and sensitive.
What am I hearing? Aaron Copland’s Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo. The ballet Rodeo was commissioned by the Ballets Russes and choreographed by Agnes de Mille, one of the first great female American ballet choreographers, in 1942. Four Dance Episodes is the symphonic version, orchestrated in 1945. You’ll probably recognize this music: it’s been used in just about every commercial that’s supposed to be “American” in feel.
What should I look for?
The same-sex partnering, the moment of surprise when the woman joins the group, and the way that the pas de deux is a partnership of equals.
LIAM SCARLETT WORLD PREMIERE
What am I seeing? Liam Scarlett is becoming a familiar name to SF audiences after the massive success of his full-length Frankenstein (2017) and his shorter Hummingbird (2014) and Fearful Symmetries (2016). The 33-year-old Royal Ballet artist-in-residence returned to SF Ballet this year to make a work inspired by Swiss symbolist painter Arnold Böcklin’s Isle of the Dead and set to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s tone poem of the same name.
What am I hearing? Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Isle of the Dead. Inspired by Böcklin’s paining, Rachmaninoff’s score suggests the sound of oars or waves, and pulls from the Dies irae, the Gregorian chant from the Mass for the Dead, to create a landscape of sound.
What should I look for? Watch for a recurring movement where the dancers take a low arabesque and sweep their arm in a circle, like waves or oars. And track the six principal dancers—how do their relationships evolve or transform? Who do they seem to be to one another?
What am I seeing? Inspired by the music of Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk, choreographer Arthur Pita created a ballet full of quirky characters, snippets of narrative, and a stunning full-cast “ballet rave.” It’s glamorous. It’s fantastical. And it’s full of surprises.
What am I hearing? A selection of songs by avant-garde pop star Björk. Pita had been wanting to work with Björk’s music for years. He thought that SF Ballet would be the perfect place to create it becauses both Björk and SF Ballet Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson are Icelandic!
What should I look for? Keep an eye out for the fisherman. His narrative arc opens and closes the piece. Also for the pixie-like creature who weaves her way through the ballet and for a couple who seem in the midst of a tumultuous, passionate love affair. Oh, and for a heart-stopping moment set to Hyperballad.
Header photo: San Francisco Ballet in Pita’s Björk Ballet // © Erik Tomasson