San Francisco Ballet “In Space & Time” Review – Program 03 is filled with Intense Movement

San Francisco Ballet in Marston's Snowblind. (© Erik Tomasson)

By Alice Zhou and Henry Etzkowitz

We had the opportunity of attending the opening night performance of San Francisco Ballet’s Program 03, “In Space and Time” which will be in performance through February 23 at San Francisco War Memorial Opera House.

The three pieces performed were:

The Fifth Season, Composer: Karl Jenkins and Choreographer: Helgi Tomasson

Etudes, Music: Knudåge Riisager, after Carl Czerny and  Choreographer: Harald Lander

Snowblind, Composers: Amy Beach, Philip Feeney, Arthur Foote, and Arvo Pärt, Music Arranger: Philip Feeney

Dores André and Vitor Luiz in Tomasson’s The Fifth Season. (© Erik Tomasson)

The program began with Helgi Tomasson’s, The Fifth Season, which comprises a sequence of scenes, translating into movement series of abstract expressionist background panels, hung as scrolls, recalling the work of post-war work of the San Francisco school’s Clifford Still at the de Young Museum.

Sofiane Sylve and Luke Ingham in Tomasson’s The Fifth Season. (© Erik Tomasson)

A male and a female enter apart move closer together. Four more couples join in abstract modern dance with a few ballroom moves thrown in. The most affecting is the rise of a couple from coiled positions. San Francisco Ballet’s dancers perfectly reflect the pure beauty and strength of human body through grey blue clothes and cold color light, creating for  the audience a mysterious atmosphere and a contemporary feeling.

Mathilde Froustey and Ulrik Birkkjaer in Marston’s Snowblind. (© Erik Tomasson)


The Second number begins mid-motion with  a tableau of  bodies, ending in a triad. Classical ballets like Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty have strong storylines often based on fairytales. British choreographer Cathy Marston’s Snowblind (late 2017), drew upon Edith Wharton’s Novella, Ethan Frome (1911) that told a story about Ethan and his two women: his hypochondriac wife Zeena and her cousin Mattie.  Even not having read the book,  it is not difficult to understand the story told in motion. The stage is designed simply with one bed and one chair, but they are put up to a high platform, separate from front stage.

San Francisco Ballet in Marston’s Snowblind. (© Erik Tomasson)

Visual art in the background curtain is used to tell the context changes.

Joseph Walsh in Lander’s Etudes. (© Erik Tomasson)

Ballet as  technique is the point of Harald Landers  Etudes, the third element of the program.  Opening with an individual female twirling in an invisible boundary constructed space in the foreground with several dancers performing exercises on a barre bar in shadowed background, this exemplifies the grueling work that makes possible the principal ballerina’s consummate supple movement accomplished with head held high self- confidence and luminous smile, making it all look so easy.

With increasingly complex movement, 39 dancers leap and turn on the stage, showing the technical skills of the art — a graceful arabesque (one leg supports the body while the other extends behind) or a fondu (a slow melting movement in which the supporting leg bends at the knee), twelve-turn pirouette, entrechat (a jump into the air accompanied by a rapid crossing of the feet in front and behind) jeté,  (a full leg splits in mid-air), leap across the stage or enter the air.

The easier the dance looks, the more skilled the ballerina. Dancers take years of strength training using muscles most people don’t know they have. The young and energetic dancers in Program 03 make it look so easy that we felt we were floaingt with them in each airy movement.  With lighting focuses in just in the right places, using colors that enhance the dance, with thoughtful sets and elaborate costumes,  we were among the audience member holding our breath. The music is performed live by an orchestra in the pit below the stage, setting the tone for the situational changes and emotional ups and downs of the dance.

As a pearl in the crown of dance art, Ballet has complex structural forms and specific technical requirements. San Francisco Ballet’s Program 03 offered extraordinary appeal through a perfect blend of elements (spectacle, music, dance, stage designs, light/shadow, theme and dancers). This performance offered an opportunity to better understand the elements of ballet. Children studing ballet might well be inspired by the high jumps, sharp turns and the sense of speed and stability. This Ballet performance is pure poetry in motion and expresses powerful emotions!

Sasha De Sola in Lander’s Etudes. (© Erik Tomasson)

of While ballet dancers typically look amazing on stage, the principals are likely to be distinguished by their technique and communication skills. In our minds Sasha de Sola’s performance delivered very strong artistic and musical expression.  The entire company did a wonderful job and was a joy to watch!  San Francisco Ballet also attracts us also because of the diversity of its dancers — it gathers the best dancers from all over the world!  Find time to enjoy one of the wonderful performances presented this season.

For additional information, go to the San Francisco Ballet Website

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