Thursday, May 2, 2013

Inveterate Dancer (ID) does Dante as a ballet

video of dante's inferno

A tour of Hell with Paolo and Francesca by SF Ballet April 2013

Choreography is a fascinating process. What inspires us and why? Plie Releve Life’s ID wants to know more.  Last weekend I went to see San Francisco Ballet’s “Paolo and Francesca” a piece choreographed by SF ballet’s Choreographer in residence and former SF principal dancer Yuri Possokhov.  I wanted to look at the program notes by Cheryl Ossola, and see how they compared to my experience of the performance and my own particular love of Dante.

I studied Dante’s "La Divina Commedia" as a college student in Urbino, Italy.  

I remember the moment when I understood more than the translated words (and the copious footnotes). At some point, for a second, I swore I heard the voice that wrote the story. And even though it was of another time and place, I still got something, and loved it. So I was looking for that moment for  the words to fall away and, since it’s dance, the movement to take over. It’s what Frances Chung calls in her brief interview “the wind rushing in my face” That ineffable magic when the body can make a story immediate, fresh and full of sensation.

Frances Chung was Sunday afternoon’s Francesca. She's a beautiful dancer with a natural verve that animates her technique. My fellow balletomane companion for this performance says she can “dance beyond her bones.”  I agree. Watch her in her video and see if you are not taken by the strength and length of her lines.

However in this performance the story seemed to overwhelm Frances. Perhaps she took too literally Dante’s words “There is no greater sorrow than to recall a happy time in misery,” because she seemed mostly dejected. She kept her eyes almost continually downward. This made her dancing seem fatigued and defeated even though it was pure and flawless.

There were a few moments of brightness and spark. In one section of the 10 min pas de duex she ran forcefully away from him (on pointe is not as easy as it sounds) and as she came downstage center she performed a series of passé turns and pirouettes that evoked the swirling passions of hell. She then fell to the floor and rolled over him, showing us the abandon that carried the lovers to the Inferno.

Now for a taste of the agony of Dante and Possokhov's interpretation of passion, we don’t have Frances, but let’s watch Maria Kochetkova's “Francesca.”

What about our choreographer, Mr Possokhov?  What was he going for in the piece? What was his inspiration or interpretation?  In the notes he says he makes the movement from an ideal, something he sees in his own body—and then fits that ideal to the dancers. “I adjust to my aesthetic and my musicality,” he says. “I have to find another way for [the dancers], with my aesthetic but different execution.”

Frances, in her video, talks about how closely he works with the dancers. He even takes class with the dancers while setting the piece on them. I think this allows him to translate the movements he comes up with into the bodies of his dancers. Watch how he transforms the classical port de bras arms of Maria Kochetkova. Her perfect Russian training is subverted as she elongates and swirls her arms like seaweed fronds, around Paolo.

In his Francesca da Rimini, Possokhov says, “the marriage, betrayal, murders, condemnation are merely the “frame of the painting.”

So that is perhaps why the depth of our heroine is never explored and she resides more in the agony of her passion than in restless desperation for her lover. It’s hard to believe she ever enjoyed her passion, because she is too resigned to her damnation.

That is the tragedy of this ballet. Still it was beautifully danced, the music was charged, and the set exquisite. ID would definitely go again.

dore and dante

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