Highs and lows: San Francisco Ballet’s ‘Caprice’ programme

On the second night of San Francisco Ballet’s second visit to Beijing, the American ballet company treated their Chinese audience to a varied programme in four parts. Tomasson’s own Caprice opened the event, followed by Christopher Wheeldon’s Rush and Hans van Manen’s Variations for Two Couples, finally closing the evening with George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations.

Tan Yuan Yuan and Luke Ingham in Tomasson’s ‘Caprice’ © Erik Tomasson

As Tomasson clearly expected, given his statement in the press release announcing this year’s China tour, the Chinese audiences were very enthusiastic for the show, being particularly excitable at every glimpse of Tan Yuan Yuan (Tan = family name), a Shanghainese ballerina who has been dancing with San Francisco Ballet for 20 years, since she was 18. Her return to the stage in China (the company first toured China in 2009) brought enthusiastic Beijingers out in hordes every night the company were in town.

Lauren Strongin, Hansuke Yamamoto, Koto Ishihara and Joseph Walsh in Wheeldon’s ‘Rush’ © Erik Tomasson

The fun and energy of Wheeldon’s Rush reminded of playground games as seven pairs in bright, colourful costumes rushed about the stage. (“British Bulldog?” I scribbled in the dark as this theme recurred.) The male dancers lined up along one edge of the stage, the ballerinas on the other, and they ran full pelt for their partner, crashing into minute duets in the middle before they lined up in preparation once again.

I adored Hans van Manen’s Variations for Two Couples, it’s quirky playfulness really struck a chord with me. The wacky colourful costumes looked wonderful on the two couples: Wan Ting Zhao and Tiit Helimets; Sofiane Sylve with Luke Ingham. Van Manen’s choreography established an interesting dynamic between the two pairs: where Zhao and Helimets were off-kilter and humorous, Sylve and Ingham were slower and more serious. It was almost like imagining a double date in dance form, each couple competing slightly with the other, while each partner pushed to impress their significant other.

The company closed the night with George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. I found this a pretty odd choice, placing a fairly static tutu ballet after the success of the two energetic ballets in the middle of the evening. That said, all four were neoclassical pieces, complementing one another reasonably well. (Despite it being the evening’s titular piece, I did not think much of Tomasson’s Caprice. It was a very nice piece but it did not excite me.) I am sure some audience members got more from the Balanchine and Tomasson pieces than I did – there was something for everyone in this programme.

The Beijing audience went wild for San Francisco Ballet, though I suspect many would have liked to see more of Tan Yuan Yuan – she featured only in Caprice – though I am pretty sure she was in need of some rest, having danced an entire night named in honour of her 20th Anniversary with San Francisco Ballet on 21st and with performances as Giselle on the two following nights to prepare for. I would certainly like to see more of San Francisco Ballet in the future, whether on a return trip to China, or at home in California.

N.B. This post is a combination 100 words from a longer review and additional thoughts about the October 22nd show thereafter. The review was published on 27th October 2015 by Bachtrack. Please click here to read the full review.

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