Operating on the sound precept that dance can be about the whole lot, San Francisco Ballet opened Program 6 of the business enterprise’s current season with the sunny vitality of “Rodeo,” observed by a ride to the “Isle of the Dead.” A 20-minute intermission was all that separated tough-charging life from reckoning with the quiet of it.
Joyful and grin-inducing as choreographer Justin Peck’s clean take on the Aaron Copland score became in “Rodeo: Four Episodes” (more on that beneath), it was the sector optimum of “Die Toteninsel,” set to Rachmaninoff’s “Isle of the Dead,” that left the most profound effect, haunting the coronary heart.
Choreographed with the aid of Liam Scarlett, with an eloquent scenic and lighting design with the assistance of David Finn, the piece made its transferring and remarkable debut on the War Memorial Opera House on Friday, March 29. “Die Toteninsel” started in a dark and stirring way as the curtain rose on a darkened stage with an orb of gridded mild soaring above, an ensemble of dancers processed in lockstep formation slowly away.
Each deliberate footfall seemed fated, as though some gravitational force field have been pulling the dancers towards the void. Then, finally, only one broke unfastened and remained. Esteban Hernandez, alone onstage, supplied a wordless cry of ache and defiance. His solo, without delay-sensitive and muscular, sinuous and doomed, might have been a remaining courageous survivor’s final moments. But no, there had been more celebrated occupants of this isle, extra survivors. Or were they all already lifeless, spirit kinds of the bodies they had left behind?
In somber waves from the deep upstage shadows, they saved arriving. Whatever force turned into paintings, it took the keep. Scarlett amassed the dancers in moving combos, tightly certain organizations, and accomplice pairs that stored pulling apart and re-forming. The moves grew feverish and determined, with masses of great lifting that despatched the ladies aloft in various stark and inflexible poses. They had been merely as in all likelihood to fall apart, backs arched, heads lolling again, of their companions’ grips.
As the panels of the mild orb modified colorations like some arbitrary, cosmic visitors sign, which means and opportunities shifted, too. Was it braveness or acquiescence those figures had been enacting? So it became each, a potent fusing of mutual inconsistencies, an expression of loss of life’s inevitability and our natural urge to deny it. And nevertheless, they kept coming, more and more figures emerging from the shadows to be seen and felt before they, too, grew to become and walked away.
One last, soul-tearing thing remained as Lauren Strongin, and Joseph Walsh turned their pas de deux into a super time-prevent. Their limber, bending, deeply loving union wasn’t closing, lingering threat at love. Instead, it was undoubtedly, profoundly, a human connection before the light began to fade and fall from above.
“Rodeo” means Agnes de Mille to audiences anywhere. Her 1942 ballet of bow-legged cowboys and hoedowns and a feisty tomboy searching out love is a sparkly staple of the repertoire. Now forget about all that.