Possokhov and Scarlett bring two world premieres to the SFB stage

With The Sleeping Beauty all wrapped up at the War Memorial Opera House, it’s officially the halfway point for San Francisco Ballet’s 2019 repertory season. Last season’s Unbound: A Festival of New Works (which I blogged about HERE) gave the company twelve world premieres, several of which are being repeated this season. But 2019 brings its own two world premieres, which are forthcoming, in Programs 5 and 6.

Program 5, “Lyric Voices,” which runs March 27 through April 7, features the world premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s “. . . two united in a single soul . . .” It’s choreographer-in-residence Possokhov’s 15th work created for the San Francisco Ballet, and he’s drawn from the Greek myth of Narcissus, the hunter who falls in love with his own reflection in a forest spring and wastes away, pining for unattainable love. Possokhov, whose work for the San Francisco Ballet includes The Rite of Spring, Firebird and Swimmer, utilizes thirteen dancers, including Narcissus, who explore moments of connection, reflection and refraction.

Wei Wang and Joseph Walsh rehearsing Possokhov’s “. . . two united in a single soul . . .”. (© Erik Tomasson)

The ballet’s music holds its own allure to me. Possokhov commissioned a score by Russian composer Daria Novo, who has fused arias by Handel—performed live, in rotation, by countertenors Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen and Matheus Coura—with electronic elements (audio plug-ins, libraries, sound effects) and her own music. The music, the countertenors, might sound surprisingly familiar to some. Remember that 1994 movie, Farinelli, a biographical drama about the 18th-century castrato Carlo Broschi?

Countertenors are today’s equivalent to the famous castrati (do I need to translate what makes them sing so high?) of the 17th and 18th centuries, and Possokhov cites the music from Farinelli as further inspiration for his ballet. “It’s the combination of the dancing and the singing that I love so much. I knew I wanted voice, and I’m fond of countertenors. The ballet is set nowhere; it’s just space-somewhere, somehow. And the voice is like the echo in the myth.”

“Lyric Voices” also includes two ballets returning from last year’s Unbound Festival. They are Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem and Christopher Wheeldon’s Bound To. Additional information about the program can be found on San Francisco Ballet’s website, in its Discover section. Dates run Wed March 27  to Sun April 7 (concurrent with Program 6). Tickets start at $32 and may be purchased via the Ticket Services Office at 415 865 2000, Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm or online at www.sfballet.org.

I can’t stop thinking about the music from Farinelli –– it’s a favorite soundtrack of mine. I have a hunch Possokhov’s ballet will include the gorgeous “Lascia Ch’io Pianga” from Handel’s Rinaldo, so to get you in the mood, here you go, something for my ballet readers and classical music readers alike.

And now about the World Premiere for Program 6, Liam Scarlett’s Die Toteninsel. It, too, includes a stunning, memorable work of classical music, Rachmaninoff’s “The Isle of the Dead.” Die Toteninsel is its German translation, and is also the name of the iconic painting by Swiss Symbolist artist Arnold Böcklin (see the embed below). Rachmaninoff’s symphonic tone poem, like the painting, is stirring and spooky and amazing; it made the list for my “10 Spooky Classical Faves for Halloween” post, which you can find HERE.

English choreographer Scarlett, artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, has created other memorable works for The San Francisco Ballet: Hummingbird, Fearful Symmetries and Frankenstein. Similar to the latter, Die Toteninsel exhibits the darkness and uneasy qualities of beauty (or, paradoxically, the beautiful qualities of darkness and unease). As Caitlin Sims explains in program notes, Scarlett uses the music and its history as a jumping off point for a more abstract work exploring the deep-rooted questions about what lies beyond this life. If Scarlett’s Frankenstein was a choreographic novel, his new ballet is more a short story—in which symbolism, movement motifs, and ambiguity both color the work and give viewers room to make diverse, individual interpretations.

Liam Scarlett and Davide Occhipinti rehearsing Scarlett’s Die Toteninsel. (© Erik Tomasson)

Scarlett draws upon the music’s repetitiveness and its unique 5/8 time signature in creating movement that grows and builds, then unexpectedly echoes itself. As a central couple emerges, surging forward and sweeping back in great arcs, their movements are reflected by groups that form and dissipate as easily as waves, giving the ephemeral “a sense of weight, and passing through one another,” says Scarlett.

Give the music a listen. It’s stunning. And the image, by the way, is the famous painting.

Also featured in Program 6 are Justin Peck’s 2015 Rodeo: Four Dances and Arthur Pita’s Björk Ballet (from last year’s Unbound Festival). Additional information about the program can be found on San Francisco Ballet’s website, in its Discover section. Dates run Friday March 29  to Tuesday April 9 (concurrent with Program 5). Tickets start at $32 and may be purchased via the Ticket Services Office at 415 865 2000, Monday through Friday from 10 am to 4 pm or online at www.sfballet.org.

2 thoughts on “Possokhov and Scarlett bring two world premieres to the SFB stage”

  1. thanks for the great post, Terez! I’m so looking forward to these two premieres and now I feel informed and ready!

    • Yay, thanks for commenting, Margaret! I’m really looking forward to them too. I’ve got a weekend in the city planned to see both programs, what fun!

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