Watching “Within the Golden Hour, ” the second ballet of the San Francisco Ballet’s Program 4 was, to me, as satisfying as it gets. “I may as well go home now,” I joked afterward, amid the applause, to the woman next to me. “It can’t get better than this.” But, surprise. The third ballet was another winner. Gorgeous costumes, stellar dancing, another dose of that neoclassic post-Balanchine style choreography, much like “Within the Golden Hour,” that comes across as both innovative and classic, and a true pleasure to watch.
It was an audience-friendly production in general, starting with Balanchine’s easy-on-the-eyes “Scotch Symphony.” Christopher Wheeldon’s “Within the Golden Hour” followed and the program culminated with Alexei Ratmansky’s “From Foreign Lands.” All the accompanying music was highly satisfying too, particularly in the wake of the previous night’s opener, a John Adams atonal composition, which made the ballet and its fine choreography seem a bit wearying after a spell. Program 4 utilized the work of Mendelssohn in “Scotch Symphony,” contemporary composer Ezio Bosso (with a little help from Antonio Vivaldi) in “Within the Golden Hour” and late 19th century composer Moritz Moszkowski in “From Foreign Lands.” I particularly enjoyed the Ezio Basso score, not surprising, as it featured some gorgeous solo violin and viola work within it. Like the choreography, it was contemporary yet classical, melodic. Haunting. I loved it.
Program 4 standouts for me included all of “Within the Golden Hour” and, in particular, the pas de deux with Damian Smith and Vanessa Zahorian. That their dancing would be powerful, nuanced, polished, is pretty much a given with these two longtime principals, but there seemed to be a special magic within this pairing that made everything in me fall utterly still, utterly enamored, hoping they would never leave the stage.
Another one of my favorites, from both this performance and the previous night’s, is principal Sarah Van Patten. She is such an interesting dancer to watch, her movements both fluid and sharply articulated. I noticed this particularly during her Program 3 performance in “Guide to Strange Places.” She has the ability to halt a phrase so abruptly, as if she can arrive in that place a millisecond before intended, and hold it a millisecond longer. It’s almost like the way a violinist can toy with rubato—stretching out a note, a phrase—becoming a master of time manipulation to suit one’s interpretation. It’s fascinating to watch. I have never seen a less-than-stellar performance from this gifted dancer.
I haven’t much mentioned “Scotch Symphony.” Yes, was lovely to watch, charming and light-hearted, but the truth is, I found it rather forgettable in comparison to the other two ballets. Sorry, Mr. Balanchine. I suppose everyone will have their favorites for the night, which will dim the others by comparison. My vote would be for “Within the Golden Hour.”
Hats off, SFB. Program 4 is a winner.