Helgi Tomasson took the risk Tuesday night with SFB's subscription program No. 2 at the War Memorial Opera House. It's not that the other pieces aren't worthy, serious, even entertaining, but they were obliterated by Balanchine's high-minded, physically ravishing, tender meditation on the Greek myth and its fabulous Stravinsky score.
If there was one thing that killed the other two pieces in this context Tomasson's "Blue Rose" (a world premiere) and Christopher Wheeldon's "Quaternary" (made for SFB during last summer's Paris visit) it was their music, especially juxtaposed with the Stravinsky.
Apparently people still need to be reminded that dance comes from music. The choreographer who has "an idea," as Wheeldon apparently did, and then looks for an existing score, has already got a strike against him.
Tomasson liked a CD by Elena Kats-Cherin, a Russian living in Australia. Unfortunately, her jazzy piano-violin duos sound like Kmart Scott Joplin. Natasha Feygina (piano) and Roy Malan (violin) did their best and the charming slip dresses by Judana Lynn made the girls look like real women rather than stick figure ballerinas.
The dancing by three couples was suitably lighthearted. Tiny Tina LeBlanc was perfectly partnered by diminutive, cheeky Pascal Molat. Saucy Lorena Feijoo turned the heat on hunky Pierre-Francois Vilanoba and Vanessa Zahorian was squired by the fascinating Nicholas Blanc, who also had a duet with Vilanoba.
"Blue Rose" is a slight, happy piece that will do fine on another program, but I don't know what to make of "Quaternary." Wheeldon has done four works for SFB. One was a masterpiece; one a disaster. This one fits in the middle. It's not bad, but it is pretentious and
It also takes an omnibus approach to music that I don't think works, because the musical choices have no cohesion and, except for Bach, aren't easy to listen to. Also, the "Four Seasons" theme feels forced.
Yuan Yuan Tan (the limpid Terpsichore in "Apollo") is partnered by Damian Smith in "Winter" (music: John Cage's "Perilous Night" for prepared piano).
A much lighter "Spring" (with a green backdrop) features Feijoo and Joan Boada, LeBlanc and Blanc (to Bach solo cello). Michael McGraw was the pianist, David Kadarauch the cellist.
"Summer" was the most interesting, with Muriel Maffre and Yuri Possokhov involved in an angular, tortured duet to Arvo Part's "Fur Alina for Piano." Then, in "Autumn," the duo of Katita Waldo and Vilanoba (hideous electric guitar played by composer Steven Mackey) were joined by a corps.
I came away from the evening with my ears ringing unpleasantly and my head full of Gonzalo Garcia's grave, simple, eloquent grace in the title role of "Apollo."