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San Francisco Ballet presents second Triple Bill

SF Ballet in Wheeldon's 'Ghosts'
SF Ballet in Wheeldon's 'Ghosts'
Photo: Erik Tomasson

Swiftly following the opening of its Program 2 Triple Bill, San Francisco Ballet presents a second three-work program - this time featuring The Kingdom of the Shades from La Bayadère, Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts and Yuri Possokov’s Firebird.

La Bayadère (The Temple Dancer) was originally staged by French choreographer Marius Petipa, for the Imperial Ballet in St Petersburg on February 4, 1877. It was premiered in the United States, by American Ballet Theatre, on May 21, 1980 in an interpretation by former Kirov ballerina, Natalia Makarova. The most well-known excerpt from the ballet is the exquisite Kingdom of the Shades from Act II, and it was the Makarova version which was first performed by the San Francisco Ballet on March 9, 2000.

La Bayadère is set in India - an exotic tale of love, loss and revenge - in which the bayadère, Nikiya, and the warrior, Solor, have sworn eternal love. The High Brahmin is also in love with Nikiya, but his plot to do away with Solor backfires, and Nikiya dies. Solor, in an opium-induced euphoria, has a vision of Nikiya, in the starlit mountain peaks of the Himalayas, known as The Kingdom of the Shades, in which a host of ethereal beings descend from the slopes.

The original score for La Bayadère was written by Ludwig Minkus, and re-orchestrated by John Lanchberry, composer/conductor of the Royal Opera House, for Rudolf Nureyev’s staging of The Kingdom of the Shades for the Royal Ballet in 1963. It’s this orchestration to which Makarova’s staging for San Francisco Ballet is performed.

The score for Christopher Wheeldon’s Ghosts was written by C Kip winger, former bassist for Alice Cooper during the 1980s. Inspired by having seen three of Wheeldon’s ballets, Winger decided to write a piece of music for him. “The title Ghosts popped into my head when I was writing the cello solo in the first movement,” he said. This, in turn, inspired Wheeldon to “create the atmosphere of a mass gathering of souls, such as might occur after a tragedy” - what he describes as “.... more like perfume than a heavy sort of ghost story”.

Ghosts had its World Premiere on February 9, 2010, performed by San Francisco Ballet, at the War Memorial Opera House.

Firebird, based on Slavic folk stories, is a combination of two tales - of the triumph of good over evil, and of unrequited love. The original ballet, L’Oiseau de feu, was choreographed by Michel Fokine in 1910 for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, to a score by Igor Stravinsky. Yuri Possokhov’s staging for San Francisco Ballet in 2007 was a reimagining of a production which he’d made for Oregan Ballet Theatre in 2004.

The firebird in Slavic folklore is a magical, glowing creature which can be both a blessing and a curse to anyone who captures it. In the ballet, the Firebird falls in love with the Prince who captures her, and when he releases her, she vows to protect him should he ever be in danger. When danger presents itself in the form of the evil Kaschei, the Firebird comes to the Prince’s rescue, only to have her heart broken.

San Francisco Ballet’s Program 3 Triple Bill opens at the War Memorial Opera House on February 20, and - alternating with the Program 2 Triple Bill - runs until March 2. For details on performances, times and tickets, please visit the San Francisco Ballet website.

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