As San Francisco Ballet nears the end of its 2014 season, there are still three more performances of its penultimate program - a triple bill featuring Helgi Tomasson’s The Fifth Season, Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc and the Company’s World Premiere production of Liam Scarlett’s Hummingbird.
Helgi Tomasson selected music by contemporary Welsh composer, Karl Jenkins, for The Fifth Season, on the basis that it was both relevant to today, and also romantic. Jenkins, who started out as a jazz musician, has since spread his talent over a number of musical categories - advertising, films, orchestras and festivals - and the fact that his music isn’t often used for ballet, gave Tomasson another reason to use his String Quartet No 2.
The work also presented Tomasson with an opportunity for wider creative exploration - because of the diversity of the five movements - ranging from baroque-inspired to tango and waltz - to which he added Jenkins’ well-known Palladio, for the adagio pas de deux. The Fifth Season takes its name from the first movement of the String Quartet.
Suite en Blanc is a series of divertissements choreographed by Serge Lifar for the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1943, during his time with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Lifar selected for the score a number of excerpts from Édouard Lalo’s music for the 1882 ballet Namouna.
San Francisco Ballet is one of the few American companies to have performed this work, and the staging is once more in the extremely experienced hands of Maina Gielgud, who was involved with the ballet “for the better part of my career”, she says. Gielgud danced several of the roles in Suite en Blanc, the first as a 15-year-old student for a gala in Paris, a role for which she was coached by Lifar himself. It's an elegant, neo-classical work, with more than a hint of the Balanchine style - hardly surprising, since Lifar created the title roles in Balanchine’s Apollon Musagète and The Prodigal Son during their Ballets Russes days.
Liam Scarlett, creator of Hummingbird, is very much a traditionalist when it comes to choreography. Having trained at the Royal Ballet School, he has been artist-in-residence at The Royal Ballet since 2012 - a role which was created for him. “The classical tradition is embedded in me,” he says. “I love working from where I’ve come from, using all the technique I’ve been taught and then trying to put a twist on it.” He describes Hummingbird as “very abstract based, however, as with a lot of my work, I think relationships creep in and there’s an evocation of some idea of an emotion, or a kind of underlying thematic subject”.
For his score, Scarlett chose Philip Glass’ Tirol Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, a work for piano and strings. “It’s a complex, methodical, layered piece,” says Scarlett, “[with] different counterpoint melodies from what you’d expect.” He was drawn to this work by the second movement - a melodic, lilting piece - which he describes as “beautiful and touching” and having “a kind of a Ravel’s Bolero-style building and layering”.
For more detail on these works, for tickets, and to see some video clips, visit the San Francisco Ballet website. The remaining performances are on May 8 at 8.00 pm and May 10 at 2.00 pm and 8.00 pm.