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Affluent S.F. Ballet gala opens a rich season

Esteban Hernandez, Dores André and Gennadi Nedvigin in Kobborg's "Les Lutins"
Esteban Hernandez, Dores André and Gennadi Nedvigin in Kobborg's "Les Lutins"Photo by Erik Tomasson

2014 opening gala of San Francisco Ballet

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Every major performing arts organization uses the season opening as a dressy, fancy event to raise funds and rally the faithful among benefactors and audiences.

Opening galas by the San Francisco Ballet (http://www.sfballet.org) in the War Memorial are among the biggest and most lucrative of such events. Tonight, the gala signaling the company's 81st repertory season raised $2.4 million, according to a pre-curtain announcement.

(A bit of statistics: in the still-young West, the city's Symphony is 103 years old, the Opera 91, and the country's oldest ballet company began as the San Francisco Opera Ballet in 1933, hence the designation of 81. In fact, before and during World War II, several seasons went dark, so it's not really the 81st season, but definitely the age of the company.)

The biggest hits of the varied gala program were virtuoso performances - such as the Pas de Cinque of Johan Kobborg's "Les Lutins," and gorgeously athletic-charming performances on the order of Frances Chung's solo from Val Caniparoli's "Lambarena."

Calling Kobborg's Jerome Robbins-style piece a "dance for five" is a bit of a stretch, but not by much: pianist Roy Bogas and violinist Kurt Nikkanen - playing spirited music by Wieniawski and Bazzini - were fully involved, especially Nikkanen, and they helped to unleash some hilarious and acrobatic moves from Dores Andre (lookingly improbably manly), Esteban Hernandez, and Gennadi Nedvigin.

Kobborg was also in evidence, as a guest artist, partnering Maria Kochetkova in the bedroom pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan's "Manon."

Pair after pair displayed the company's great strength of having many stars: Sarah Van Patten and Tiit Helimets in the MacMillan "Concerto," Mathilde Froustey and Davit Karapetyan in Victor Gsovksy's "Grand Pas Classique," Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Edwaard Liang's "Finding Light," and more. Many more.

The Ballet Orchestra, under Martin West's direction, did a fine job. They have their work cut out for them - and the musically inclined audience has much to expect - during the season, which has what West calls "the most diverse repertoire of any company I know."

New works and classics, the variety of the S.F. Ballet season compares favorably with that of many symphony orchestras, never mind ballet companies.

After the Jan. 25-Feb.2 "Giselle" on the first program (http://www.sfballet.org/tickets/production/overview/giselle-2014) of the season, here's what's coming:

John Neumeier's "A Midsummer Night’s Dream" (Feb. 12-13) is set on music by Mendelssohn and Ligeti; Program 2 (Feb. 18-March 1) offers Moritz Moszkowski's music for Alexei Ratmansky's "From Foreign Lands" and music by Joel Cadbury and Paul Stoney for Wayne McGregor's "Borderlands."

The world premiere on the program, by the musically always adventurous Val Caniparoli, is Steve Reich's "Variations for Winds, Strings and Keyboards," commissioned and first performed by the San Francisco Symphony in 1980.

Program 3 (Feb. 20-March2) will have the Yuri Possokhov "Firebird" to the Stravinsky score, Christopher Wheeldon's "Ghosts" to music by C.F. Kip Winger, and Act II of the Minkus "Bayadère," with Leon Minkus' music.

Wheeldon's "Cinderella" is to Prokofiev's score in Program 4 (March 11-23), followed by Alexei Ratmansky's "Trilogy" to Shostakovich's Ninth Symphony, Piano Concerto No. 1, and the Chamber Symphony for Strings in C minor.

Stravinsky returns to Program 6 (March 11-23), with "The Rite of Spring," choreographed by Possokhov, Mark Morris' "Maelstrom," with Beethoven's music, and a world premiere by Helgi Tomasson, "Symphonic Caprice," to Saint-Saëns’ Symphony No. 2, plus the Adagio from Symphony No. 3.

Program 7 (April 29-May 10) is especially varied: a world premiere by Liam Scarlett, to Philip Glass' "Tirol Concerto" for Piano and Orchestra; Tomasson's "The Fifth Season" to a Karl Jenkins score; and Serge Lifar's classic "Suite en Blanc," set to music excerpted from the 1882 ballet "Namouna" by Èdouard Lalo.

The season-closer Program 8 (May 1-11) has two music-identified titles: George Balanchine's "Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet" and Jerome Robbins' (Philip) "Glass Pieces," plus Balanchine's "Agon" to the Stravinsky score.