It’s that time again, ballet season. Only this year is a ballet season like no other. This year ballet season has gone virtual. Rather than trekking up to the bay area, this year I am enjoying ballet on-demand at home.
Last spring we went ahead and renewed our tickets for this year; optimism being the best antidote to quarantine doomscrolling. Unfortunately, as we all know, the pandemic continues. To their credit, San Francisco Ballet decided fairly early last fall that they would not have a live season this year and pivoted to produce their first digital ballet season.
There is no denying that I am disappointed to miss my weekend visits, spending time with my mom and sister, getting dressed up, going out to dinner, and especially dissecting the performance on the car ride home. It turns out there is something to be said for ballet on-demand from the comfort of my living room. Especially since I finally got to see Midsummer Night’s Dream!
San Francisco Ballet was able to film one performance of Midsummer last March after the shutdown. One moment in particular almost seemed creepy: in the second act divertissement there was one very flashy pas de deux danced by Francis Chung and Ulrik Birkkjaer. It had all the leaps and turns and lifts that would normally receive a bunch of applause. At the end, when went to take their bows there was silence. Up until that point I had just been enjoying the dancing, suddenly I was thinking about what a different place the world was in March of 2020, how none of those dancers would have ever guessed how they would be spending the ensuing months.
Ok, enough about that, let’s talk about the ballet.
I won’t go into a whole recap of the libretto; you can find that on the SF Ballet website here. Basically, the whole play takes place in the first act and then the second act is a big divertissement. I love how the action moves quickly and the emphasis on telling the story through the dancing rather than injecting a bunch of pantomime (very Balanchine).
One of my favorite elements of the performance are the bugs who were danced by children from the San Francisco Ballet School. Children in story ballets are often just there to sell tickets but the role of bugs really added a lot to this production. The choreography was suitable yet challenging and their expressions were great. I can’t imagine having to flutter my hands for what seemed like endless minutes, those kids were real troupers.
The star of the show is of course Puck who was danced by soloist Cavan Conley. This guy kind-of stole the show as far as I’m concerned. The role is both very athletic and comedic and he was dynamic and expressive in his portrayal.
Another excellent soloist was Sasha Mukhamedov who danced the role of Hippolyta, Queen of the Amazons. She is a very powerful dancer, perfectly cast for the role.
Watching the ballet on-demand in my living room, I was able to notice a lot of things that I would have missed if we had been at the opera house. Even so, I’m still hopeful that I will get to see this production live at some point in the future.
The second performance of the San Francisco Ballet digital season, COLORFORMS by Myles Thatcher, has launched. I am looking forward to checking it out and reporting back soon.