101 in 1001 #86: See a ballet.

One of the aspects of my Minneapolis life that I have missed the most since moving Bay-side is total immersion in the arts world. I've saved a lot of money by NOT going to an opera, symphony, or play on a legit weekly basis (well, actually, I've spent soooome of those savings on wine, but I digress)...but I so miss the feeling of watching the lights go down and the curtain rise. 

Minneapolis doesn't have a robust ballet scene, and as such I never really got into the medium, choosing instead to focus on the Guthrie and Minnesota Orchestra/Opera. San Francisco, on the other hand, has an absolutely outstanding ballet that is breaking boundaries and innovating on a grand scale. The latest example? Their spring "Unbound" series, which was inspired by a question posed by their director: "What is the future of ballet?"

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Choreographers responded with their interpretations - half-hour mini-ballets, that were later grouped by broad theme and performed in sets of three as part of the Unbound Festival over the last month. Dave's cousin Francesca invited me to join her for one, and as it was really my first non-Nutcracker ballet experience, I jumped to say yes. 

After fighting brutal traffic, I was rewarded with Karl the Fog-free skies over the Civic Center, and the most amazing arancini and sangiovese at Dobb's Ferry pre-show. 

This was also my first experience with the War Memorial Opera House, where Michael and I will take in the entire Ring Cycle in just under a month! The building was jaw-droppingly stunning - exactly the kind of old-world opulence that makes me happy. 

As for the ballets? I was incredibly grateful to have Francesca with me to decode some of the more subtle nuances, but honestly, the entire evening was a viscerally intense joyride. The San Francisco Ballet is known for having ridiculously athletic dancers, much moreso than other ballets in the US; as such, their choreography and style truly pushes the limits of what ballet has traditionally been considered to represent or encompass. The three pieces we saw seemed disparate at first glance, but came together in the end to support a theme of contrast/duality/opposition and harmony.

The first piece was much more abstract - almost a Jets-and-Sharks style antipathy, stylistically very sparse and driven by the use of different-colored costumes that almost completely obscured the gender of each dancer. The second, a riff on Edith Wharton's "Ethan Frome," was easily my favorite - lyrical and emotive, with a lush score and stunning choreography. As the piece required only three principal dancers, the ensemble danced as both falling snow and "the emotions of the leads;" in reading the program I scoffed a bit but it was incredibly effective in person. 

The third, which I wasn't really sure about initially, used really interesting black-and-white costumes to separate males and females. The choreography of the third piece emphasized synchronous movements rather than the more pas-de-deux focused style of "Ethan Frome," and ended with the entire ensemble moving together downstage, finishing on one perfectly-timed group leap airborne as the curtain dropped. I was genuinely on the edge of my seat watching, and left the theater on a total high. 

Needless to say, I'll definitely be revisiting the SF Ballet in the future - because of COURSE I need another expensive and time-consuming new arts passion, ha! 

Check out more 101 in 1001 here...lots coming down the docket soon!