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San Francisco Ballet at the Paris Opera

By Patricia Boccadoro

PARIS, 13 June 2001 - Paris and San Francisco, two art-loving cities, and two dance-loving centres. The San Francisco Ballet, founded in 1933, is the oldest repertory company in the United States. It was performing the full-length classics as early as 1939, and today, despite the fact that the dancers come from widely divergent backgrounds including Spain, France, Cuba and Russia as well as America, there is a unity of style and the troupe possesses a marked personality of its own.

After a successful first programme of short contemporary pieces, where the troupe showed off one of its strongest assets, home choreographers, with recent works by Mark Morris and Helgi Tomasson, artistic director since 1985, a second programme was given a few days later.

Mark Morris: Sandpaper Baller
Sandpaper Ballet
Choreography: Mark Morris / Photo: Icare

Othello, choreography Lar Lubovitch , was created by the American Ballet Theatre in 1997 and by San Francisco the following year. It is a powerful, full-length, narrative work. Bold and exuberant, it is a strange mixture of clashing styles, alas neither classical nor contemporary, although these days, that is hardly a criticism.

A poor first act was not helped along by the discordant, strident music composed by Elliot B. Goldenthal obviously intended to reflect the emotional turmoil of the protagonists, but it was so loud it made the amphitheatre vibrate. This time, I do not think the Orchestre Colonne, bashing away and valiantly conducted by Scott Speck was entirely to blame. Most of the audience knew it was a story of envy, greed and jealousy, so there was no need to hammer home the message in this way especially at the beginning .

However, the weakest moment came at the start of act II, when it seemed Lubovitch was treating us to a foretaste of Notre Dame de Paris, the work he created for Walt Disney the following year. This, the programme said , was a port full of anguished women , waiting for their men to come home, but for those who did not have that information, it must have been most confusing. It could have been anywhere. Poor use was made of what was evidently a fine corps de ballet, with repetitive, clumsy and unnecessary movements. Was all this intentional? To show us that this was a love flawed from the start?


However, at the very moment several people gave up and slipped quietly out of their seats, Bianca, interpreted by the vivacious Alice Luan Lewitzke came on stage, Desdemona lost her handkerchief, and the ballet began to have a meaning.

The Moor's wife was interpreted by the romantic and poetic Lucia Lacarra, whose presence illuminated the stage. Pupil of Victor Ullate and his Madrid school, Lacarra , who created the title role in Tomassin's staging of "Giselle", is a ballerina in the same class as Alessandra Ferri. She allies very great fragility and delicacy with speed and beauty, and when on stage, it's difficult to keep your eyes off her. Sublime throughout, she had an excellent partner in the impassioned Cyril Pierre, a strong, but gullible and stupid Othello. Damian Smith was a fiendish Iago, and Julia Adam, the ill-used Emilia who betrays her mistress.

Lubovitch: Othello
Yuan Yuan Tan in Othello
Choreography: Lar Lubovitch / Photo: Icare

But in spite of the colour, high theatricality, and brilliance of the principal dancers who danced their hearts out, it seems rather a pity the company chose to bring such an imperfect work to Paris, home of the traditional classics. It was perhaps a fair gamble to bring a new ballet by a different choreographer, but the first half was too full of faults. Despite the claims in the programme of Lubovitch returning to Shakespeare's sources, Hecatommithi, a series of stories by Giraldi Cinthio, and finding 'buried treasure', there appeared to be nothing particularly different from Shakespeare.

The superb quality of the last act can only make one regret that Lubovitch chose to make a two and a half hour work instead of a tautly knit one act ballet or a series of tableau which concentrated on the principal characters and their emotions. Othello in Paris was not an unqualified success..


Patricia Boccadoro writes on dance in Europe. She contributes to The Guardian, The Observer and Dancing Times and was dance consultant to the BBC Omnibus documentary on Rudolf Nureyev. Ms. Boccadoro is the dance editor for Culturekiosque.com.

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