March 15, 2007 5:35 pm

Eden/Eden, War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco

For the record: the San Francisco Ballet’s questing artistic director Helgi Tomasson signed up Wayne McGregor long before he joined The Royal Ballet as resident choreographer. McGregor’s calling card in the American ballet world, a cautionary essay on the ethical implications of cloning, was commissioned by the Stuttgart Ballet in 2005, but Tomasson’s sleek, sophisticated Olympians have embraced the work’s skewed lexicon as if it had been designed for them.

McGregor’s inspiration, Steve Reich’s Dolly, a vocal-instrumental score with running vocal commentary, is an ideal complement to this dance. Both artists obsess about the perils of technology. And both deliver their message in a series of highly defined rhythmic outbursts, punctuated by moments of saturnine wit. No sheep here. In this multimedia onslaught, McGregor’s dancers emerge in ones and twos from beneath the stage, while an Edenic tree looms over the scene. The performers are bald, they feign nudity, and the struggles for balance, the uncannily arched backs, the torsos barely under control, the pivots at right angles suggest a species freshly minted in a laboratory. Limbs jut at unnatural angles, seemingly attached by mechanical means.

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In the alternate Eden, the process of socialisation begins. Instead of donning fig leaves, the nine replicants are sheathed in skirts like fashion mannequins. The women separate from the men. Slowly McGregor spices his movement with glimmers of humanity. Legs twitter with intricate beats and tentative entrechats. The mixed vocabulary doesn’t propose a solution, but it does dare to suggest that the distinction between life as we know it and life as we manufacture it grows ever slimmer. Led by the extraordinarily elongated Muriel Maffre, the dancers set the stage ablaze.

The programme also revives the company’s Paul Taylor commission, Spring Rounds, a tender vernal excursion, set to late, neo- baroque Richard Strauss. The dancers have smoothly incorporated the choreographer’s weighted signature modernisms without loosening their classical moorings. In Chi Lin, Tomasson exalts both his remarkable array of buffed male principals and his locally groomed Chinese ballerina, Yuan Yuan Tan, before engulfing them in a panoply of parade ground kitsch.
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