Opening a New York season with George Balanchine’s Divertimento, one of his great ballets, gloriously matched to Mozart’s music of the same title in the theatre where the master choreographer’s New York City Ballet made its first home, might sound like hubris. The work is a bold, technically challenging choice. But SFB threw it off with the panache of a troupe long familiar with it. And why not? This, the oldest professional ballet company in America, has close ties to Balanchine. Helgi Tomasson, its artistic director, who has guided the company for 23 years, was a principal with City Ballet.

within the golden hour

In an all too rare appearance here with full company and orchestra, Divertimento set a tone of relaxation and confidence. Yet one couldn’t avoid making comparisons with how City Ballet dances the piece, with its charming weave of solos and pas de deux in romantically classic style. Differences in dancers’ personalities, the way the corps looked; a certain way of approaching steps (the company is blessed with some of the best dancers anywhere and in this ballet the men were particularly strong) made Divertimento look new. Taras Domitro, Ruben Martin and Gennadi Nedvigin effortlessly bounded through their variations and partnered with attention. Tina LeBlanc and Frances Chung shone in their variations and everyone else followed their example of lightness and precision, even though the corps was a bit stiff at first.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, premiered earlier this year, is one of his best yet. It features an ensemble of 12 with three principal couples, set to a lightweight score by Ezio Bosso plus a movement from a Vivaldi violin concerto. Its main glories are in the contrasts between the dense, integrated work for the ensemble and the series of pas de deux that are limpidly lyrical or lighthearted, particularly a wonderful little waltz danced by Katita Waldo and Damian Smith, which turns a bit jazzy as the corps joins in.

Wheeldon’s way with a lift is often for the women to be lofted high to wheel around their partners, one leg extended; he also makes much use of floor work without belabouring it. Sarah Van Patten and Pierre-François Vilanoba’s achingly beautiful pas de deux (pictured) has her yearning ever outwards but ends in muted harmony.

James F Ingalls’ lighting provides the background, but the several long ornamental strips that rise and descend above the action are to my mind unnecessary. Martin Pakledinaz’s costumes, short soft skirts over leotards with glittery touches for the women, are flattering. Wheeldon’s masterly use of space and his understanding of the parameters of what dancers can achieve without making them look grotesque are among the elements contributing to his outstanding career, and are much in evidence here.

After two such ballets, SFB choreographer-in-residence Yuri Possokhov’s Fusion was on a lesser level. Still, his attempt to compare and contrast Middle Eastern dances, with four whirling dervishes impeding classical ballet dancers in their amorous pas de deux, had its moments. Not least of these was Yuan Yuan Tan, an elegant dancer who managed to infuse glamour and style into a work that came across more as confusion than fusion.

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