San Francisco Ballet's wildly successful recent premiere of Don Quixote, a classical standby finessed by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson and principal dancer Yuri Possokhov, brought in $1.5 million and served as a kind of insurance for the company's 2003 closing program: three world premieres by emerging choreographers Julia Adam, Alexei Ratmansky, and Stanton Welch. Though it's a risk for ballet companies to present an entire night of new work by not-yet-household names, the potential payoffs are clear. Choreographers get a much-needed opportunity to hone their craft, dancers expand their repertoires, and audiences join history in the making. It can be an electrifying experiment on both sides of the curtain, and though traditionalists may grumble that ballets just aren't made like they once were, others can counter that the medium isn't likely to survive this century if it doesn't nurture new work and groom artists to become the next Ashton or Balanchine.
Alexei Ratmansky floors 'em during a rehearsal of
Le Carnaval des Animaux.
That said, "Program 8" isn't a huge gamble -- though these choreographers were originally known as dancers, companies have been taking note of their dance-making skills for some time and commissioning them to produce work internationally. Local ballet fans know Adam from her five-year tenure as an SFB principal dancer. Her earliest foray into choreography, The Medium Is the Message, a bluesy piece for three dancers and a couch done for SFB's 1993 Choreographic Workshop, won her a Bravo channel recording and an Isadora Duncan Award; she garnered a second Izzie for 1997's 13 Lullabies and a warm reception for the 2000 piece Night, a kind of shadowy dreamscape. Her latest is an abstract ensemble piece called imaginal disc, inspired by the process of metamorphosis.
Welch, just 34, has metamorphosed quickly from late-blooming student (he started training at 17, a good 10 years later than most pros) to soloist and resident choreographer with his native Australian Ballet to recently named artistic director of Houston Ballet. Widely considered one of the more promising choreographic talents of his generation, Welch brings us Tu Tu, a contemporary 22-dancer piece with classical costumes and technique, set to Ravel. Camille Saint-Saëns' Le Carnaval des Animaux, which London's Ballet Rambert originally offered in 1943 as a Victorian child's introduction to the wild kingdom, gets a makeover here from Ratmansky, a Royal Danish Ballet principal whose previous remakes include a gender-bending Cinderellaand a Nutcrackeraswirl with malevolent Snowflakes. This Carnavalis transformed by Ratmansky's comic take on how the animals move. Like New York City Ballet fans, who will see a different, new Carnaval this month in Manhattan (choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, another of this era's rising young dance-makers), local dancegoers can hope to remember this program as the night they saw the debut of something great.