Sadler’s Wells kicks off its autumn 2012 season with a two-week, three-programme visit from San Francisco Ballet. Not seen in London since 2004, the company is one of America’s premier troupes, and on the evidence of the first mixed bill it is in fine shape. All three programmes are best described as neo-classical, in that they feature short, plotless works rather than evening-length dance dramas. The mixed bill approach allows company director Helgi Tomasson to show off all his principal dancers - and many of his soloists and members of the corps - as well as feature multiple composers, designers and choreographers, many of the latter creating ballets for the company in the last year or two.
In the first mixed bill the dancers approach all three works with focus and flair, opening with Divertimento no. 15 by George Balanchine. It is a long, difficult ballet, made in 1956 for New York City Ballet, but the dancers prove they are on top of its testing steps and speedy pace. Indeed, starting with a ballet by Balanchine, the Russian-born founder of New York City Ballet, suggests he is their foundational choreographer, and his influence can be seen in both Symphonic Dances (2012) by Edwaard Liang and Number Nine (2011) by Christopher Wheeldon, both former dancers with New York City Ballet and steeped in Balanchine’s style and values. Both works are superbly danced, with Liang’s Symphonic Dances more sombre and Wheeldon’s Number Nine providing the evening’s sigh-off exuberance.