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San Francisco Ballet: Shostakovich Trilogy review at Sadler’s Wells, London – ‘crisp technique’

San Francisco Ballet at Sadler's Wells, London. Photo: Erik Tomasson.

Though San Francisco Ballet’s formidably neat style is distinctly American, the opening programme in its season at Sadler’s Wells is also scattered with allusions to the Soviet Union.

This is the era during which choreographer Alexei Ratmansky was born. It can be glimpsed in the flashes of red that distinguish the costumes of the final work and in the broken stars and sickles that hang like a giant mobile above the stage. There are hints of Soviet spectacle as the dancers shift into military lines or are paraded in grand lifts.

This triple bill, set to Dmitri Shostakovich’s music, is tied together by humour. Symphony #9 is the most light-hearted piece. Its quick switches and speedy échappés bring a comic touch to the movement. The dancers’ fast footwork is also a show of virtuosity. Wei Wang’s sporadic appearances encapsulate this.

Chamber Symphony is, in contrast, a sombre work. It appears as a reflection of one individual’s inner turmoil. Yet even here there is humour. Lead dancer Ulrik Birkkjaer’s bashful, if overacted, interpretation lends a tongue-in-cheek tone to Shostakovich’s darker, more dramatic moments.

Ratmansky’s approach to classical ballet is playful and modern and the closing work, Piano Concerto #1, has a distinctive sense of freedom. Its lyrical, off-centred quality of movement encapsulates the changing emotions of Shostakovich’s music as the mood shifts from dramatic to mournful to joyful.

Each work in this programme has its own character, but throughout we see San Francisco Ballet’s crisp technique and, most importantly, a touch of humanity in Ratmanksy’s irrepressible penchant for humour.

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Crisp technique and a touch of humour define this strong triple bill from San Francisco Ballet