Val Caniparoli's "Tears": A World Premiere at San Francisco Ballet

Program two at San Francisco Ballet opened this week with a triple-bill of works commissioned by the company including the world premiere of Val Caniparoli's Tears and an encore of two more from the previous season -- Alexei Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands and Wayne McGregor's Borderlands.

Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz in Caniparoli's Tears. Photo, Erik Tomasson

The opening night production of Tears featured Lorena Feijóo, Vitor Luiz, Sasha De Sola, Tiit Helimets, Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison. An appealing men's quartet from the corps de ballet included Gaetano Amico, Sean Orza, Benjamin Stewart, and Myles Thatcher. Caniparoli's ballet is set to minimalist composer Steve Reich's 1979 orchestral work, Variations for Winds, Strings, and Keyboards. The dance begins with a brief loop of rainfall, which is then taken over by an effervescent and repeating pattern of cascading harmonies played on an electronic organ. Up stage center, the lights are focused on Lorena Feijóo as she advances toward the audience. The steady pulses begin changing slightly providing additional luster as the melodies become enriched with an additional keyboard. At center front, Feijóo is radiant in a costume designed by Sandra Woodall and with lighting by Clifton Taylor. It is the kind of entrance that is not only resplendent in dramatic content, but altogether sublime when attached to international superstar Lorena Feijóo.

The chords and instrumentation becomes more complex with the entrance of Vitor Luiz. The pas de deux is at first gamesome and flirtatious. With another shift in harmony and the addition of brass and strings, the interchange between the duo is increasingly passionate and muscular. Recalling their opening night performances in Giselle and the dramatic clarity of their storybook characters, Lorena Feijóo and Vitor Luiz are likewise masters of the abstract. Tears has no characters, there is no plot. The two worked closely with Caniparoli, translating his core inspirations around the element of water into a ballet that would incorporate eight additional dancers. Since the score has no signature melodies or leit motifs, the task was to create certain lengths of choreography that would fit throughout the work's twenty-two minutes of unrelenting rhythm. The plan made the drill of the rehearsal process more user-friendly. With successive casts, any perceived messaging rests in the energy and aura of the individual dancer.

Sasha De Sola and Tiit Helimets in Caniparoli's Tears. Photo, Erik Tomasson

As with the vast majority of Classical works, especially opera, it always benefits the ticket holder to do a bit of homework prior to the performance or to read the synopsis and perhaps the biographies of the artists in the playbill. Some reluctant viewers complained of feeling completely lost during the previous production of A Midsummer Night's Dream by the Hamburg Ballet. And as with the opening production of Giselle, understanding the nature and agenda of the female ghosts (the Wilis) flying about in modified bridal attire will undoubtedly enhance the experience of the dancers' prolonged ensembles along with their eternal hatred of men -- all men -- no matter the shape, age occupation or size of bank account.

The same will hold true for Val Caniparoli's Tears. According to the always informative program notes provided by Cheryl A. Ossola, the inspiration behind his ballet is the element of water -- its life-giving power, its forms and manifestations, the environmental consequences we face and even our tears. A statement from early conservationist John Muir also fueled his creative spirit: "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."

Steve Reich's intriguing score was never intended for the ballet stage. But works of other composers in his musical genre, including Terry Riley and Philip Glass have been re-imagined into successful dance pieces. The rhythms and moods of contemporary classical composers will keep the traditions alive and well.

Val Caniparoli's vision for Tears is not a call to action and may not spark a political response. But it is a sparkling well of creativity for San Francisco Ballet.

Photos courtesy of the San Francisco Ballet.