The Monster Comes Alive: “Frankenstein” at the San Francisco Ballet
Leave your tired notions of classical ballet at coat check, for surely they will not do here. And by here, we mean at the San Francisco Ballet, where— for one weekend only—the sensation of “Frankenstein” takes the stage once more.
From the elaborate costumes to the stage lighting and sets, no detail was overlooked when bringing English choreographer Liam Scarlett’s original work, “Frankenstein" to the stage. One scene bleeds into the other, music complementing dancers, dancers bringing life to the set, and set intersecting with costumes so that nothing deters from the holistic beauty of the work.
A co-production of the Royal Ballet and San Francisco Ballet, the ties that the company has to this performance are overwhelmingly apparent. How obvious it seems that this ballet was created on and of the bodies of these dancers—the choreography befits them without any aberration. The dancers find the spikes of symphony like they were born in time to it.
Aaron Robison—guest artist courtesy of English National Ballet—agilely took the helm of last night’s production as Victor Frankenstein, with Frances Chung, Angelo Greco, and Vitor Luiz alongside him. The result was a dynamic principal cast, each with a style and character presence unique and necessary to the trajectory of the story. As for the Corps, the men came out strong—punches of movement and athletic leaps through which they remained undeniably suspended in mid-air. This is a new male dancer—with the power of the body, but the elegance of soul. While they delivered the power blows in time with the music, the women of the Corps de Ballet not only filled in the spaces with such seamlessness, but also drove the choreography forward. In Act I particularly, we found ourselves mesmerized by the energy and flawless execution of the Corps. Wild, frenetic choreography played out in perfectly synced, organized chaos, leaving the eye quite unaware of which direction to look—for stage left, right, and center, magic was playing itself out without a stop in sight.
“Frankenstein” crosses a new line in modern ballet—just as Victor Frankenstein sews together the pieces of the body to create life, so does SF Ballet weave together the romance and sensuality of ballet with the stark theatrics of a play. This is where the arts prove themselves as something pure and intangible. With a performance like this—you either strike gold or you you don’t. And with such undeniability, it appears SF Ballet has done just that.
On a broader scale, how appropriate, is it not, that upon the 200th anniversary of Mary Shelley’s novel “Frankenstein,’ the SF Ballet pulls out all the stops and viscerally breathes life into what many thought to be deceased. The arts are not dead, we can assure you. Let this performance be the defibrillator to the belief that full length, classical ballets with the staying power of all the greats, are still being choreographed and produced in our time.
In city such as San Francisco, where technological evolution is being rewritten every day, a ballet that speaks to the creation of artificial life hits closer to home than perhaps one may first realize. Humans can now actually create artificial life and intelligence through technology, but the question remains, should we? As “Frankenstein” illustrates on a grand scale, when we create without understanding or adequate follow-through, monsters are made of us as well as our creations. Surely, however, what has been created on stage here at the War Memorial Opera House has all the exacting and well-thought out, complexly constructed beauty of true, fine art.
// Performances of ”Frankenstein” run until Sunday, March 11th. Tickets available at sfballet.org. Photography courtesy of the SF Ballet.