THE MUSIC MAN
With Seán Martinfield
Tiit Helimets, Principal Soloist - Radiance at
the San Francisco Ballet
March 5, 2006
Tiit Helimets is an extraordinary leading man. Bearing somewhat
of a resemblance to the young David Bowie, his versatility has
been wisely exploited within the first three Programs this season
at the San Francisco Ballet. He has appeared as "Apollo",
as the summer afternoon lover in QUARTERNARY, and the central
figure in the surrealistic dreamscape, MAGRITTOMANIA. Each role
is distinct in its movement, look, and What or Who it requires
the leading man to be. In some ways, a dancer in a repertory ballet
company is similar to the contracted player in the Studio System
of early Hollywood film. The fascination for the Big Name or featured
player (and the subsequent development of their Image) came about
gradually and grew from a variety of teamings with fellow players.
In retrospect, fans and historians can see where other actors
with similar traits (or reputations) might have substituted and
done equal justice to the roles. At the SF Ballet, where multiple-castings
define the term "repertory", Artistic Director Helgi
Tomasson has a keen eye towards Tiit Helimets.
For composer Igor Stravinsky's APOLLO and AS the "Apollo"
of its original choreographer, George Balanchine, whoever dances
the role, must measure up to the success and legends of his predecessors.
A friend's eyes lit up in his reminiscence of a performance by
dancer Jacques d'Amboise. How doubly-fascinating to then watch
Tiit Helimets in the role, as coached by d'Amboise. And since
first impressions inform everything else, mine of Mr. Helimets
is of the Leading Man who must conform to Tradition, enliven a
time-honored manner of being, and exude fresh energy with an already-proven
Three Muses come to call on the newly-emerged, strikingly beautiful
and gleaming young god. At this performance, it is the Estonian-born
Tiit Helimets in the title role. The mission of these Goddesses
of the Arts is to recognize and validate the God of Light and
Son of Zeus by honoring him with special gifts - those being the
attributes and responsibilities of Poetry, Music and Dance. Having
been thus endowed, one of them returns, "Terpsichore"
(exquisitely rendered by Sarah Van Patten). Evidently, among the
Divine Trio, she enjoys a bit of the Magdalene. Without having
much adjusted his attitude, nor rectifying a placid and pleasant
expression, it soon becomes apparent that it is Mr. Helimets'
own remarkable energy extending out to the Last Row. With one
look, the goddess beholds the effects that come with having made
him more than he was before
and the duet begins. First
lesson learned by this son of the Father God? And what projects
so powerfully from Tiit? It's all about time, the place, and whoever
The Stravinsky/Balanchine "Apollo" is the unfolding
of a series of Olympian concepts rather than a plot-driven tale
of the god's later and Earthly interactions noted by Bulfinch
and scripted into Spaghetti Westerns. For this season's staging,
it is Choreographer Jacques d'Amboise and Ballet Mistress Sandra
Jennings who have served the long-ago Inspirations of George Balanchine,
calling back into being his original dance as set in 1928. This
story of Apollo does not require the fleshing-out of a "character"
nor does it necessarily invite the dancer's personality. It is
more of a slideshow on the making of a god - one embodying enviable
gifts and, as Legend will have it, how they are then conferred
upon those who seek. Tiit Helimets is the prime candidate for
this "Tonight At The Apollo". He un-erringly sustains
the role's inherent vision of objectivity while artfully displaying
the beauty of a disciplined and classically sculptured athlete.
With re-created and treasured ballet comes the rare opportunity
which only Theatre can provide. Specifically, we can suspend disbelief,
just long enough, and gaze through the eyes of Balanchine. We
participate in his collaboration with composer Igor Stravinsky
and perceive the kind of "Apollo" chosen for the World
Premiere at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in downtown Paris. Standing
beside THE PRODIGAL SON, another of the Stravinsky/Balanchine
collaborations, the role of "Apollo" is widely recognized
as being among the best ever created for the exceptional Leading
Men of Ballet. Mr. Helimets is the perfect choice for such enigmatic
imagery. He IS "Apollo".
Later that same night, another erotic duet for Helimets, this
time with the ever-passionate Muriel Maffre. It is the "Summer"
episode from QUARTERNARY, ironically the fourth creation of choreographer
Christopher Wheeldon - yet one more of those four-season-things,
imposed upon the works of four un-related composers, everything
in search of some degree of link. For this audition notice, the
description of the Male Lead needs only one word: Stud. In what
could be anyone's Garden of Eden, Helimets brings all the aforementioned
gifts from the divine to his latest squeeze and, for her - it's
just too darn hot. There they are - a pair of lovers out in a
secluded grove somewhere - Helimets seems ready to get on with
it, Maffre is akimbo on her back, and we are more than primed
for a great shot of voyeurism.
Even with pianist Michael McGraw's warm rendering of Arvo Pärt's
"Fur Alina" penetrating through what must be a dripping
humidity, the choreographer chooses to frustrate Tiit's and Muriel's
consummation, keeping us out here in the bushes in a state of
- well, yes - titillation. Since unrequited endings are not altogether
unfamiliar, I am not persuaded that our sustained interests are
due to the hunches of Mr. Wheeldon. Here is a classic example
where a 4-star Principal Dancer rises above the material and stimulates
its production because he IS that degree of Leading Man noted
in the 4-letter description: [see above].
"Ladies and gentlemen," - oh, here we go, the now Standard
Warning to those who just don't get it. But, no, it's about Tiit
Helimets substituting for the injured Damian Smith. I learned
a long time ago to remain open and receptive about last-minute
replacements. Still on high from Mr. Helimets' performances the
previous Thursday (and with true compassion for whatever Mr. Smith
might be suffering), I had to stifle a cheer. Because? Seated
next to me is someone's dubious date and (these days, anyway)
it doesn't help that the final selection is all about the All-American
cowboys of Agnes de Mille's RODEO.
Most definitions of the term, "Leading Man", are heavily
weighted in the area of "appealing to women". Way over
in the margins, between the lines and in the midrash, however,
are inferences to the peculiar phenomena about such men not being
a disturbance to other men. Simply stated, the kind of Leading
Man who is: a great dancer, but just a Guy; a bit of a non-conformist,
but a neighborhood Hero; a reluctant Role Model with a pretty
and satisfied looking girl on his arm. Gene Kelly was such a performer.
Move over, Gene - Tiit Helimets is all that too. The guy can dance
Belgian painter René Magritte's surrealistic paintings
have been blown into three-dimension. The score is extremely familiar
music by Beethoven - inventively arranged by Yuri Krasavin and
slapped around with Looney Tunes-type zingers. The choreography
by Yuri Possokhov is magical, geometrical, fantastical. It's raining
men. We have stepped way beyond the looking glass and into a dream
with regular guys in black suits and bowler hats and Tiit Helimets
is the reluctant Leader of the Pack and non-conforming "Son
of Man" and - see that girl with the red dress on? - she
(Katita Waldo) can float those apples all night long
no one can hear if you scream.
Some did scream at the Curtain Call. Many of us stood and cheered.
During Mr. Helimets' final bow, the guy next to me had to admit
- "THAT was the BEST!"
TIIT HELIMETS: definitive Leading Man; the apple of our
Helgi Tomasson sure can pick 'em.
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