This season I grabbed my seats for the World Premiere of Salome at the San Francisco Ballet. I was first drawn to this performance because of the fabulous photo of Dores Andre in a stunning dress who is stepping out of a limo (blindfolded!) with confetti coming from the sky! I thought, " Hmmm... I haven't seen this type of imagery from the ballet before... I need to check it out." Wow, I'm glad I did!
In the first scene of the performance, a limo drives on stage like a haunted carriage (what is happening??) and "secret service" men get out to scope out this mysterious place that seems to be in the middle of no-where. Then, an older man gets out of the car who looks like Roger Sterling from Mad Men. He lights his cigarette and reaches in the car to escort out his high-class wife who is wearing a green silk dress from the 1930's. So naturally, you start to think the setting is dated to a historical time. But then out came the blindfolded Dores Andre, dressed in a modern day bright red Valentino-inspired dress that 'wowed' the audience immediately. She is revealed a birthday cake and a ritual potion that's in a fancy goblet and BOOM! confetti goes everywhere.
Errrrr!!! So let me back up to give you some context about how this new piece came about. Arthur Pita (the choreographer) was inspired to create his own version of the story about "Salome". Salome was the step-daughter of Herald in the Bible (to be precise, it was actually his niece because he married his brother's wife. #familydrama). The story goes that Salome danced for her step-father's birthday and she pleased him very much. So much so, that he said, "Ask me for anything you want, and I'll give it to you."23 And he promised her with an oath, "Whatever you ask I will give you, up to half my kingdom." (Mark 6:22-23). Salome didn't know how to respond so she went over to her mother (Herodias) and asked what she should request. Herodias wanted John the Baptist dead because John said the marriage with her brother-in-law was ungodly. So she whispered her summon in Salome's ear and before you know it, she was served John the Baptist's head on a platter. Pretty gruesome, huh?
Pita wanted to bring this biblical story into modern day times. So he tossed aside the long brown robes and staffs and asked "How would the story exist now? Where would these people be?" To make this story evergreen, he chose to mix time periods with props and fashion. That's why Salome's parents are wearing 1930's attire yet Salome is wearing modern-day clothing.
The limo that I mentioned was used to represent power and money because naturally when you see one of these cars, you think "Wow, there must be someone important inside". Out comes this well-dressed family. Pita actually flipped the story around a bit and made it Salome's birthday instead of her step-father's. And instead of using Oscar Wilde's seven veil strip tease, he transformed it into seven hostages who must dance in competition to be Salome's mate. This twisted tale unfolds with heavy dances, dark music, and cannons of confetti. The mother stands up from her watching quarters and marks John as the future mate of Salome, which John does not want.
I kid you not, Dores Andre (Salome) and Aaron Robison (John) was OUT-OF-THIS-WORLD! They were the perfect cast for this performance. Their passion infused these characters into life and I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. He was covered with slashes and scars by "being held hostage" and she was beautifully dressed in red, hypnotized by the potion that was given to her. As she's trying to seduce him, he pushes back not wanting to be a part of her charade. Their movements with one another were abrasive, powerful and impulsive. You felt like you are watching Rite of Spring mixed with a wrestling match. We were on the fourth row and I could see their sweat being flung across the stage and their ribs gasping for air. Aaron is probably one of the most muscular dancers I have ever seen throwing his body about on the stage in the way he did. His character was believable and you couldn't help but physically feel the anguish that he was suffering. And lucky for us, he was matched with Dores's authoritative air and powerful presence. In my book, their chemistry as equal antagonists is unmatched.
After the Father sees this isn't going as planned, he signals his secret service to finish John off. They take him away and the mother returns with his head on a silver platter underneath a black veil. (Some birthday present.) Salome is left alone questioning if she should peek underneath to see the repercussions of her "celebration" gone wrong. She finally does and in a sick way, instead of being panicked, she kisses him and tastes his blood. And without any hesitation, she picks up his head by the hair and carries it to the limo with tissue hanging out from his neck. As soon as the door is closed, the family goes off on their way as if nothing happened...
Walking away from this premier, I was touched by how raw and yet how beautiful this performance was. It made me reflect on wicked people with power. How they are truly able to behead the future of the non-conformists without hesitation and then be on their way. I've been around people like this before and I'm sure you have too. But don't worry, most of the time they are blindfolded with a filter of perceptions and their only hope lies within the facade that they portray.
Backstage photo of Dores Andre, Yann Seabra, Arthur Pita and Aaron Robison