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The U.S. debut of the Estonian National Ballet on June 28 night at the Palace of Fine Arts was the highlight of the gala that opened Lep-Esto 2013, a four-day celebration of Estonian culture in San Francisco, writes Mary Ellen Hunt in SFGate.com


Now directed by Toomas Edur, the 87-year-old troupe offered two works that showed off a select coterie of sleek, polished performers.
Tiit Helimets, the Estonian-born San Francisco Ballet principal who danced with the Estonian National Ballet until 1999, was instrumental in bringing his compatriots to San Francisco. He was also the choreographer for a piece commissioned for the festival, "Time," set to a recorded score by Paula Matthusen. Helimets is a superlative partner, so it was unsurprising that much of his contemporary ballet played out in sharp shifts of weight and suspended shapes produced by unusual partnering.
Though "Time" felt spatially constrained - I longed to see these gorgeous, athletic dancers cut broad pathways through space - the sculptural qualities that Helimets evoked were intriguing, though too often marred by the strobe of flash photographs from the audience.
Nanae Maruyama, Eve Andre and Jonathan Hanks hurtled through a compact, muscular trio, while Nadezda Antipenko unfurled spectacular lines partnered by the four men in the final section of the piece. Most engrossing though was a meditative central pas de deux for Anatoli Arhangelski and Svetlana Danilova.
Helimets himself also took the stage in the White Swan pas de deux from "Swan Lake," attending to guest artist Alexsandra Meijer, on loan from Ballet San Jose, with princely gallantry.
The evening got off to a sonorous start with the appearance of the Estonian Youth Wind Orchestra, who played a heartfelt rendition of the Estonian anthem "Mu isamaa, mu õnn ja rõõm" as the audience joined in, harking back to the Singing Revolution of the '80s and early '90s. Estonian singer Hanna-Liina Võsa offered six songs composed by fellow countrymen. Her accompanist, pianist Hando Nahkur, also gave an emotive, improvisatory version of Schumann's Arabesque No. 18 on an instrument that didn't do justice to his playing.
It was a shame that Marina Kesler's affecting "Othello" got left to the end of a long program, because it was an engaging, if perhaps a bit overlong, piece. Kesler's version of Shakespeare distilled the tragedy to an essence of love, jealousy and betrayal for five couples, arranged to recordings of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt that were by turns stentorian and intimate.
Kesler's choreography veers from formalistic to jazzy with sometimes puzzling, even cartoonish results, but at its best, "Othello" was surprisingly absorbing in its mix of austerity and sensuality. A mesmerizing interlude for four women set to "Spiegel im spiegel" was reminiscent of the choreographic architecture of Hans van Manen.
As Desdemona, the diminutive, steely Andre brought sweetness to her pas de deux with Arhangelski, whose Othello was resolute and earthy if not particularly uxorious. Sergei Upkin nearly stole the whole thing with his gleefully swaggering Iago, capping an auspicious debut for this elegant Baltic company.


http://www.sfgate.com/performance/article/Estonian-National-Ballet-review-Polished-4640642.php#src=fb

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