There was a special surprise for ballet lovers hidden in San Francisco Opera's June production of Antonín Dvořák's tragic fairy tale Rusalka: a magical five-minute dance that celebrated and sent up the fairies, sylphs and swans of the Romantic era. Most of SFO's productions offer small roles for the company's talented corps dancers, who hail from companies like Smuin Contemporary Ballet and Post:Ballet. But in Rusalka's Act II ballroom scene, the ensemble got well-deserved center stage and brought the house down with historically detailed, hilarious choreography created by Andrew George and staged by SFO dance master Lawrence Pech.
SFO solo dancers Rachel Speidel Little and Christopher Nachtrab led the fanfare as a prototypical prince and princess. Their pas de deux was soon crowded out by a swirling ensemble of ballerinas in long tulle tutus, colorful waist ribbons and fairy wings, evoking Marie Taglioni's arm-crossed Sylphide, Carlotta Grisi's sorrowful Wili and Pierina Legnani's heartbroken Odette in a series of balletic inside jokes. As Dvořák's tempo built to its crescendo, the dancers delivered their campy portraits faster and faster, leaping, weeping, collapsing and high-kicking until the wings came off and the audience was roaring.