While the sun shone brightly outside on a beautiful San Francisco Saturday, young Modesto dancers sweated in a studio.
"It's not a funeral," said San Francisco Ballet choreographer Val Caniparoli as he looked at the performers' strained expressions. "It's a little more up."
The Central West Ballet company members had come to rehearse Caniparoli's demanding work "Violin," which they will present next week at the Gallo Center for the Arts. It's the highlight of the company's annual "Creations" repertory show, titled this year "Choreography in America." Also on the program are "House of Folk" and "Romancing the Stage" by René Daveluy, Central West's artistic director.
"It's extremely difficult," said Central West dancer Alyssa Milano. "It's probably the hardest thing our company has ever performed. It's very physical. The way he wants his movements performed on stage is unlike anything we've ever performed."
Based on classical movements, the piece is set to the music of 17th-century composer Heinrich Ignza Biber.
"I've always wanted to use his music because it's very complex," Caniparoli said.
Associated with the San Francisco Ballet for more than 30 years, Caniparoli has worked with companies all over the world, including the Israel Ballet, State Theatre Ballet of South Africa and the Washington Ballet. He has also worked with the Chicago Lyric, San Francisco and Metropolitan opera companies. He expects a lot of his performers.
"It's tough because they haven't worked with me," he said.
Wendy Van Dyck, a fellow company member at the San Francisco Ballet, came to Modesto several weekends to teach the dancers the piece. The Modesto performers have rehearsed it on and off since August before coming to San Francisco this month to work with Caniparoli.
Daveluy, who has danced for Caniparoli before, said he pointedly chose the choreographer's hardest piece for his company. It's part of his long-held dream to have Central West, which is now all volunteer, eventually turn professional.
"This is the standard professional dancers currently work," he said. "They are stronger now. Their strength level has gradually increased."
Caniparoli can't attend the Modesto performances because of a schedule conflict, but he plans to watch a videotape. He is proud of how far the dancers have come.
"See the dancers and watch them shine," he said. "It's not all about me. I want the dancers to shine."