PREVIEW By now the fact that San Francisco Ballet is one of the hottest ballet companies in the country is no longer news. It's also common knowledge that ballet is an extremely expensive art form. Ticket prices reflect that unfortunate reality. That's why SFB's "Fridays at the Ballet" are such a good deal. For $59 (or even less if you shop around) you get a performance plus drinks afterward in the War Memorial Opera House lobby. The first of this season's "Fridays" features Helgi Tomasson's lovely, romantic On a Theme of Paganini (2008) and two glories of the repertoire Jardin aux Lilas (Lilac Garden) and The Concert. The SFB premiere of Antony Tudor's 1936 Jardin aux Lilas celebrates Tudor's 100th birthday with an early work that is perhaps his all-time masterpiece. Its drama, its heat, its agony are underground; nothing is spelled out, everything is implied. Yet this story about love acknowledged and love denied will haunt you. Jerome Robbins' 1956 hilarious The Concert strikes an altogether different note. Ballet doesn't take to comedy easily, so Robbins was in for a challenge but he watched silent movies and studied comedic timing. His mayhem in the concert hall has become a classic, and SFB has the dancers to pull it off. It's the first of Robbins' choreographies set to Chopin, a composer he would use very differently in later works, and all you can do is pity the poor pianist who has to contend with the kind of audience Robbins gave him. "Fridays at the Ballet," with a different program, returns April 3.
"FRIDAYS AT THE BALLET," Fri/20, 8 p.m., $59, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness, SF. www.sfballet.org/fridays