Monday, February 10, 2014

San Francisco Ballet is Tutu Divine: The Triumph of Beauty

Pirouettes and Passion: The 2014 season of the San Francisco Ballet has just opened, and the fireworks are starting. Each program is thrilling and original. Come and read all the details and find a program you’ll love.

Recently, I attended the opening night gala with performances of extraordinary perfection by the San Francisco Ballet at the gilded San Francisco War Memorial Opera House. The exquisitely polished and emotionally driven Yuan Yuan Tan, Damian Smith, Lorena Feijoo, and Vitor Luiz brought tears to my eyes. Breath-taking.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Liang’s Finding Light

I’ve attended programs of the San Francisco Ballet for many years, and always adore the opening gala followed by seasons of innovation and reinvention of classic dance. Performances are imbued with captivating lyricism.

Every San Francisco Ballet dancer on stage expresses exquisite control and creativity, utter lissome beauty and heightened degree of emotional intelligence. Perfection is rare in any art form, and at moments I felt inspired, giddy and thrilled.

The gates of perception were thrown open.

No wonder many think the San Francisco Ballet is the best company in the world. (Of course, I am…more than a little biased.)

San Francisco Ballet in McGregor's Borderlands.

San Francisco Ballet in McGregor's Borderlands.

San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands.

The Importance of Feeding the Eye and Heart

I studied ballet for some years, and my parents filled my week with piano lessons from the great and divine Miss Maisie Kilkelly, and art instruction by the charismatic Robert Brett. 

I’ve been attending ballet performances since I was six, when my parents took me to see the Royal Ballet perform ‘Swan Lake’. This highly trained and superb company at various times included Margot Fonteyn and Rudi Nureyev.

Perhaps—no doubt—part of my pure enjoyment of ballet is that its rhythms and styles and music and instruction are part of my memory.

This same inspiration and structure, wild creativity balanced with discipline, still frame my life. “Be orderly in your life so that you can be creative and free in your creation,” said Gustav Flaubert.

Yuan Yuan Tan in Possokhov's Firebird.

Yuan Yuan Tan in Possokhov's Firebird.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Ghosts.

The brain, the eye, the body, the skin, the ears all love and respond to beauty and perfection, strange movements forward, a glance back, and experimental as well as classical artistry and creativity. I attend the season of the San Francisco Opera, and dash to performances in Paris and London and where-ever I travel. Art is as essential as air.

Writers and editors and architects and musicians and interior designers must be alert to all other arts. Designers can be inspired by ballet. Constant exposure to the arts, to classic and avant-garde culture, to opera and art and music of all kinds is essential to designers and artists, architects and antique dealers, creators, writers, composers and style-setters in every field. There’s the performance, but also the interplay of all the disciplines that create an opera or ballet or design or sculpture. So much to learn, to be inspired by.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Cinderella.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Cinderella.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Cinderella.

“The company delivers performances where nothing is more engrossing than the choreography. The sense of selflessness is a crucial characteristic of good Balanchine style,” wrote New York Times dance critic Alastair Macaulay, in Feb 14’s edition. “The San Francisco dancers are a remarkably unmannered, elegant and grown-up company. The adult quality is impressive. Ballet elsewhere so often looks to be a matter for girls and boys.”

San Francisco Ballet 2014 Season Details 

Highlights include an all-new, full-evening work by
 Alexei Ratmansky, the encore presentation of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella, plus three world premieres.

SF Ballet’s 2014 Repertory Season will include the presentation of two full-length works, including the revival of SF Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle and the encore presentation of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella.

In addition, SF Ballet will present the West Coast premiere of a full-evening trilogy by acclaimed choreographer Alexei Ratmansky.

The season also includes world premieres by Val Caniparoli, Liam Scarlett, and Tomasson, and features works by choreographers such as George Balanchine, Serge Lifar, Natalia Makarova, Wayne McGregor, Mark Morris, Yuri Possokhov, and Jerome Robbins.

San Francisco Ballet in Lifar's Suite en Blanc.

San Francisco Ballet in Lifar's Suite en Blanc.
Lorena Feijoo and Davit Karapetyan in Tomasson's The Fifth Season.

The season will consist of eight programs performed in alternating repertory, to May 11.

San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands.

San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky's From Foreign Lands.

PROGRAM 2 opens Tuesday, February 18 with the reprise of Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands, set to the music of Moritz Moszkowski. The work, which premiered on SF Ballet’s 2013 Repertory Season and offers charming dances from a myriad of countries, was performed to acclaim.

In addition, SF Ballet will reprise McGregor’s Borderlands, which premiered on the 2013 Repertory Season. Set to the music of Joel Cadbury and Paul Stoney, the work was inspired by German-American artist Josef Albers and represents McGregor’s first commission for SF Ballet.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Ghosts.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Ghosts.

PROGRAM 3 opens Thursday, February 20 with Wheeldon’s Ghosts, set to an original score by C.F. Kip Winger, which premiered on the Company’s 2010 Repertory Season and was last performed in London on tour in 2012. Of the work for 17 dancers, The London Independent noted, “Ghosts is original and astonishingly atmospheric…utterly gripping.” The program also includes the classic “The Kingdom of the Shades” from La Bayadère, Act II, choreographed by dance legend Natalia Makarova after Marius Petipa. The plotless excerpt offers a stunning showcase for a large corps, a principal couple, and three soloists. The original full-length version of the ballet was first performed in Russia in 1877, but it was only later in the 1960’s that “The Kingdom of the Shades” was seen by audiences in the West. Makarova first staged “The Kingdom of the Shades” for ABT in 1974 and the Company first performed her choreography of the famous scene in 2000. The program also includes Possokhov’s dramatic Firebird, which premiered on SF Ballet’s 2007 Repertory Season (in 2003, Possokhov staged a completely different production of Firebird for Oregon Ballet Theatre.) The original Firebird, set to a score by Igor Stravinsky and choreographed by Michel Fokine, was first performed in 1910 by the Ballets Russes. Of Possokhov’s production, which includes scenic design by Yuri Zhukov and costume design by Sandra Woodall, the San Francisco Chronicle noted that “…the ensemble moments in this “Firebird” are filled with an exuberance to match Stravinsky’s majestic score.”

Maria Kochetkova in Wheeldon's Cinderella.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Cinderella.

PROGRAM 4 opens Tuesday, March 11 with the return of Wheeldon’s critically acclaimed Cinderella, a co-production with Dutch National Ballet. The work was first performed in December 2012 by the Dutch company, with SF Ballet presenting the U.S. premiere of the work this May as part of its 2013 Repertory Season. Acclaimed by critics and audiences alike, The Financial Times proclaimed, “[This production is]…the most dramatically convincing Cinderella in ballet, a triumph of storytelling and stage design firmly in touch with the 21st century.” Set to a score by Sergei Prokofiev and inspired by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault fairy tales, the work features a libretto by Craig Lucas, a renowned Tony Award nominated playwright, director, and screenwriter, known for, among other works, Prelude to a Kiss and Light in the Piazza. Cinderella also features scenic and costume design by Julian Crouch, renowned for his work with the Metropolitan Opera and on Broadway; lighting design by Natasha Katz; tree and carriage sequence direction/design by Obie Award winner Basil Twist; and projection design by Daniel Brodie.

American Ballet Theatre in Ratmansky's Symphony #9.

American Ballet Theatre in Ratmansky's Symphony #9.

PROGRAM 5 opens Wednesday, April 2 with the West Coast premiere of a full-evening trilogy by ABT Artist-in-Residence Alexei Ratmansky, set to the music of Dmitri Shostakovich. The work also features scenic design by George Tsypin, costume design by Keso Dekker, and lighting design by Jennifer Tipton. 

San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov's The Rite of Spring.

San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov's The Rite of Spring.

PROGRAM 6 opens Friday, April 4 with the 20th anniversary presentation of Morris’ Maelstrom, first premiered by San Francisco Ballet in 1994, and set to the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. The work for 14 dancers was the first ballet choreographed for the Company by Morris and was last performed by SF Ballet in 2005. 

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith In Tomasson's The Fifth Season.

Frances Chung and Davit Karapetyan in Tomasson's The Fifth Season.

PROGRAM 7 opens Tuesday, April 29 with Tomasson’s The Fifth Season, which had its premiere by SF Ballet on the 2006 Repertory Season. Set to the music of Karl Jenkins, the work for 14 dancers was last performed on the 2012 Repertory Season. SF Ballet will also present a world premiere by Liam Scarlett, who was appointed artist-in-residence at The Royal Ballet at the young age of 26. A former dancer with that company, Scarlett has choreographed works in England and for Miami City Ballet. This will be his first work for SF Ballet. Performed by SF Ballet for the first time on the 2013 Repertory Season, Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc, set to the music of Édouard Lalo, was premiered by Paris Opéra Ballet in 1943. The plotless ballet is a series of divertissements in the neoclassical style, showcases ten principals, seven soloists, and twenty corps de ballet dancers.

Muriel Maffre and Tiit Helimets in Balanchine's Agon (2007).

Kristina Lind and Vito Mazzeo in Robbins' Glass Pieces.

San Francisco Ballet in Robbins' Glass Pieces.

San Francisco Ballet in Robbins' Glass Pieces.

PROGRAM 8 opens Thursday, May 1 with Balanchine’s Agon, created in 1957, is set to the music of Stravinsky and was last performed in its entirety by SF Ballet on tour in 2002. The work, a post-modern masterpiece for 12 dancers, was first performed by the Company in 1976. Last performed by SF Ballet in 1986, Balanchine’s Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet was created in 1966 for New York City Ballet. The work is set to Piano Quartet No. 1 in G minor, Op. 25 by Johannes Brahms (later orchestrated by Arnold Schoenberg in 1937). The program concludes with Robbins’ Glass Pieces, set to a score by Philip Glass.

During the 2014 Repertory Season, the Company will perform a total of 61 performances. The SF Ballet Orchestra will accompany all programs.

The San Francisco Ballet Opening Night Gala

Ballet fans, tech geniuses and the crème de la crème of San Francisco society pirouetted and preened in the baroque splendor of City Hall for the San Francisco Ballet company’s season opening gala on January 22.

Denise Hale in Gianfranco Ferre couture

Yurie Pascarella in Andrew GN couture gown

O.J. Shansby

Charlotte Shultz in Carolina Herrera

Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki in Donald Deal

Dede Wilsey in Oscar de la Renta

The glittering evening was themed ‘Phenomenal’ and party décor designer Riccardo Benavides festooned the City Hall rotunda with thirty-feet high digitized images of dancers, with ghostly three-dimensional gold dance figures floating above the black-tie gathering.

“I’m looking forward to seeing all the new choreography this evening, especially Yuan Yuan Tan’s piece with Damian Smith,” said ballet benefactor, O.J. Shansby, nibbling on lobster salad with Dede Wilsey and Yurie Pascarella.

Artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s twelve vignettes from the season’s repertoire included an exquisite pas de cinq from the company’s new production of Giselle, a jazz-beat Gershwin number, a dash of Shostakovich, and a charming Bach/African beat solo by Frances Chung.

Colin Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Erin Glen in Valentino

Komal Shah in Dennis Basso couture

“I wanted a program that is artistically challenging and that celebrates the art of dance,” said Tomasson.

Standing ovations and wild applause followed the sultry tango-style performance of ‘Talk to Her’ by Lorena Feijoo and Vitor Luiz, company favorites, to orchestral music by Alberto Iglesias. More frenzied whistling and whooping followed the U.S. premiere of the ethereal ‘Finding Light’ by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith to a haunting Vivaldi adagio.

San Francisco Ballet is America’s oldest professional ballet company and the company was deemed ‘a national treasure’ recently by The New York Times.

Yuan Yuan Tan

Also in the ballet-mad crush were Nancy and Paul Pelosi, Denise Hale, Dede Wilsey, Carolyn Chang, Akiko Yamazaki, Charlotte Shultz, Deepa Pakianathan, Erin Glenn, Orlando Diaz-Azcuy, Joy Bianchi, Rosemary Baker, de Young Museum head Colin Bailey, and Alex Chases and Craig Card.

The evening raised $2.4 million for the company’s education fund.

Party images by DREW ALTIZER,

Ballet images courtesy the San Francisco Ballet, used with express permission. Photos are copyright Erik Tomasson and Rosalie O'Connor.

For more information:

San Francisco Ballet, the oldest professional ballet company in America, has emerged as a world-class arts organization since it was founded as the San Francisco Opera Ballet in 1933. Initially, its primary purpose was to train dancers to appear in lavish, full-length opera productions. The company now performs it repertoire from January to May each year in San Francisco, and then presents programs around the world, including, recently, in Paris and in Beijing, to great acclaim.


Robert Webber said...

Stunning images and frocks!

LaPouyette said...

A superb post with beautiful and stunning images!
Thank you!
Greetings from another "Ballet fan".

If you have time please visit my blog, have just posted a ballet which you might like... said...

I so enjoy your blog. A simply delightful post. Thank you!

Karena said...

Diane you have brightened my day with this beautiful feature of ballet and couture!

The Arts by Karena

Anonymous said...

Hello Diane! On behalf of all of us at Greyson Place, I would like to congratulate you on your nomination for the 7 Wonders of the Blogosphere awards! Thank you for your wonderfully engaging posts! Happy blogging!

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