Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Bravo, San Francisco Ballet: A Brilliant Ballet Season

A Glance back at a Glorious Season—and Farewell to the Great Damian Smith and to the elegant Ruben Martin Cintas on their Retirement
The nobility and grace of great dancers make this a kaleidoscopic season, with visual chiaroscuro, intense emotion, and vibrant programming.

Damian Smith and Rubén Martín Cintas at the conclusion of their Farewell Performance.

As I write this, I’ve just returned from the San Francisco opera house, and the final performance of this season’s San Francisco Ballet’s glorious season.

After a highly successful sold-out season, the ballet presented a farewell performance celebrating the long and inspirational dance careers of Damian Smith and Ruben Martin Cintas.

It was moving to hear the company dancers (on film) paying tribute to these two handsome and exceptionally talented men (Damian originally from Australia, and Ruben from Spain), who have been dancing professionally for most of their lives.

I was touched especially to see the delicately expressed affection, devotion, and love between principal dancers Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith, longtime dance partners. They are perfection. Lovely. I watched, mesmerized. Their performance of Helgi Tomasson’s exceptionally complex and breathtaking The Fifth Season was one for the ages, stirring, dream-like, intimate, and candid. Their range of full-stage geometries and dance energy and movement were indeed the breath of life.

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

It was a highly emotional evening—with thrilling performances—and everyone had tears of joy and they rose to applaud, to whistle, to cheer, to laugh and…oh, toss bouquets of red roses. Helgi bestowed Champagne on Damian and Ruben, to cheers. The audience left the opera house intoxicated, indeed.

Every San Francisco Ballet dancer on stage expressed 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 Balanchine's Agon. 
San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's Agon.

For a writer, for a designer, for a musician or an architect, in particular, it is essential to attend ballet performances as often as possible.

I attend performances throughout the San Francisco Ballet winter season (January to May each year), to become inspired, to be uplifted, and in particular to stimulate my eyes, my brain and fill my head with ideas.

This same inspiration and structure, creativity balanced with discipline, frame and fire my writing and editing life.

“Be orderly in your life so that you can be creative and free in your creation,” said Gustav Flaubert.

For me, watching these performances, my skin, my ears, tears in my eyes, all love and respond to beauty and perfection, to the on-stage movements forward, around, 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 wherever I travel. Art and creativity and expression and new ideas are as essential as air.

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

Sunday night, May 11 the 2014 season of San Francisco Ballet closed with a moving tribute to two favorite male dancers, who are retiring.

For my ballet-loving readers, here is the program, with all credits.  
In particular—for those of you who will be in Paris this summer—I have great news.

San Francisco Ballet will be performing in Paris in July and I have all the details and dates and programs below.

Check—and make plans to see these extraordinary programs—in Paris.
And—see below for the exciting new project Damian Smith, now retired from San Francisco Ballet, is making, artfully.


Excerpts from THE FIFTH SEASON

Choreographer: Helgi Tomasson

Composer: Karl Jenkins

Conductor: Martin West

Frances Chung, Davit Karapetyan
, Mathilde Froustey, Davit Karapetyan, Ruben Martin Cintas, Damian Smith, 
Yuan Yuan Tan


Choreographer: Hans van Manen
Composers: Benjamin Britten, Einojuhani Rautavaara, Stefan Kovács Tickmayer, Astor Piazzolla

Conductor: Martin West

Sofiane Sylve, Luke Ingham,
Sarah Van Patten, Carlos Quenedit


Choreography: George Balanchine

Music and Lyrics: George and Ira Gershwin, arranged by Hershey Kay
Conductor: Martin West

Simone Messmer, Ruben Martin Cintas

One highlight of the evening was Pas de Deux from AFTER THE RAIN
Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon

Composer: Arvo Pärt

Piano: Michael McGraw/Violin: Roy Malan and danced by Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith. 

Wow. Eroticism expressed with such refinement and discipline and without mannerism, is rare and wonderful in classical dance.

This piece—highly erotic and super-charged with emotion and movement—is one of the most complex, demanding and thrilling pieces performed by the San Francisco Ballet.

After the Rain

The tribute evening ended with IN THE NIGHT
Choreographer: Jerome Robbins

Composer: Frédéric Chopin

Piano: Roy Bogas

Dores Andre, Ruben Martin Cintas,
 Sofiane Sylve, Tiit Helimets, 
Lorena Feijoo, Damian Smith

Koto Ishihara in Lifar's Suite en Blanc.

Mathilde Froustey in Lifar's Suite en Blanc.
Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in Lifar's Suite en Blanc.

Onward to Paris

SF Ballet Returns to Paris for the First Time in a Decade 
With Over Fifteen Works and Many Parisian Premieres

San Francisco Ballet, the oldest professional ballet company in America, has announced that it will perform in Paris at the Les Etés de la Danse Festival from July 10-26 2014. The festival, an annual event that presents world-class classical and contemporary dance, will be held at the Théâtre du Châtelet. Over 17 performances, SF Ballet will present over 15 works by a range of choreographers including George Balanchine, Wayne McGregor, SF Ballet Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov, Alexei Ratmansky, Jerome Robbins, SF Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, and Christopher Wheeldon, among others. SF Ballet last performed in Paris during the inaugural festival in 2005.

“We are thrilled to be returning to Paris in July 2014 with a diverse repertory of classical and contemporary works, many of them Parisian premieres, that will showcase the breadth and depth of the Company’s talent,” remarked SF Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson.

A Glance Back at an Elegant, Exciting and Highly Accomplished 2014 Season


San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Cinderella.
San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Cinderella.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Cinderella.

Thrills and Chills

Program 7 opened April 29 with Helgi Tomasson’s elegant and refined The Fifth Season, one of the most complex, original, dramatic and artful—with abstract patterning across the stage and interlacing of dancers.

Set to the music of Karl Jenkins, the work for 14 dancers created mesmerizing and hallucinatory patterns across the stage in endless abstract and emotional and graceful gestural choreography. This is perhaps Helgi’s most perfect piece, and it is clear the dancers love performing it. They and the audience were enraptured.

It presented principal dancers at their most polished, athletic and graceful.

Lorena Feijoo and Davit Karapetyan in Tomasson's The Fifth Season.

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

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


SF Ballet presented 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. HUMMINGBIRD, which was danced by both Lorena Feijoo and Yuan Yuan Tan, was his first work for SF Ballet. He's not yet thirty. So exciting. The piece is a dream for dancers—and will clearly become a permanent part of the repertoire.

Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin in Scarlett's Hummingbird. 
Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham in Scarlett's Hummingbird. 
Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham in Scarlett's Hummingbird. 
Hansuke Yamamoto and James Sofranko in Scarlett's Hummingbird. 
Frances Chung and Gennadi Nedvigin in Scarlett's Hummingbird. 
Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham in Scarlett's Hummingbird.
San Francisco Ballet in Scarlett's Hummingbird.

Sometimes, classic, pure perfection appears on stage.

Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc, set to the music of Édouard Lalo, was premiered by Paris Opéra Ballet in 1943. The plotless ballet a series of divertissements in the neoclassical style showcases ten principals, seven soloists, and twenty corps de ballet dancers. This was one of my favorite pieces of the season, perfectly poised, complex, and rich in ballet history and references. Loved it.

San Francisco Ballet in Lifar's Suite en Blanc.

San Francisco Ballet in Lifar's Suite en Blanc.

The program concluded with Robbins’ Glass Pieces, set to a score by Philip Glass.

During the 2014 Repertory Season, the company performed a total of 61 performances.

The SF Ballet Orchestra accompanies all programs.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Robbins' Glass Pieces. 
Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith in Robbins' Glass Pieces.

San Francisco Ballet in Robbins' Glass Pieces.

San Francisco Ballet in Robbins' Glass Pieces.

San Francisco Ballet in Robbins' Glass Pieces.

All About San Francisco Ballet

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.

San Francisco Ballet in Ratmansky's Foreign Lands.

Program 2 included the reprise of Ratmansky’s From Foreign Lands, set to the music of Moritz Moszkowski. The work offered charming dances from a myriad of countries, and was performed to acclaim.

This was one of the most enchanting presentations, with puppets, magical coaches, humor, romance, baroque sets and beautiful choreography expressing the classical folktale.

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

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. 

Mathile Froustey and Carlos Quenedit in Balanchine's Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet. 
Mathile Froustey and Carlos Quenedit in Balanchine's Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet.

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet.

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet.

Sarah Van Patten and Davit Karapetyan in Balanchine's Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet.

A World-Class Company

SF Ballet includes a diverse group of dancers—including principals from Cuba, Scandinavia, France, Canada, and Spain. The current success has been the result of Helgi Tomasson’s persistent vision, constant training, his evident appreciation of his dancers, his dedication, and the nobility of all dancers.
“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, on 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.”

Dancers Lives, Moving Forward

Ruben Martin Cintas will continue to teach and inspire at San Francisco Ballet.

Recently Muriel Maffre, Executive Director of Museum of Performance & Design announced that principal dancer Damian Smith is re-imagining how dance as embodied knowledge can be recorded and kept alive.

Damian Smith and Rubén Martín Cintas

Over the course of his final few weeks with San Francisco Ballet, Smith is creating tangible and permanent records of his work at the barre in the form of action drawings on cotton paper and canvas.

Smith is applying paint to his dance shoes at a ballet barre while simultaneously recording the path of his movements on black-coated canvas.

This documentation project, developed in partnership with San Francisco Ballet, the Museum of Performance + Design and Catharine Clark Gallery, explores the interplay between dance and the visual arts and honors the craftmanship behind dance making. When inscribed on canvas or paper, the gestural traces make visible the particular qualities of a dancer’s embodied knowledge while fixing an otherwise ephemeral art form.

Smith is creating a total of six 30” x 72” action drawings that will be signed by the dancer, exhibited at the Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco June 7 through July 19 and made available to the public through live auction to benefit the Museum of Performance + Design at a reception celebrating Damian Smith’s career in dance on June 21, 4pm at the Catharine Clark Gallery.

All photography exclusively from The San Francisco Ballet, used here with express permission.



Unknown said...

Thanks you, Diane for the wonderful recap of the Season! Sunday night's tribute to Damian Smith and Rubén Martín Cintas was indeed magnificent! I am so glad to been able to attend! And, great to see you there, too!

Benjamin Dhong said...

Diane, wonderful post!

I'm still electrified from seeing the troupe's performance of 'The Fifth Season' and 'Glass Pieces'

By the way, love your quote of Gustav Flaubert..

“Be orderly in your life so that you can be creative and free in your creation,”

That philosophy has always resonated with me!


Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


It was lovely to see you at the final performance of the 2014 season in San Francisco.
This final evening--was easily the most emotional for the standing-room only audience.
It has been a beautiful five months of new ballets, classic pieces and new ideas from young choreographers. Wonderful. So glad you liked it. DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...

Dear Ben-

Yes, I've been attending ballet performances--in London, in Paris, in New York, and when I was a young ballet student, in Christchurch, New Zealand (memorably, with my parents).

Yes, The Fifth Season is now one of my absolutely favorites. It was captivating-and every moment and gestures was surprising and engrossing. I saw several performances of it…several couples, and each time if was a thrill. Glass Pieces…yes…it has not dated at all, and it seems fresh yet classic. So happy you saw them. Now onward to Paris for the SF Ballet performances there. How exciting. See you soon, I hope--DIANE

Karena said...

Diane thank you for this thrilling account of The 2014 San Francisco Ballet Season. Ballet thrills me like no other performance. I cherish this post!

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