To the Pointe: Dance Innovations

Join Associate Director of Audience Development, Jennie Scholick, PhD for a deep dive into the three ballets on Program 3: Dance Innovations. Hear from Edwaard Liang, Trey McIntyre, Johnny Eliason, and Lise Lander and find out what to look for in this exciting lineup of ballets.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to our To the Pointe podcast on Apple Podcasts to access archived episodes and have new ones delivered straight to your devices!

Header Image: Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz in Liang’s The Infinite Ocean // © Erik Tomasson

Betsy Erickson, Ballet Master, on Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella

Host Andi Yannone interviews Ballet Master Betsy Erickson and discusses how Cinderella is rehearsed and put together.  In particular, they discuss the challenges of a trans-continental co-production during the initial creative process.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to our Meet the Artist podcast on Apple Podcasts to access archived episodes and have new ones delivered straight to your devices!

Header Image: Christopher Wheeldon during a dress rehearsal of Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

To the Pointe: Classical (Re)Vision

Join Associate Director of Audience Development, Jennie Scholick, PhD for an exploration of the ballets on Program 2: Classical (Re)Vision. Hear from choreographer Stanton Welch and find out what to look for in his Bespoke, the rotating Director’s Choice ballets, and Mark Morris’s Sandpaper Ballet.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to our To the Pointe podcast on Apple Podcasts to access archived episodes and have new ones delivered straight to your devices!

Header Image: Jennifer Stahl and Carlo Di Lanno in Welch’s Bespoke // © Erik Tomasson

Kelly Tweeddale, Executive Director, on her First SF Ballet Season

Host Andi Yannone interviews Executive Director Kelly Tweeddale.  They talk about her journey to SFB, her initial impressions of the Company and artistry of the dancers, and what she’s most looking forward to in the coming years.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to our Meet the Artist podcast on Apple Podcasts to access archived episodes and have new ones delivered straight to your devices!

Header Image: Kelly Tweeddale // © Brandon Patoc

SF Ballet Production Staff on Cinderella

Members of the Production Staff discuss the demands of their positions as they “create the magic” of a fairy tale on stage. Jane Green, Production Stage Manager, describes the complexity of running this show; Kate Share, Manager of Wardrobe, Wig, Make-up, and Costume Construction, talks about the elaborate costumes and some of the difficulties the dancers encounter in accommodating them; Ken Ryan, Master of Properties, reveals the “secrets” behind the golden slipper so important to this story.

Like what you heard? Subscribe to our Meet the Artist podcast on Apple Podcasts to access archived episodes and have new ones delivered straight to your devices!

Header Image: Sasha de Sola in Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella // © Erik Tomasson

Your Ultimate Guide to the Story Ballet Trio

What is it? A chance to see San Francisco Ballet in three epic story ballets during the 2020 Season. 

Who it’s for: Anyone who loves a good William Shakespeare adaptation (though these are closer to The Globe Theatre than to Baz Lurhmann), 1990s romantic comedies (think: mistaken identities, mean girls, and happily-ever-afters), or had a childhood fascination with Peter and the Wolf.

CINDERELLA©

Frances Chung in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

What Am I Seeing? A familiar fairy tale with a few charming twists. Choreographer Christopher Wheeldon of An American in Paris fame created this delightful ballet in 2012 on the Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. But don’t expect fairy godmothers and talking mice: this production uses fantastic sets and costumes by Julian Crouch, magical projections by Daniel Brodie, and breathtaking puppetry by MacArthur Foundation Fellow Basil Twist to put a new “twist” on an old tale, updating this story for a modern audience.

What Am I Hearing? Sergei Prokofiev’s Cinderella, op. 87. Prokofiev started work on this ballet in 1940, but WWII interrupted his work. Finished in the Ural Mountains in 1944 (in the company of a group of Kirov dancers who had been evacuated from Leningrad), this ballet is structured like a traditional classical ballet and contains themes for each of the main characters.

What Should I Look For? Although technically the story of Cinderella and her Prince, this ballet is chock-full of secondary characters worth a second look. Particularly keep an eye out for the tree, which in this version replaces the fairy godmother, and for Cinderella’s “evil” stepsister Clementine and the Prince’s BFF Benjamin.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM

Pacific Northwest Ballet’’s Laura Tisserand and Kyle Davis, with PNB School students, in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. © The Balanchine Trust  // © Angela Sterling

What Am I Seeing? A Shakespearean favorite making its triumphant return to San Francisco after a 35-year absence. This 1962 work by George Balanchine was his first original full-length ballet and was quickly hailed as a masterpiece. Balanchine loved the original play—he could recite large parts of it in Russian—so the ballet sticks close to its inspiration, telling the story of four lost lovers in the woods, as well as of a royal fairy court made up of Queen Titania, King Oberon, and mischievous Puck. The narrative lends itself to a wealth of principal and soloist parts and gives ample opportunities for dancers to take on featured roles.

What Am I Hearing? Felix Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, interspersed with several of his other works. The overture was written when Mendelssohn was just 17, but the rest was composed 16 years later. The most famous part of the score is probably the Wedding March, which has had a life of its own ever since Princess Victoria used it for her 1858 wedding. But the score is full of delights beyond this familiar tune. In particular, it contains several vocal numbers, so audiences will get to hear live singers in the Opera House—always a treat!

What Should I Look For? Beyond the mischief caused by the fairies (and do note Balanchine’s comedic timing), this ballet is really about love. But even once everyone is appropriately paired off, none of these characters seem to have the perfect relationship. That’s left for two unnamed characters who appear in the second act’s “Divertissement” pas de deux. In this pas de deux—one of Balanchine’s most beautiful—you see a meditation on what perfect, pure, divine love might look like, something seemingly out of reach even for these fairytale creatures.

 

ROMEO & JULIET

Mathilde Froustey and Carlo Di Lanno in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson

What Am I Seeing? A heartbreaking tale of young love and loss set to one of ballet’s favorite scores. Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet, choreographed in 1994, is one of San Francisco Ballet’s greatest showpieces. This classic adaptation of the familiar story—two households, both alike, fair Verona etc—routinely brings the audience to tears. 

What am I hearing? Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, op. 64. Written in 1935, this is truly one of the most celebrated scores in all of the ballet repertory. But that wasn’t always the case. Prokofiev wrote this as his first piece upon his return to the Soviet Union, and he soon learned just how hazardous that decision could be. It wasn’t actually performed until 1940 and by that point is was heavily altered (read: censored). The biggest change? Prokofiev’s original happy ending for the young lovers was replaced by the more traditional tragic finale. You can read more about this score’s convoluted history in this New York Times article from 2018.

What should I look for? Tomasson worked closely with fight director Marty Pistone to create all the fight scenes in this ballet. Look for how intense these scenes are and how carefully choreographed. The more chaotic they seem, the more precise they really are.

Header image: Frances Chung in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson


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Ultimate Guide to Present Perspectives

Present Perspectives will be part of SF Ballet’s 2020 Season, with performances March 26, 28, and 31; and April 1, 3, and 5.

By Jennie Scholick, PhD

What is it? A chance to see three of today’s most innovative choreographers—Yuri Possokhov, Benjamin Millepied, and Alexei Ratmansky—reimagine classical forms for a new century.

Who’s it for? Anyone who loves a Saturday spent at the De Young museum, a Netflix-binge of indie romance films, or changing out their home décor on a precise seasonal schedule.  

CLASSICAL SYMPHONY

San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov’s Classical Symphony // © Erik Tomasson

What Am I Seeing? Classical Symphony, created by San Francisco Ballet choreographer-in-residence Yuri Possokhov in 2010. The piece is dedicated to Peter Pestov, Possokhov’s teacher at the Bolshoi Ballet School. It’s not academic, as such, but it’s technically challenging and it requires a steely classical technique.

What Am I Hearing? Sergei Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony. Listen close: you’ll hear a section of the third movement here repeated in Prokefiev’s score for Romeo & Juliet later in the season!

 What Should I Look For? For all that this is Possokhov’s homage to classical technique, it’s not purely classical. Notice the costumes: the tutus resemble those found in 19th-century ballets, but they’re lighter, made of only two thin layers of fabric rather than dozens of layers of tulle. The choreography is similar, taking classical steps but twisting them to show new angles.

APPASSIONATA

Jennifer Stahl and Aaron Robison in Millepied’s Appassionata // © Erik Tomasson

What Am I Seeing? An intimate exploration of love and passion created by LA Dance Project director Benjamin Millepied. First created for the Paris Opera Ballet, where Millepied was director from 2014–16, this ballet features three couples who fall in and out and in to love over the course of its 30 minutes.

What Am I Hearing? Ludwig von Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 23 in F minor, commonly known as the Appassionata. Fiendishly difficult to play, this sonata is explosive, volatile, and impassioned. 

What Should I Look For?The heart of this ballet is in the central pas de deux set to the andante. This romantic interlude interrupts the frenetic pace set in the opening allegro and transforms the emotional energy of the ballet.

THE SEASONS

San Francisco Ballet rehearsing Ratmansky’s The Seasons // © Erik Tomasson

What Am I Seeing? The West Coast premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s ballet The Seasons. Created at American Ballet Theatre in the spring of 2019, this ballet reimagines a lost work by 19th-century choreographer Marius Petipa. Ratmansky is very interested in what’s called “ballet reconstruction,” a process of using notation and photographs to recreate Petipa’s works as precisely as possible. But for The Seasons, he takes a different approach, using the libretto of the ballet but completely reinventing its choreography.

What am I hearing? Alexander Glazunov’s The Seasons. Perhaps best known as Shostakovich’s teacher, Glazunov is sometimes overlooked as an artist, but two of his ballets, Raymonda and The Seasons, are among the most popular of his works.

What should I look for? Although he created all new choreography, Ratmansky preserved Petipa’s original libretto, so look for a whole cast of various beings on stage: Frost, Ice, and Hail; a Zephyr and a Rose; a Faun, the Spirit of the Corn, and Bacchus himself. The original cast was a who’s-who of famous ballet Imperial Ballet stars like Olga Probrazhenskaya, Matilde Kschessinskaya, Pavel Gerdt, Nikolai Legat, and Anna Pavlova. There’s a way that aspect of the ballet filters through to this version. It has many principal characters and principal parts, all full of technical challenges and requiring star turns of their dancers.


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Header image: Frances Chung and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira in Possokhov’s Classical Symphony // © Erik Tomasson

Ultimate Guide to A Midsummer Night’s Dream

George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream will be part of SF Ballet’s 2020 Season, with performances March 6–15.

By Jennie Scholick, PhD

What is it? A Shakespearean favorite making its triumphant return to San Francisco after a 35-year absence. This 1962 work by George Balanchine to music by Felix Mendelssohn was his first original full-length ballet and quickly hailed as a masterpiece. Balanchine loved the original play—he could recite large parts of it in Russian—so the ballet sticks close to its inspiration, telling the story of four lost lovers in the woods, as well as of a royal fairy court made up of Queen Titania, King Oberon, and mischievous Puck.

In short: Adventures and misadventures. Mischief and magic. Woodland creatures and fairyland foibles.

Who it’s for: Anyone who loves high fantasy, the pure dance of George Balanchine, or is a sucker for weddings.

What will I see? Our story opens in a forest outside of Athens on Midsummer Eve…

ACT I

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Laura Tisserand and Ezra Thomson in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust // © Angela Sterling

The Plot: The ballet quickly introduces us to three main groups of characters. First up, the fairies: Puck is a mischievous sprite, and Oberon and Titania are the King and Queen of the Fairies, trapped in a battle of wills over who gets to care for a charming changeling child.

Next, we meet the inhabitants of Athens: Hermia and Lysander, very much in love; Demetrius, who also loves Hermia; and Helena, in love with Demetrius. We also, briefly, meet Theseus, the Duke of Athens, and his fiancée Hippolyta, the Queen of the Amazons, as they consider Hermia and Lysander’s request to be married against her father’s wishes. Upon rejecting the request, the lovers run off into the woods, followed by Demetrius and Helena.

Finally, we encounter Bottom, a weaver, and his friends, also wandering the forest on this midsummer night.

As if this isn’t enough activity already, Oberon, interested both in helping out these young human lovers and in getting back at his queen, has Puck bring him a flower pierced by Cupid’s arrow. Why? When touched by this flower, a person falls in love with the first person they lay eyes on. He instructs Puck to make Demetrius love Helena and to play a trick on Titania.

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Laura Tisserand and Ezra Thomson in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust // © Angela Sterling

But of course it isn’t that simple. First, Puck accidentally anoints Lysander, not Demetrius, causing him to fall in love with Helena, and then, attempting to remedy the mistake, anoints Demetrius as well. Now, instead of both men loving Hermia, they both love Helena, confusing and upsetting the entire crew.

Meanwhile, Puck separates Bottom from his group and transforms his head into that of a donkey. (Yes, he’s making an “ass” out of him. Shakespeare’s clever like that.) He puts the donkey-headed man near Titania’s bower, douses her in flower dew, and when she awakens … well, she falls in love with the ass. Oberon shows up just in time to release her from the spell, at which point she’s embarrassed enough to make up with her husband.

As the night drags on, the human lovers eventually wear themselves out with fighting and fall asleep, giving Puck a chance to put all the pairs to rights. Theseus and Hippolyta (accompanied by her hounds) find and wake them, and now that everyone’s paired off correctly, they declare it’s time for a triple wedding.

What should I look for? The whole entire plot (five acts in the original play) is condensed down into this single act, so a lot of what you’re looking for is who’s who! But there are a few key dance moments too, especially for the fairies. Notice that Titania and Oberon never dance together, instead Titania dances with a nameless cavalier in a pas de deux that is full of long, elegant lines, and of course with Bottom, in what must be one of the funniest pas de deux ever choreographed! And Oberon has a solo full of quick jumps and what we call “batterie,” or small beats made with the feet while in the air. This is one of the hardest solos that Balanchine ever choreographed, so don’t miss it! And finally, watch Puck, who moves with quicksilver lightness throughout the whole ballet. Created on Arthur Mitchell, this was one of the defining roles of his career.

ACT II

Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Lesley Rausch and Benjamin Griffiths with company dancers in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust // © Angela Sterling

The plot: With all the plot in Act I that leaves … a wedding, of course, for Act II! A triple wedding, that is, as Theseus and Hippolyta, Helena and Demetrius, and Hermia and Lysander all tie the knot.

After the wedding entertainment ends, we return to the forest, where we see our reconciled King and Queen of the Fairies. Puck—who brought us into this forest scene—closes out the ballet, as he does the play: “If we shadows have offended/Think but this, and all is mended,/
That you have but slumber’d here/While these visions did appear….So, good night unto you all./Give me your hands, if we be friends,/And Robin shall restore amends.”

What should I look for? This act hinges on the Divertissment pas de deux, in some ways, an odd moment when Balanchine inserts an entirely new couple into the action to dance together at the wedding. This duet seems to show everything that the other couples in the ballet don’t have: decorum, grace, equality, mutuality, respect. Low lifts—never above the shoulder—and careful handholding create a sense of ease and intimacy. A final sweeping backbend suggests a gentle fall into perfect love.  


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Header image: Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Lesley Rausch and Benjamin Griffiths with company dancers in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Choreography © The George Balanchine Trust // © Angela Sterling