SF Ballet School Spring Festival Highlights

San Francisco Ballet School launches its first annual Spring Festival, May 22–24, 2019. Formerly known as Student Showcase, the SF Ballet School Spring Festival will include three nights of performances, an opening night dinner, and new interactive activities with opportunities to learn about ballet.

Each of the three performances will feature different programming. All will include a short demonstration by students in Levels 2–8, choreographed by SF Ballet School Faculty member Karen Gabay. This demonstration will be followed by upper-level students and Trainees performing SF Ballet School Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s Ballet d’Isoline, a new work choreographed by AXIS Dance Company Artistic Director Marc Brew, excerpts from Jiří Kylián’s Sarabande and Falling Angels, and premieres by SF Ballet School student choreographers. 

Highlights from last year’s Student Showcase, including works by George Balanchine, Karen Gabay, Blake Johnston, and Helgi Tomasson

Proceeds from the May 22 Spring Festival Dinner, to be held at the Four Seasons San Francisco, will support the more than $1 million in scholarships and financial aid the School distributes each year so that talented students, regardless of family circumstances, can have a chance to study dance.

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Header photo: San Francisco Ballet School Students performing a demonstration in the 2018 Student Showcase // © Lindsay Thomas

Marc Brew Creates quicksilver on SF Ballet School Trainees

By Hannah Young

The premiere of Marc Brew’s quicksilver introduced more than just new choreography to SF Ballet School students. Drawing from his personal experiences and professional ballet training, Brew—the artistic director of AXIS Dance Company and an acclaimed choreographer who uses a wheelchair—spent several weeks with SF Ballet School Trainees, introducing new ways to think about choreography. First shown on March 13 at SF Ballet’s free Student Matinee and returning for the School’s Spring Festival May 22–24, the six-person ballet resulted from an unconventional movement exploration.

Brew’s unique method for creating choreography pushed the Trainees both technically and creatively. “I wanted to share my process with the students, being aware that this is probably the first time that they’ve worked with a disabled choreographer,” he explained, “I bring some material, an upper body arm phrase, and then ask them to see how they could move the rest of their body.” Prescribing movement for the upper body and asking the dancers to create accompanying movement for the lower body was a new choreographic prompt for the students.

During the creation process, Brew guided the students to consider different physical perspectives. “When I went through ballet school, I was never exposed to anyone with a disability,” Brew said. “The fact that I’m in the studio with them, and working with them, hopefully will change those perceptions around what a dancer is and what it means to be a dancer.” He also challenged the common narrative of an injury ending a dancer’s relationship with dance: “If one day they got injured, maybe that doesn’t mean you just have to sit on the side—maybe there are other ways you can explore.”

SF Ballet School Trainees rehearsing Marc Brew’s quicksilver // © Alexander Reneff-Olson

Brew spent three weeks with the Trainees, helping them find new ways to create movement. By asking a diverse range of artists to engage with the students, SF Ballet School commits to providing an education that not only develops technical prowess but also prioritizes personal innovation. Experiences like these are how students learn a skill imperative to creative success—how to cultivate their own aesthetic and voice.

Experiences like these are only possible with community engagement. We invite you to join us in supporting diverse artistic voices by donating today. Your gift, no matter the size, is critical to bringing in dancers of all backgrounds to nourish the artistic growth of our students.

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Header photo: San Francisco Ballet School student rehearsal with Marc Brew // © Alexander Reneff-Olson

Composer Lera Auerbach on using a Theremin in The Little Mermaid’s Score

In creating the score for John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid, composer Lera Auerbach used a theremin to convey the beautiful, otherworldly voice of the mermaid. See how this electronic musical instrument is played (without physical contact!) and hear from Auerbach about how it musically illuminates the mermaid’s nature.

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Header image: Yuan Yuan Tan in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson

Arthur Pita on Creating Björk Ballet

In his Björk Ballet, Arthur Pita channels the magic and mischief of pop singer Björk’s music. It’s a crazy glamorous ballet that The Guardian called “a ridiculous amount of fun.” Here Pita talks about the creation of this work for SF Ballet’s Unbound Festival. Bjork Ballet returns in SF Ballet’s 2019 Season as part of Space Between, which runs from March 29–April 9.

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Header photo: Elizabeth Powell and Sarah Van Patten in Pita’s Björk Ballet // © Erik Tomasson

Trey McIntyre On Creating Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem

Choreographer Trey McIntyre talks about creating his ballet Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem—and how a lunar eclipse affected his work. Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, created for SF Ballet’s 2018 Unbound festival, returns in SF Ballet’s 2019 Season as part of Lyric Voices (March 27 to April 7, 2019).


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Header photo: Trey McIntyre rehearsing Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. // © Erik Tomasson

The Story of John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid

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During a sea voyage, a Poet remembers the wedding of his dear friend Edvard to Henriette. Mourning his separation from Edvard, a tear rolls slowly down the Poet’s cheek, falling into a sea of memories and fantasies.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Lloyd Riggins as the Mermaid and the Poet in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson

Part 1

At the bottom of the sea, the Poet’s longing for Edvard takes the form of a little mermaid. This lovely sea creature watches a ship pass on the water’s surface, and dreams of the earth world. On board the passing ship, sailors are exercising. Their Captain, a Prince—strongly resembling Edvard—is absurdly playing golf. Accidently hitting a ball overboard, he dives into the sea to retrieve it. Although the Prince is unable to see the Mermaid, her presence embraces him. When the Sea Witch appears, a terrible storm erupts and the Prince is in danger of drowning; the Poet wills the little Mermaid to rescue him. Holding the Prince’s unconscious body, the Mermaid, whose frolicsome play has now turned to love, cannot resist kissing him.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson

Bells sound as a group of convent school girls arrive at the seashore. One of the girls, a Princess—looking very much like Henriette—discovers the Prince. She tentatively wakes him. Believing the Princess to be one who saved him, the Prince seems to fall in love with her.

Sad and despondent, the little Mermaid witnesses the developing affection between the Prince and Princess, and mirroring the Poet’s soul, her desire for the Prince turns to desperation.

Determined to become human, the little Mermaid searches for the Sea Witch. Love gives the little Mermaid courage to beg for a human body. A terrible ritual follows, and taking her beautiful tail as ransom, the Sea Witch violently transforms her. The little Mermaid now has legs.

Yuan Yuan Tan in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson

Waking naked on the seashore, she finds her first steps unbearably painful. The Prince, passing by, takes pity on this strange creature and carries her on board his ship. It seems her dream has been realized.

As the ship is about to depart, the Prince discovers the Princess among the passengers. As the love between the Prince and Princess intensifies, the little Mermaid suffers the intense pain of human disappointment.

San Francisco Ballet in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson

Part 2

The little Mermaid is determined to be a woman, but the closed rooms of the earth world stifle her attempts. In spite of her efforts, she is still awkward and clumsy in her human body. Visions of the sea cross through her dream. Deeply in love with the Prince, the little Mermaid’s desire to be loved in return is now clearly in vain; today he will marry the Princess. The little Mermaid is to be a bridesmaid.

SF Ballet in John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid 

During the celebrations, the Sea Witch appears as part of a strange entertainment. He gives the little Mermaid a lethal knife, promising that if she kills the Prince, her tail will be restored, and she will be able to return home in the deep sea. After all the guests have departed, the little Mermaid encounters the Prince. But it is clear to her that she could never harm him. During their farewell, the little Mermaid wonders whether the Prince feels, just for a moment, the depth of her passion. Did they nearly kiss? Abruptly he departs for his wedding night with the Princess.


The little Mermaid is left alone. Her pain reflects the Poet’s own painful situation. Each seems the shadow of the other—each abandoned by the object of their intense love. They are one—creator and creation. It is the Poet’s love for his Mermaid that gives her the soul that will make her immortal, just as she, “The Little Mermaid,” will immortalize him. Courageous, they search for a new world.

Header image: Yuan Yuan Tan in Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid // © Erik Tomasson

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San Francisco Ballet School’s New Spring Festival

The much-anticipated annual spring performance of students at SF Ballet School has a new format. SF Ballet School Spring Festival (formerly known as SF Ballet School Student Showcase) will include three nights of performances, a dinner on opening night, and new interactive activities. 

Performances will be held May 22–24 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater. Following the May 22 performance, SF Ballet Auxiliary hosts the SF Ballet School Spring Festival Dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco to benefit the School’s scholarship fund, which gives more than $1 million annually in need- and merit-based grants to students.

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Header image: San Francisco Ballet School Students in Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Lindsay Thomas

The Story of The Sleeping Beauty

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San Francisco Ballet’s production of the timeless fairy tale “The Sleeping Beauty” is set in Russia in the 17th and 18th centuries. The curtain rises on the Imperial court for the Prologue and Act I, where society is still bound by Byzantine manners and fashion. Acts II and III take place one hundred years later, after Peter the Great had ruled and opened the doors to the influence of European styles and cultures.

SF Ballet as Fairies at the Christening in Helgi Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty // © Erik Tomasson

Prologue: The Christening

Once upon a time in a faraway land, a princess named Aurora was born to a Tsar and Tsarina. A grand celebration is arranged for her christening. All the fairies of the kingdom are invited and the Fairies of Tenderness, Playfulness, Generosity, Serenity, and Courage each bestow their gifts on the princess. At last it is the Lilac Fairy’s turn. But before she can bestow her gift, the Fairy of Darkness appears, blazing with anger. She had been forgotten; no invitation was sent to her. She, too, has something for the baby: a curse. One day Aurora will prick her finger on a spindle and die.

Anita Paciotti as the Fairy of Darkness in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty

The Lilac Fairy has yet to make her offering. The benevolent Fairy cannot remove the Fairy of Darkness’ curse, but she can soften it. She promises that Aurora shall not die from the prick of her finger, but will fall into a deep sleep for one hundred years and be awakened by a prince’s kiss.

Act I: The Spell

Sixteen years have passed, and the kingdom is celebrating Princess Aurora’s birthday. Four suitors from the North, South, East and West have come to the Imperial court to seek her hand in marriage.

Sasha De Sola as Aurora in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty

 During the revelry, an old woman approaches the Princess and offers her a gift such as the girl has never before seen. It is a spindle! Delighted, Aurora plays with the curious object and then pricks her finger. She falls to the ground. The old woman throws off her cape, revealing herself to be the vengeful Fairy of Darkness. Having fulfilled her curse, she vanishes in triumph. But the Lilac Fairy returns to mitigate the curse, as promised. She weaves a spell of sleep over the entire Imperial court, and creates a forest that grows magically and covers the palace. 

Act II: The Vision

One hundred years have passed, and young Prince Desiré is out hunting with members of his court. But he grows bored with the hunt and separates from his companions. He dreams of a love he fears he shall never attain. The Lilac Fairy appears and shows him a vision of Princess Aurora. Enchanted by what he has seen, Desiré begs the Fairy to take him to Aurora. The Lilac Fairy takes him through the magical forest, leading him to the hidden palace where Aurora sleeps. When the Prince finds the Sleeping Beauty he awakens her with a kiss. The spell is broken.

Sasha De Sola and Carlo Di Lanno in Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty // © Erik Tomasson

Act III: The Wedding

The entire kingdom joyously celebrates the wedding of Princess Aurora to Prince Desiré. All pay tribute to the bride and groom, while individual characters dance for the delight of the court. In a final apotheosis, the Lilac Fairy appears and blesses the marriage.

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