Joshua Jack Price, Corps de Ballet, on Life During COVID-19

Corps de Ballet member Joshua Jack Price checks in from shelter-in-place.

Joshua Jack Price discusses his first season in the corps de ballet–a season cut short by COVID-19. He also shares stories of his time at the Prix de Lausanne, in the SF Ballet School Trainee Program, and favorite memories of the season.

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: Elizabeth Mateer and Joshua Jack Price rehearsing Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

Helgi Tomasson and Joseph Walsh on Oberon

Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson and Principal Dancer Joseph Walsh discuss the role of Oberon in George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Join Helgi Tomasson and Joseph Walsh as they call in from shelter-in-place to discuss the role of Oberon. Learn about what it was like to dance for Balanchine and what it is that makes this role so very special.

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:  Joseph Walsh in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

To the Pointe: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

All You Need to Know About A Midsummer Night’s Dream Before You Go!

Join Jennie Scholick, PhD for a quick overview of George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Hear about the ballet’s creation in 1960s New York, revisit the story to figure out which dancer is Hermia and which one is Helena, and find out what to look for in this magical and mystical ballet!

Header Photo: Sasha De Sola and Vladislav Kozlov rehearsing Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream // Choreography by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust; Photo © Erik Tomasson

The Story of Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella

Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella* will be part of SF Ballet’s 2020 Season, with performances Jan 21–Feb 2.

ACT I

SCENE 1: GARDEN ESTATE

Young Cinderella is playing outside with her mother and father when suddenly her mother becomes ill. In terrifying rapidity, her mother is taken from her and Four Fates are left to watch over Cinderella, who weeps over her mother’s grave. A tree sprouts from her tears.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

SCENE 2: ROYAL PALACE

The young Prince Guillaume and his friend Benjamin (the valet’s son) are pursued by Madame Mansard (the prince’s dancing mistress). They dash through the hallways of the palace, causing havoc. Suddenly King Albert and Queen Charlotte appear, stiff and formal. The king is appalled at Guillaume’s lack of discipline, but the queen is more forgiving. The boys dash off again into the garden.

SCENE 3: THE GRAVE

Cinderella, now older, brings flowers to her mother’s grave. Two girls, Clementine and Edwina, appear, followed by their mother Hortensia, on the arm of Cinderella’s father. Cinderella realizes that this is to be her new family. Hortensia hands Clementine a bouquet to present to Cinderella who, horrified on behalf of her dead mother, discards it. Her father insists that she take the flowers, but Cinderella hurls them at Hortensia’s feet. Cinderella’s father will not tolerate this behavior. Fueled by pride, Cinderella assumes a subservient attitude towards the women, thus sealing her own fate.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© //© Erik Tomasson

SCENE 4: ROYAL PALACE GALLERY

King Albert attempts to explain to his grown son the political connections to be gained by marrying a titled princess. Queen Charlotte writes invitations to an upcoming ball, where the prince will meet these prospective brides. Guillaume is distracted by Benjamin, who imitates the many foreign princesses in the portraits hanging on the walls. King Albert becomes enraged at his son’s lack of responsibility to his future kingdom, but Guillaume can’t believe his parents would force him into a loveless marriage. Albert insists the invitations be delivered in person by the prince himself. Guillaume and Benjamin hatch a plan to trade places, pretending to be one another.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Chris Hardy

SCENE 5: CINDERELLA’S KITCHEN

Cinderella stoically serves her family breakfast. The briefest sign of tenderness towards Cinderella from her father is frowned upon by Hortensia. Edwina follows closely in her mother’s footsteps, gaining favors from her. Clementine, the sweeter stepsister, is bullied into following suit. A poor beggar arrives at the door seeking food and warmth. Taking pity, Cinderella brings him into the kitchen, but Hortensia, horrified, casts him out again. “The Prince” (Benjamin) appears at the door. He has discovered the poor beggar outside and insists that Hortensia provide him with food and warmth. Hortensia feigns concern and orders Cinderella to help the beggar. “The Prince” has come to deliver invitations to a ball where he shall choose his bride. Left alone with Cinderella, the beggar (Prince Guillaume in disguise) sees true kindness in this girl. The two pretend to be at the ball, laughing and dancing.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Chris Hardy

SCENE 6: THE NIGHT OF THE BALL

Cinderella is cleaning the kitchen when the rest of her family appears, dressed for the ball. There was an invitation for Cinderella, but Hortensia throws it into the fire, and her family departs for the palace without Cinderella. The Fates, who have continued to watch over Cinderella, present her with her invitation and lead her to her mother’s grave.

SCENE 7: THE GRAVE

From the tree, spirits of Lightness, Fluidity, Generosity, and Mystery appear to teach Cinderella the steps she will need for the ball. Embraced by the branches, Cinderella is transformed and the Fates send her on her way to the ball — cryptically warning her to keep an eye on the time.

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

ACT II

SCENE 1: THE PALACE BALLROOM

The ball is underway when Cinderella’s family arrives. The king and queen witness the rather tipsy arrival of Prince Guillaume and Benjamin, neither in correct attire for such a formal occasion. Cinderella’s stepsisters still believe Benjamin to be the prince, giving the two young men another chance for deception. Guillaume finds he is uninterested in any of the eligible ladies, stepsisters included. A magical atmosphere fills the ballroom as a mysterious masked girl arrives. Guillaume is immediately drawn to her. Cinderella, recognizing Guillaume as the urchin, turns to flee, but is gently guided back to him by the Fates. The couple waltz together. Seeing the interest the prince shows in this mysterious beauty, Hortensia takes to the bottle, humiliating herself. Benjamin dances with Clementine, whom he likes. Guillaume and Cinderella dance, falling deeper in love. When Hortensia rips off Cinderella’s mask, it is time for her to flee. In the chaos caused by her sudden departure, she leaves behind one golden shoe. Guillaume vows to marry her.

Dores André and Carlo Di Lanno in in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson)

ACT III

SCENE 1: IN THE KINGDOM

Benjamin and Guillaume search for Cinderella, trying the shoe on every female foot they can find.

San Francisco Ballet waiting to try on shoes in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© //© Erik Tomasson

SCENE 2: CINDERELLA’S KITCHEN

Cinderella awakens, and with the help of the Fates, remembers her astonishing night at the palace. Hiding the other golden shoe on the mantelpiece, she resigns herself to her daily chores. Clementine tells Cinderella of the boy she met, and then Edwina turns suspicious when she spies Cinderella dancing steps from the ball. Hortensia viciously attacks Cinderella, and her father must step in. Unannounced, Benjamin and Guillaume arrive, exhausted from trying the shoe on so many feet. When the shoe does not fit either of the stepsisters, Hortensia throws it into the fire. Cinderella comes forward with the matching shoe: Prince Guillaume has found his princess. Cinderella and her prince leave the family behind. All is not lost for Clementine, however, as Benjamin returns to take her with him. And a royal wedding is held.

Dores André and Carlo Di Lanno in in Wheeldon’s Cinderella // © Erik Tomasson


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Header Image: Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham in Wheeldon’s Cinderella© // © Erik Tomasson

*Cinderella© by Christopher Wheeldon

About Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella

Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella* will be part of SF Ballet’s 2020 Season, with performances Jan 21–Feb 2.

Program notes by Cheryl A. Ossola

The heart of the old, the spirit of the new. Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella tells the same uplifting story people have heard for centuries, but this is a ballet full of innovations and modern twists. A co-production of San Francisco Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, Cinderella premiered in Amsterdam in 2012, then flew across the Atlantic to make its US premiere in San Francisco in 2013.

“Each of Christopher’s works has something unique,” says Helgi Tomasson, SF Ballet’s artistic director and principal choreographer. Wheeldon is an acclaimed dancemaker, in demand at companies worldwide. Formerly a resident choreographer at New York City Ballet and now an artistic associate at The Royal Ballet, he caused a sensation on Broadway with the musical An American in Paris, for which he won the Tony Award for choreography. And he’s a frequent presence at SF Ballet, with 14 works in the repertory. Cinderella was his eighth commission and first full-length story ballet for the Company.

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella // © Chris Hardy

Tomasson’s words about originality ring true in Wheeldon’s Cinderella. You’ll find no fairy godmother, no pumpkin coach, no clock striking midnight—but you won’t miss them a bit when a tree comes alive and “dances,” or when Cinderella shows backbone and her Prince’s charm runs deep. And you won’t miss them when the dancing and the storytelling come from Christopher Wheeldon. “What I wanted to do,” the choreographer says, “was echo the darkness in the music by taking some of the themes from the Brothers Grimm version rather than the [Charles] Perrault version,” with its fairy godmother and pumpkin coach. “The Grimm version is more serious and a bit darker, centered around nature and the spirit of mother.” That’s where he got the idea of a tree that grows from the grave of Cinderella’s mother, “the deliverer of all things magic, which I think is more poetic [than a fairy godmother] and quite beautiful,” he says. “There are comic moments because there’s comedy written into the music, but it’s a more serious Cinderella in a way.”

That music, written by Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev in 1940 but shelved for several years during World War II, made its first appearance when Bolshoi Ballet premiered Cinderella in November 1945, choreographed by Rostislav Zakharov. “I love it,” says Music Director and Principal Conductor Martin West about the score. “It’s immediately striking, and astonishingly clever the way the themes come around, the way he could create an atmosphere out of something very simple.” Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, West says, “came from the heart, but Cinderella is more cerebral. It takes longer to get into, but once you’ve lived with it, it starts to eat at you. Some of it is so beautiful.”

Dores André and Carlo Di Lanno in in Wheeldon’s Cinderella // © Erik Tomasson

As a ballet, Cinderella has a lengthy pedigree. It debuted in St. Petersburg in 1893, choreographed by Marius Petipa with Enrico Cecchetti and Lev Ivanov, famous “fathers” of classical ballet. (This was when ballerina Pierina Legnani first whipped out an unheard-of 32 consecutive fouettés—pirouettes in which one leg repeatedly extends and whips in, foot to knee—a feat that is now a standard of virtuosity.) The West had to wait until 1938 to see a Cinderella, and when the chance came it was Michel Fokine’s one-act version in London, which added the role of Cinderella’s cat. In 1948, Sir Frederick Ashton made a Cinderella for Sadler’s Wells Ballet in London, and it was the first English full-length ballet done in the tradition of the 19th-century classics. He based it on the Perrault fairy tale and used the Prokofiev score. Ashton revived an old tradition by casting men—including himself—as the Ugly Sisters. Margot Fonteyn, his choice for Cinderella, was injured during rehearsals, and so it was Moira Shearer of The Red Shoes fame who created the title role.

Ashton’s Cinderella was followed by an onslaught of productions. Among them, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Peter Anastos made Cinderella for American Ballet Theatre in 1984; like Fokine’s, it included Cinderella’s Cat. Baryshnikov had never danced this ballet in Russia; it was the music that enticed him to create his own. Rudolf Nureyev, in his 1986 production for Paris Opera Ballet, set the ballet in Hollywood and gave the beleaguered Cinderella an alcoholic father. And in SF Ballet Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov’s 2006 production for Bolshoi Ballet, the Storyteller (Prokofiev himself) replaces the Fairy Godmother.

Paula Tracy in Christensen and Smuin’s Cinderella in 1973 // © San Francisco Ballet, Courtesy Museum of Performance + Design SF

Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella isn’t the first to find a home at SF Ballet—that honor goes to a production by Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin, then co-artistic directors, in 1973. Wheeldon’s version, with all the technological advantages of the 21st century, began percolating when he and Tomasson discussed ideas for a new full-length ballet to be co-produced with Dutch National Ballet. As Wheeldon soon found, creating a production on two continents simultaneously isn’t easy. “It was my crazy idea,” he says. “I said, ‘I’ll do some of it here and some of it there, and we’ll make it work.’” Several Dutch National Ballet principal dancers rehearsed in San Francisco for a few weeks in 2012, and several from SF Ballet went to Amsterdam; that way the choreography could be created on both companies at once. “It promotes a nice cultural exchange,” says Wheeldon, “but it has its pluses and minuses. One dancer hasn’t necessarily followed it through from beginning to end. On the other hand, more people have had the benefit of being created on.”

Listen to an interview of Cinderella choreographer Christopher Wheeldon at the time of Cinderella‘s premiere in San Francisco in 2013.

In creating a world for his characters to inhabit, Wheeldon assembled an artistic team with imaginations as big as his own. Step one was brainstorming with playwright and librettist Craig Lucas, who describes the early stages of Cinderella as “a constant back and forth, teasing out a shared understanding of what is exciting about the story. [We wanted] to burrow into possibilities we had never seen explored.” These included a substitute for the Fairy Godmother—an essential element, according to Wheeldon. “We all toy with the idea that loved ones are always watching over us in some way,” he says. He and Lucas settled on the tree that grows when Cinderella cries over her mother’s grave—in effect, a character, “a living thing that could embrace the action,” says Lucas—and four Fates who offer guidance and protection.

Yuan Yuan Tan as Cinderella with the four Fates in Wheeldon’s Cinderella // © Erik Tomasson

Wheeldon also knew he wanted his Cinderella to be in charge of her destiny. Yes, she’s a servant in her own home, but “she knows she doesn’t have to be there forever,” he says. “It is good versus evil; it is that if you’re a good person things can come out right. But it’s not saying if you’re meek or subservient you’ll be rewarded.” Cinderella gains some of her strength from the four Spirits (seasonal fairies in Prokofiev’s score), who, while teaching her to dance, imbue her with such gifts as elegance and lightness of being. The steps she learns form the basis of her solo at the Prince’s ball.

Cinderella’s Prince, too, is more complex than in traditional versions—more than “just a handsome mug,” Wheeldon says. He and Lucas gave the Prince a childhood—and a servant who happens to be his best friend. In a classic mistaken-identity plot device, the Prince masquerades as the servant, so “the Prince sees who Cinderella really is,” says Lucas. “She isn’t reacting to someone’s status; she is treating him [respectfully] as she would the lowliest person, something he isn’t used to experiencing. He has no idea that Cinderella is also hiding her identity.”

Joseph Walsh as Prince Guillaume in Wheeldon’s Cinderella // © Erik Tomasson

But what’s a story without a setting? Wheeldon chose Julian Crouch to do the sets and costumes because of his “very fantastical approach to design. He always seems to embrace the darker side of the fairy tales he’s done,” he says. Crouch had designed for theater, opera, and musicals, but ballet was a new world for him. And he discovered that “it needs to be fluid. I think this Cinderella˝ is more fluid than the traditional,” he says. “It moves scene to scene more rapidly; it has more locations. So for me it’s been an exercise in suggestion, really—I’ve had to suggest a location and support the atmosphere and then move fluidly to the next one.” As for the costumes, he says there’s “a looseness about them. Fairy tales are ‘once upon a time,’ not ‘once upon 1870.’” The period is the 1800s “but spread over the century,” he says. “Each character is allowed to drift a bit in time. I’d say it’s timeless; in that sense it has a fluidity as well.”

Crouch describes his design method as “like a purifying process.” Set designs come before those for costumes, and he starts by collecting images that spark his imagination. “You collect these things and they become the beginning of a conversation, with yourself, but also with the people you’re collaborating with.” The images lead to ideas, which then develop into a design concept.

Birds are some of the fanciful creatures in Wheeldon’s Cinderella; pictured SF Ballet //
© Erik Tomasson

One of Crouch’s collaborators is award-winning puppeteer Basil Twist, whose primary role with Cinderella˝ was to make the tree be more than scenery—a character that would, in effect, dance. The mechanics aren’t that difficult, he says; it’s just like moving any piece of scenery. But then “you get to the moment when you’re choreographing for the tree, to the music, and you’re saying, ‘Now it makes this shape; now it’s that shape.’ You feel the tree as you would a dancer. That’s when it comes alive.”

Twist has done many productions involving dance and music, and his work spans continents. (His Obie Award–winning Symphonie Fantastique, an underwater puppetry and art extravaganza set to Hector Berlioz’ score, caught Wheeldon’s eye.) But of everything Basil has created, what holds particular meaning for him is the tree in Cinderella. “This is maybe corny, but as a child I always used to go to [SF Ballet’s] Nutcracker,” he says. “And the tree growing onstage—it’s one of the reasons I work in the theater. I so loved that moment.” So he’s thrilled, he says, to be “doing my own tree on the same stage.”

The tree in Wheeldon’s Cinderella just before her transformation for the ball. San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Cinderella //
© Erik Tomasson

The tree’s foliage and movements are enhanced by projections — not in a major way, Couch says, but to “support the atmosphere, like the lighting does.” And lighting is where Natasha Katz comes in. To her, this ballet is “about transitions. Cinderella has moments of revelation and transition, and they’re all tapered to a place of joy.” What that means in terms of lighting, she says, is that “you can’t have light without darkness. The lighting really is the chiaroscuro of emotion. We’re going to have darkness when it’s emotionally dark, and we’re going to have joy when we’re supposed to have joy. And that is light and fluffy and beautiful and fun.” What’s most exciting about this Cinderella, says Katz, “is that it’s completely new, that we all started from the same place together.” She wasn’t one of those little girls who dreamed of being Cinderella—but if she had been, she says, “this is the one I would have dreamed about.”

Listen to an interview with Music Director Martin West and pianist Michael McGraw on Prokofiev’s melodic, atmospheric score for Cinderella.


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Header image: Yuan Yuan Tan in Wheeldon’s Cinderella // © Erik Tomasson

*Cinderella© by Christopher Wheeldon

Your Ultimate Guide to Ballet Accelerator

What is it? Ballet at full speed for the 21st century featuring works by two Brits, Cathy Marston and David Dawson, and our own Helgi Tomasson. 

Who’s it for? Anyone who loves a modern update on a classical theme, picked up The Feminine Mystique in undergrad, or enjoys the pure thrill of watching elite athletes compete. 

 

Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson's 7 For Eight // © Erik Tomasson
Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson’s 7 For Eight // © Erik Tomasson

7 FOR EIGHT

What Am I Seeing? 7 for Eight does what the title says: it’s a ballet in seven sections for eight dancers created by SF Ballet Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson in 2004. Its black-on-black color scheme, dramatic lighting effects, and shifting moods update the Baroque music for a modern era.

What Am I Hearing? Seven keyboard concertos by J.S. Bach written between 1729 and 1741. Six are played with a piano. One, played during a man’s solo, is performed on a harpsichord, as it would have been in the period.   

What Should I Look For? Notice how the number of dancers on stage shifts and morphs throughout the ballet. The eight dancers seem to be able to make an infinite (or, rather seven) number of shifting groups, from solos, to duets, to trios, and full ensemble configurations. And notice how the ballet’s mood changes throughout: from yearning and reaching to playful and clever.

Mathilde Froustey and Benjamin Freemantle rehearsing Cathy Marston’s new work // © Erik Tomasson

Cathy Marston World Premiere

What Am I Seeing? Cathy Marston is one of the hottest names in choreography right now. Following major premieres in New York and Chicago, this ballet is her second commission for SF Ballet. Set in 1960s California and focused on a love affair between an older woman and a younger man, this new work explores questions of love, sex, identity, femininity, and feminism.

What Am I Hearing? A newly commissioned score by British composer Terry Davies. Written specifically for this ballet, the score provides a structure for the movement. 

What Should I Look For? Cathy’s ballets tell stories, but not through traditional mime. Rather, she creates movement phrases and gestures based on words that help establish character and narrative. See if you can identify these repeated movements throughout the work and what they tell you about its protagonists. 

San Francisco Ballet in Dawson’s Anima Animus // © Erik Tomasson

ANIMA ANIMUS

What Am I Seeing? An example of physically emotional virtuosity by dancemaker David Dawson. Anima Animus is ballet pushed to every extreme; technique stretched to its outer limit. Playing with the idea of opposites—man-woman; black-white; lifted-grounded—this work nods to ballet’s past while pointing toward its future.

What am I hearing? Ezio Bosso’s Violin Concerto No. 1 “Esoconcerto.” Bosso’s score creates a sense of driving motion matched by the dancing.

What should I look for? The second movement and its virtuosic play between the two principal women and the four men. For the way that Dawson manipulates ballet technique: rarely is a dancer truly upright—everything is leaning, at an angle, off-balance. And for the wing-like gestures the dancers’ make with their arms, evoking flight.

Ballet Accelerator plays at the War Memorial Opera House on March 24, 25, 27, and 29, as well as April 2 and 4.


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Header image: Norika Matsuyama in Tomasson’s 7 For Eight // © 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

The Story of Romeo & Juliet

Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet will be performed on tour at the Royal Danish Opera House in Copenhagen from October 30 to November 2, 2019. Romeo & Juliet will also be part of SF Ballet’s 2020 Season in San Francisco, on Program 08, which runs May 1 to 10, 2020.

Act I

SCENE I: A Public Square

Verona’s main piazza comes alive with merchants and townspeople, including members of the Montague and Capulet families, who have been involved in a longstanding feud. Among the crowd are Romeo, son of Montague, futilely pursuing the fair Rosaline; Mercutio and Benvolio, friends of Romeo; and Tybalt, nephew of Capulet. A fight erupts between friends and members of the two houses, and only an order by the Prince of Verona restores the peace.

Two households, both alike in dignity

In fair Verona, where we lay our scene

From ancient grudge break to new mutiny

Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

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

SCENES II–V: The House of Capulet

Juliet, the young daughter of Capulet, is in a frolicsome mood with her Nurse until Lord and Lady Capulet arrive with Paris, a count, who asks the reluctant girl for her hand in marriage. That evening, Juliet attends a ball given by her parents. Among the guests is the uninvited Romeo. Juliet and Romeo discover each other, and there is an instant attraction.

Juliet: My only love sprung from my only hate!

Too early seen unknown, and known too late!

Prodigious birth of love it is to me,

That I must love a loathèd enemy.

Sarah Van Patten in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet.
(© Erik Tomasson)

SCENE VI: The Balcony

A restless Juliet wanders out onto her balcony. To her unexpected delight, Romeo appears below. They declare their love for each other in a romantic pas de deux.

Romeo: With love’s light wings did I o’erperch these walls,

For stony limits cannot hold love out,

And what love can do, that dares love attempt.

Therefore thy kinsmen are no stop to me.

Anita Paciotti and Diego Cruz in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson

Act 2

SCENE I: A Public Square

Juliet’s Nurse comes in search of Romeo with a note from his beloved. He is to meet her at the chapel of Friar Laurence, who will perform the wedding ceremony.

Romeo: Then plainly know my heart’s dear love is set

On the fair daughter of rich Capulet.

As mine on hers, so hers is set on mine…

SCENE II: Friar Laurence’s Chapel

Romeo and Juliet are married in secret by Friar Laurence.

Friar Lawrence: So smile the heavens upon this holy act…

Sofiane Sylve in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson

SCENE III: A Public Square

Tybalt emerges from the crowd and draws his sword at Mercutio, who retaliates. Romeo tries to put a halt to their swordplay. But a duel ensues, and Tybalt kills Mercutio. An enraged Romeo exacts revenge for his friend’s death, fatally stabbing Tybalt. The Prince forever banishes Romeo from Verona.

Benvolio: And if we meet we shall not ’scape a brawl,

For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.

Act 3

SCENE I: Juliet’s Bedroom

The newlyweds awaken and express their love and their fears in a passionate pas de deux. Romeo takes his leave. The Capulets arrive with Paris, and Juliet informs them that she will not marry him. Juliet’s parents threaten to disown her.

Romeo: More light and light, more dark and dark our woes!

SCENE II: Friar Laurence’s Chapel

A distraught Juliet implores Friar Laurence to help her. He gives her a potion to drink that will induce a sleep so deep that she will appear to be dead. Friar Laurence will get word to Romeo that Juliet is still alive. Romeo will come for her, and they will flee Verona together.

Juliet: Come weep with me, past hope, past cure, past help.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson

SCENE III: Juliet’s Bedroom

Juliet agrees to marry Paris. Later that night she drinks the potion. In the morning, Juliet’s friends arrive to celebrate her wedding. But no one can arouse her from her sleep, and all believe she is dead.

Juliet: What if this mixture do not work at all?

Shall I be married then tomorrow morning?

SCENE IV: Outside Verona

As word of Juliet’s death begins to spread, Friar Laurence dispatches a messenger to Romeo with the news that Juliet is, in fact, alive. But word fails to reach him, and Romeo decides to return to Verona to die beside his beloved.

Romeo: How fares my Juliet?

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet // © Erik Tomasson

SCENE V: The Capulet Tomb

Juliet is buried. After the mourners have gone Romeo enters the crypt and finds Paris already there. The two men fight, and Paris is mortally wounded. Romeo then drinks poison and dies. Juliet awakens from her sleep and discovers Romeo’s body. Heartbroken, she stabs herself and dies.

Prince: For never was a story of more woe

Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.


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

About David Dawson’s Anima Animus

David Dawson’s Anima Animus is part of SF Ballet’s 2020 Season. It will be performed as part of Program 05, Ballet Accelerator, which runs from March 24 to April 24, 2020.

Program notes by Cheryl A. Ossola

David Dawson’s first commission for San Francisco Ballet, Anima Animus, is, as he puts it, “physically emotional virtuosity combined to make something human.” It is indeed physical, emotional, virtuosic, and human—but there’s something transcendent about this combination. It’s most tangible in the section Dawson calls “Angels,” when the dancers seem to move beyond their mortal selves into a state of throat-clenching beauty. “Don’t do what you know,” he tells his dancers in rehearsal, “do something beyond. Unbound.”

Anima Animus offers a rich mix of contrasts, most meaningful among them Carl Jung’s concept of animus (the male aspect of the female psyche) and anima (the female aspect of the male psyche). Another contrast can be found in the music by Italian composer Ezio Bosso. “It felt to me like music that looks to the past and the future at the same time, much how I like to make dance,” Dawson says.

In making this ballet, Dawson found himself responding to the polarized present-day world. He understands the world’s opposites—light and dark, humanity and architecture, individual and group—“but between those opposites, there’s so much room where people can have choice without judgment,” he says. The spaces between extremes are a kind of fluidity, which Dawson wanted to explore within dance. “My language is the classical art form; I’m trying to do something with that,” he says. Historically, some ballet steps are for women or men only; Dawson shifts this by giving “the opposing energy as a starting point”—in other words, giving animus choreography to a dancer who seems more anima, and vice versa.

In the “Angels” part of the second movement, “we go to archetype,” Dawson says. “In Jung’s philosophy, the female is the nurturer, the mother, the angel, the pure. And the man is the warrior, the strong, the hero. I’m trying to show it all.” Even in these archetypes, the theme of contrasts shows. When the female dancers women float high above the stage, “that’s when they show their form as angels,” Dawson says. “That’s when they touch the sky and they show who they really are.”

San Francisco Ballet in Dawson's Anima Animus // © Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in Dawson’s Anima Animus // © Erik Tomasson
Wona Park in Dawson's Anima Animus // © Erik Tomasson
Wona Park in Dawson’s Anima Animus // © Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in Dawson's Anima Animus //© Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet in Dawson’s Anima Animus //© Erik Tomasson
Carlo Di Lanno in Dawson's Anima Animus // © Erik Tomasson
Carlo Di Lanno in Dawson’s Anima Animus // © Erik Tomasson

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Dawson sends his dancers skyward, but he wants them grounded too. This reads as a paradox—the dancers fly through intricate moves that do indeed make them seem as untethered as angels, and yet they have weight, form, and substance that goes far beyond the light, lifted aesthetic of classical ballet. In rehearsals, Dawson constantly asks the dancers to let their classicism go, asking for movement that is “deeper, squashed, crunched. I want it odd.”

But don’t think for a minute that Anima Animus is odd or ugly. Dawson compares traditional ballet to Rembrandt or Leonardo da Vinci, “and of course I’m not that. I don’t want to be that; I want to be [graffiti artist] Banksy. I want to take history and show somebody my view on it.” To get there, he starts with an internal process—which leads us back to this idea of physically emotional virtuosity. In choreographing, “I feel my way through the movement,” he says. “Because for me, physicality is driven by emotion. If someone’s angry or sad, it becomes physical—it’s expressed through the body.”

In Bosso’s music, Dawson hears both hope and doom. “You are here to tell us something,” he tells the dancers. “You’re saying to the public, ‘Be careful. It’s not going to end well if you keep going this way.’” Though his message acknowledges doom, it keeps reverting to hope. He’s interested “in the power of the human being,” he says, a mindset that is, in effect, his spirituality. “I believe in the universe,” he says. “We’re energy and carbon and atomic; creation is happening all the time. That’s why I love what we do, because we’re embodying what life is all about.”


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Header image: Wona Park and Joseph Walsh in Dawson’s Anima Animus // © Erik Tomasson