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.

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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

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.

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

Your Ultimate Guide to Dance Innovations

What is it? An evening of ballet that shows the art form in all its facets: emotional, philosophical, and, well, pure delight. From light installations to pink wigs to classic white tutus, Dance Innovations has something for everyone.

Who’s it for? Anyone who loves artist Olafur Eliasson, likes puzzling over conceptual ideas, or is just a fan of pure pomp and circumstance.

San Francisco Ballet in Liang's The Infinite Ocean. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in Liang’s The Infinite Ocean. (© Erik Tomasson)

THE INFINITE OCEAN

What Am I Seeing? The latest piece for SF Ballet by BalletMet Artistic Director Edwaar Liang. Created for the 2018 Unbound Festival, The Infinite Ocean explores the liminal space between life and death. Full of complex partnering and deep emotions, this ballet was a favorite among audience members both when it premiered here and on tour in Washington D.C. and London.

What Am I Hearing? A violin concerto by London-based composer Oliver Davis, written in 2018. Davis’s work is being used more and more often by ballet choreographers, including Ma Cong, Peter Walker, and Matthew Neenan.  

What Should I Look For? The central pas de deux: sometimes the trickiness in ballet partnering is making it look simple. That’s not the case here. The partnering is just as complex as it looks as the dancers cantilever themselves into Alexander Calder-like shapes.

 

San Francisco Ballet rehearse McIntyre's The Big Hunger // © Erik Tomasson
San Francisco Ballet rehearse McIntyre’s The Big Hunger // © Erik Tomasson

THE BIG HUNGER

What Am I Seeing? Acclaimed choreographer Trey McIntyre returns to SF Ballet with his world premiere The Big Hunger. Known for often working with pop music, this ballet is a departure for Trey, as he taps into his musical background to explore a classical score by Sergei Prokofiev. But Trey’s dances are rarely solely about the music, and in this case, he’s also playing with some philosophical concepts. Specifically, he’s thinking about the things that give life meaning and the things we sometimes think are meaningful, but really aren’t.

What Am I Hearing? Sergei Prokofiev Piano Concerto no. 2, written in 1913 and revised in .  It’s one of the most difficult pieces to play in the piano repertoire and (as far as I know) has never been used before in a ballet.

What Should I Look For? This ballet is divided into three sections, each featuring a principal couple. These three sections and three couples each represent a different stage toward enlightenment—notice how those relationships are distinct, notice how the sets change between sections, and notice how each couple moves and partners differently.   

 

San Francisco Ballet in Lander's Etudes. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in Lander’s Etudes. (© Erik Tomasson)

ETUDES

What Am I Seeing? Choreographed in 1948 by Danish choreographer Harald Lander, Études is an ode to classical ballet’s history and form. A series of studies, or “études,” this ballet puts its dancers through their paces. Beginning with exercises at the barre, then foraying into ballet’s Romantic Era past, the ballet ends with a spectacular display of virtuosity and technique.

What am I hearing? A variety of piano études by Carl Czerny, arranged and orchestrated by Knudaage Riisager. These piano pieces were created to challenge and train students, making them a clever match for a ballet about ballet training.

What should I look for? The central ballerina who flits in and out throughout the ballet, sometimes in a short, classical tutu and sometimes in a longer, Romantic-era one. And for the way that the steps you see later in the ballet—the jumps and turns—relate to the earlier exercises you saw at the barre. If you can make that connection, it may well change how you watch all ballets.

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Dance Innovations plays at the War Memorial Opera House February 13, 15, 18, 19, 21, and 23.


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Header image: San Francisco Ballet in Liang’s The Infinite Ocean // © Erik Tomasson

To the Pointe: 2020 Season Preview

Join SF Ballet’s Jennie Scholick for a surprise summer season preview. Learn what SF Ballet’s up to this summer and what to look forward to on the 2020 season!
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: San Francisco Ballet in Liang’s The Infinite Ocean // © Erik Tomasson

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Elizabeth Mateer, Corps de Ballet

Elizabeth Mateer, in her third season as a member of the corps de ballet, reflects on the roles she has enjoyed performing. She describes her preparation for a professional career from training in a small setting to the intense experience at the School of American Ballet, and then her seven years as part of Pennsylvania Ballet. She recalls the excitement of learning the new works for the 2018 Unbound Festival, and she describes the important effects of the festival going forward.

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Header image: SF Ballet in Possokhov’s “…two united in a single soul…”  // © Erik Tomasson

Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem Program Notes


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by Cheryl A. Ossola

Trey McIntyre came to San Francisco Ballet knowing he would make a piece about his grandfather. What he didn’t know was how that idea would play out choreographically—but he always trusts his subconscious during the creative process. And when he finished his ballet, Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, he saw that it was about loss and remembrance, pain and happiness—a mind-meld of sorts between grandson and grandfather in a family from the American Great Plains.

San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem // © Erik Tomasson

The idea for this ballet, McIntyre’s second for the Company, began percolating when McIntyre’s father died a few years ago. Among the family photos was a 1920s portrait of his grandfather in a football uniform of high-waisted trousers and heavy boots. McIntyre, a photographer and filmmaker as well as a dancemaker, was intrigued. “My grandfather was a giant like me. I’m six-foot-six and he was six-three, but that was probably six-six for the 1920s,” he says, laughing. “Even though I never knew him, I always envisioned some life perspective that he and I might have shared.”

That’s the idea he brought with him to SF Ballet. Then came the solar eclipse, coinciding with the first day of rehearsals, which McIntyre thought was auspicious. “How I pictured it,” he says, “was the sun and the moon lining up, creating this portal through time—that I had this chance to be with my grandfather, to get to know him.” The portal idea led to the ballet’s structure of two solos, danced by the same man, bookending the “eclipse” section, which could be read as vignettes from the grandfather’s life. The solo man is the grandfather, but so are all the men, conceivably. For McIntyre, the eclipse is potent because he has begun to think that “all time is happening at once,” he says. “I always thought that was kind of woo-woo. But I thought of the piece in that way—[my grandfather’s] lifetime is happening all at once.”

Benjamin Freemantle in McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem // © Erik Tomasson

Two aspects of his grandfather’s life give the ballet its emotional tone—death and dementia. “There is a picture I paint because he was an undertaker,” McIntyre says. “There’s a morbidity to living in a funeral home, in a way that resonates with me. I’m interested in the darkness of experience; I’m interested in the contrast of light and dark.” Images of death permeate the ballet, in lingering leave-takings, loving touches tinged by sadness.

The ballet’s ending, though, comes from a specific memory. McIntyre’s grandfather had dementia late in life, “and I remember one story of him walking around the neighborhood in his underwear,” the choreographer says. What he liked about the story was “thinking about life as reincarnation—going through life [from childhood], and in our old age returning to a childlike state,” he says. “Dementia underlines that even more because you lose the experience that you had. And so I wanted, especially in the final solo, to have it be my grandfather wandering around in his underwear and experiencing life in reverse.”

San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem // © Erik Tomasson

The ballet’s themes are both supported and belied by the music, songs by Chris Garneau from his album El Radio. Some of the rhythms are bouncy, the melodies catchy; others lament, “We left too soon,” or “It drags me down.” “I wanted something that had some quietness to it,” says McIntyre. “I like how varied and interesting the instrumentation is; it isn’t just a bunch of ballads.” With these songs as a soundtrack, he fills the ballet with buoyancy, playfulness, charm—yet somehow instills an undertone of loss. “You learn happiness because you have it in contrast to the sorrow that you’ve had,” he says. “I like having those elements all in play at once.”

Being a filmmaker has influenced McIntyre’s approach to transitions, and it has slowed him down. “There are probably more moments of quiet in this piece, and stillness, because of making film,” he says. He doesn’t mean pauses or inaction; the stillness is built into the steps. It’s an approach that accommodates introspection. McIntyre, imagining looking back at life after death, says “it would be pure empathy for every moment.” That’s how he imagines his grandfather would see this ballet. “You realize that life is just this big, amazing experience and that the pain was just as valuable as the joy.”


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Header image: Isabella DeVivo and Steven Morse in McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem // © 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

Your Ultimate Guide to Lyric Voices


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What is it? Ballet is an art form without words. Usually. But in Lyric Voices, three choreographers—Trey McIntyre, Christopher Wheeldon, and Yuri Possokhov—work with song and text to show how blending dance, music, and lyrics can produce something spectacular.

Who’s it for? Anyone who loves memoirs, is too attached to their phone, or has a soft spot for Greek mythology.

YOUR FLESH SHALL BE A GREAT POEM

San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem //© Erik Tomasson

What am I seeing? Standing six feet six inches tall, choreographer Trey McIntyre has a rare perspective on the world. But it’s one he may have shared with his also-very-tall grandfather. In Your Flesh Shall Be A Great Poem, McIntyre imagines what it might be like to see through his grandfather’s eyes. The ballet imagines a portal into his grandfather’s life. Unexpectedly moving, this dance merges quirky, playful gestures with moments of stillness and introspection.

What am I hearing? Tracks from singer-songwriter Chris Garneau’s album El Radio. McIntyre is known for working with pop music, including The Shins, Amy Winehouse, and Peter, Paul, and Mary.

What should I look for? Look for the piece’s episodic structure. What might these individual encounters represent? And look for the central figure whose solos open and close the work, lending it an emotional through-line.

BOUND TO

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Bound To // © Erik Tomasson

What am I seeing? When’s the last time you rode Caltrain and looked out the window rather than scrolling Instagram? Or left your phone at home and totally unplugged for the day? Bound To© by Christopher Wheeldon starts with these questions. It explores the loneliness and disconnection that our constant state of digital engagement can cause. This is tech-influenced ballet for a tech-obsessed city.

What am I hearing? A collection of works by singer-songwriter Keaton Henson. The ballet’s score blends Henson’s classical music with one of his final vocal racks.

What should I look for? Look for the way dancing with cellphones changes the dancers’ movements. Ballet is usually about connection, either between the dancers on stage or the dancers and their audience. But here, they are inwardly oriented. They fixate on technology in ways that change the line of their heads and necks. And notice how when the dancers’ movements become more expansive when they lose their phones.

“…two united in a single soul…”

San Francisco Ballet rehearsing Possokhov’s “. . . two united in a single soul . . .” // © Erik Tomasson

What am I seeing? A world premiere by SF Ballet choreographer-in-residence Yuri Possokhov based on the myth of Narcissus. Possokhov is the choreographer of dramatic, sensual, and evocative ballets like The Rite of Spring, Raku, and Swimmer. Here, he blends Greek myth, Baroque music, and classical ballet to create a visual spectacle worthy of its inspiration. If you loved the excitement of last year’s Unbound festival, you won’t want to miss this new work.

What am I hearing? A variety of George Frideric Handel arias as arranged by Russian composer Daria Novo. The selected arias were written for castrati—men who were castrated young to preserve their high voices—and now sung by countertenors. You’ll see a countertenor onstage with the dancers, adding another dimension to this elaborate work.

What should I look for Notice the mirror imagery that appears throughout the ballet. The myth of Narcissus is about a man who falls in love with his own reflection in a lake. Unable to tear himself away, is transformed into a flower. Notice too the way Possokhov pulls many different kinds of production elements together. He’s known for working with many different art forms and this ballet is no exception.

Header image: SF Ballet in Wheeldon’s Bound To // © Erik Tomasson


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To the Pointe: Lyric Voices

SF Ballet’s Jennie Scholick, PhD dives deep into Program 05: Lyric Voices. Learn about Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, Christopher Wheeldon’s Bound To©, and Yuri Possokhov’s “…two united in a single soul…” and find out what to look for in these ballets!

Header image: Dores André and Benjamin Freemantle in Wheeldon’s Bound To © // Photo © Erik Tomasson