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


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

About Edwaard Liang’s The Infinite Ocean

Edwaard Liang’s The Infinite Ocean will be performed in SF Ballet’s 2020 Season. The Infinite Ocean is part of Program 03, Dance Innovations, which runs Feb 13, 15, 18, 19, 21, and 23, 2020.

Program notes by Cheryl A. Ossola

As a dancer, Edwaard Liang loved being in a company, being part of something bigger than himself, one player in the complex, mentally and physically challenging process of creating art. After a major career in ballet and on Broadway, he turned to choreographing, a role in which he not only participates in the creative process, he drives it. Today, as a longtime choreographer, and artistic director of BalletMet since 2013, Liang is known for creating dramatic works, fueled by extreme emotions. His third work for San Francisco Ballet, The Infinite Ocean, hovers in the space between life and death, when spirits must let go of whatever ties them to the physical world. It’s a time he calls “the awakening.”

Liang’s focus of late, both personally and professionally, has been on spirituality and life and death. When Liang was 13, his father died of cancer; in recent years, many of his friends have grappled with terminal illnesses. The idea behind this ballet began to simmer when he got a Facebook message from one of those friends: “I will see you on the other side of the infinite ocean.”

Liang had previously tackled the life-after-death theme with 13th Heaven at Singapore Dance Theatre, but he wanted to work more with the idea of the transition to death. “A lot of people think that ghosts or entities are spirits that cannot let go of the past and this earthly plane, so they are stuck in between,” he says. “The concept [of The Infinite Ocean] is that these are people that, at this particular time, are transitioning. It may not always be what we consider like drifting toward the light. I want it to be a little bit more chaotic.”

For music, he turned to composer Oliver Davis, with whom he’d worked on 13th Heaven. “I like that he writes such a quirky, interesting blend of minimalist music but with this baroque feel,” says Liang. “And he loves to work with strings, and I really wanted a violin concerto [for this ballet]. So it was a natural fit.”

To prepare, Liang pondered what he wanted the dancers to think about. “These are the same questions I was going to ask myself,” Liang says. “Who would you like to see [before you go]? And it doesn’t have to be a who—what would you like to see? What touches and moves and inspires you about the unknown? And whatever your belief is, what is it that makes your heart sing? We want to be heard, we want to be seen, we want to feel connected to something. What does that mean to you? The dancers’ responses would inform and individualize their movement.

When the ballet opens, the “transitioners” are struggling with these questions. “Everybody’s in silhouette,” Liang says, “and they’re walking toward the infinite ocean,” toward a light source inspired by a brilliant orb in a 2003 light installation by Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern. As they walk, they should reveal themselves as individuals, with their own needs and desires, Liang says. “You want to walk like the pure essence of you, as energy.”

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

At first, these transitioning souls resist leaving. “There’s a lot of going toward, reconnecting with each other, disconnecting,” Liang says. “But they’re really not looking at each other, not until a little bit later, when they’re reliving their relationships.” In a duet created on Principal Dancers Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets, the interaction is “soft, spiritual, romantic,” Liang says. Another couple is young, on their first date, facing the loss of promise and potential when their lives are cut short. A men’s dance “a choppy adventure” shows the angst involved in letting go of life, he says.

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

In a duet created on Principal Dancers Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz, Liang wanted to play with the idea of soul mates. Their relationship is tumultuous, “a constant circling and trying to find each other,” he says. For this couple, especially the woman, accepting that it’s time to leave bodily life is more difficult than it is for the others. “Obviously there’s some unresolved thing,” Liang says.

One day, during a rehearsal break, Liang turned on the music and started dancing. He began slowly, with small steps that gained speed and power, moving with concentration and obvious emotion. Maybe it was then that he got the first inkling of what he realized when the rough draft of the ballet was done—that it is “a love letter to my father,” he says. “He’s the first person I want to see [when I die]. It’s been so long since his death that I didn’t realize how desperate I am to reconnect with him. That was my journey through this process.”

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Header image: Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in Liang’s The Infinite Ocean // © Erik Tomasson

About Stanton Welch’s Bespoke

Stanton Welch’s Bespoke will be performed in SF Ballet’s 2020 Season. Bespoke is part of Program 02, Classical (Re)Vision, which runs Feb 11–22, 2020.

Program notes by Cheryl A. Ossola

In Stanton Welch’s Bespoke, expressions of love and gestures of caring abound. This piece, his sixth for San Francisco Ballet, is indeed about love, but it’s not about romance. Instead, Welch explores the love of dancers for their art form—the technique of ballet, the artistry, the rush of live performance. It’s an intense relationship, and one that’s all too fleeting.

That intensity, and the brevity of a dance career, occupy Welch’s thoughts quite often. “It’s a deep love dancers have with ballet,” says Welch, artistic director of Houston Ballet. “I don’t think many professions have that commitment, where you love it and when you’re around 30 to 40, it leaves you. And you know it going in, and that’s difficult.” For a long time after he retired from the stage, Welch reassured himself that he could still dance if he chose to. With the realization that those days are now behind him, he found himself wistful, longing to turn back the clock. And so clock imagery, the idea of time passing, persists throughout this ballet.

The piece begins with a solo man moving in silence. Welch hadn’t planned to start the ballet that way, but the idea came to him as he worked with Principal Dancer Angelo Greco, whom he describes as “hypnotic. He’s young and he’s fearless. He’s exactly what we should be when we first fall in love with ballet.” In the first movement, the dancers are “vital and alive,” Welch says, “with stellar technique—a truth that’s gloriously apparent in the opening moments of silence.

Angelo Greco in Welch’s Bespoke // © Erik Tomasson

Along with demonstrating brilliant technique, the brief solo introduces some of the movement motifs that characterize this ballet. One is the “ticking” of straight arms, hands flattened and perpendicular to the floor; they snap into place, replicating the movement of a clock’s second hand. One dancer begins this movement, and the others join in—no one is spared the marking of time. With the ballet’s central pas de deux, quiet and poignant, the next stage begins. There’s a struggle here—the man is moving on and the woman can’t accept it. She touches him repeatedly, and each time he covers her hand with his; then she pulls her hand away and tries again. “It’s like he’s breaking, and he’s trying to convince her,” Welch says. The last movement, dominated by walking (symbolizing togetherness) and rocking motifs, is about aging dancers being left behind as class and ballet companies go on, eternal.

At times throughout the ballet, the dancers race across the stage and disappear into the wings, a device prompted in part by Welch’s memory of when he first came to the United States from Australia and was impressed by how much floor space the dancers covered. It’s a characteristic of American-style dancing, he says, and “it’s thrilling to see.” 

This is all subtext, however. What’s on the surface are steps that delve deeply into the intricacies of five musical movements from two early-1700s violin concertos, the only ones by Johann Sebastian Bach that have survived their own passage of time. For Welch, illuminating the music is a big part of the joy of choreographing. “That wonderful [George] Balanchine quote about making music come alive is very much what I think we are all trying to do [as choreographers],” he says. Bach has many layers that listeners might not notice at first, and “the deeper you get into it, the richer it is.” Through movement, Welch points out melodies, rhythms, accents, undertones that delight him or reveal the music’s subtext. “Great choreographers like [Jiří] Kylián and Balanchine, those musical people, they always teach me something about music,” he says. “You go home and re-listen to it and go, “Wow, that is how that’s phrased.”

San Francisco Ballet rehearsing Welch’s Bespoke // © Erik Tomasson

The freshness of Welch’s neoclassical movement, says Helgi Tomasson, SF Ballet’s artistic director and principal choreographer, comes from “the way the dancers move today; maybe the dancers he was working with brought that out. Time changes all of us. We are influenced by what we see, how society is.”

Step into the studio while Welch is at work and you’ll notice how often he laughs, how delighted he seems to be there. The process of creating is what he enjoys most, he says; it’s more rewarding than a premiere. “When they’re in it and you’re in it, you can go for five, six hours and not wear out, and that’s fun,” he says.

Frances Chung and Esteban Hernandez in Welch’s Bespoke // © Erik Tomasson

Welch calls these dancers “fantastically musical,” a trait he thinks is one of the Company’s strengths. “[Principal Dancer] Frances [Chung] is a great model of that—she could do the same step 50 times and just change it by accent, and that’s great dancing, and clever. I wanted to make that [musicality] part of the work because I think that’s San Francisco.”

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

Taking SF Ballet on Tour

Arthur Pita’s Björk Ballet made a splash last year with spectacular props, Marco Morante-designed costumes, and music by Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk. Join SF Ballet Production Director Christopher Dennis and Company Manager Juliette LeBlanc to learn about how they pulled the many pieces of this ballet together and how they’ll bring it on tour to London.

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

Header image: SF Ballet in Pita’s Björk Ballet // © 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

Christopher Wheeldon’s Bound To Program Notes

By Cheryl A. Ossola

The curtain rises on Christopher Wheeldon’s new ballet, Bound To©to reveal the dancers mesmerized by their cellphones. For viewers the moment of recognition is instantaneous—we are bound to technology. In this ballet, Wheeldon comments on what happens to us when we’re tucked behind our screens. “It’s a false sense of safety because you’re not actually with someone; the screen is like a shield,” he says. When we let the world rush by unnoticed, “we’re not seeing the beauty in life.” On the flip side, he’s addressing what we can achieve when we’re together—when we see, acknowledge, and interact without any screens to shield us.

Wheeldon recognizes that he is as bound to technology as anyone else. “I read a really interesting article in The Atlantic about how teenage culture is changing,” he says, adding that when he was a kid, “you couldn’t wait to get out of the house to meet your friends and socialize.” No more. Last year, on vacation, he saw kids and their parents hunkered down with cell phones or iPads instead of talking to each other, and he realized that he wanted to make a ballet about “this lack of connectivity, the way that technology is shifting our instincts for community and social interaction,” he says. “It’s not like we’re at a point where we’re not relating to one another at all, but I think it’s definitely heading in a bit of a scary direction.”

To help him convey his ideas, Wheeldon chose music by British composer Keaton Henson. They had worked together on a project for Ballet Boyz, which paired choreographers and composers in a 14-day creative process. Wheeldon says Henson’s music has a “grounded, real, human aspect—I love that in his music there’s always a child laughing, or the birds, or traffic.” In the ballet, these sounds amplify the idea that while we’re busy texting or scrolling through social media pages, the sights and sounds of daily life are going on—and we don’t notice.

San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)
San Francisco Ballet in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. (© Erik Tomasson)

The phones come and go in Bound To©, giving the ballet something of a narrative at times; the rest of the time, they’re metaphorical. At first, the phones dominate. Later, right before a pas de deux made on Principal Dancers Yuan Yuan Tan and Carlo Di Lanno, one of the dancers snatches Tan’s phone from her hand. “It’s like when you leave your cell phone somewhere and you don’t have it for 24 hours, and you go, ‘Oh, I remember this.’ It’s kind of a relief, in a way,” says Wheeldon. In the pas de deux, the dancers reconnect, hardly separating, as if they need to touch each other in as many ways as possible. “It’s the idea of literal human connection, the need for the warmth of skin and not just the icy-cold blue of a screen,” Wheeldon says. In rehearsals, he tells Tan and Di Lanno to “keep the energy easy so it’s intimate and placed. It’s at its best when it’s contained. You represent how much of the natural beauty we miss when we’re texting—all the beauty that’s been created for us to enjoy.”

In contrast, a dance for four women is filled with embraces, dependence, the love and longing of friendship. “If there’s going to be a subtitle about this dance,” Wheeldon tells the women, “it would be ‘Remember when we used to talk?’” Choreographing a port de bras—arms lifting and opening, the back arching—which the dancers do twice in succession, he says, “The first one is a reminder, and the second one is a full conversation.”

Much of the movement in Bound To© features resistance, groundedness, or manipulation of the body (one’s own or others’), all of which seem to represent both the theme and a visual aesthetic. The women do not wear pointe shoes. “There’s something free about the movement of the shoe,” Wheeldon says, “of the toes on pointe, but”—he hesitates for fear of being overly literal—“[the ballet addresses] a bit of a heavy subject, so the idea of weight in movement makes sense. The pointe shoe is something very special and quite inhuman, in a way. You put a woman in a pointe shoe and her physicality changes. That’s one of the things that’s so appealing and beautiful about ballet—they’re like gods up there. And I didn’t want this to be about gods; I wanted it to be about people.”

And he wants it to be about people who reveal their struggles and their humanity. Rehearsing a solo with dancer Lonnie Weeks, who is hunched on the floor, Wheeldon asks for more vulnerability: “Make it more protected, not just the arm over the head.” Weeks pulls his legs in, deepens his posture. Later, Wheeldon wants more risk: “After you break and fall forward, can you be a little bit braver about where you put your foot?” As Weeks whirls through an insanely fast sequence of chaînés (a series of turns on two feet), Wheeldon calls, “It should be manic—you should be busting out about now.” Imagery helps the dancers pinpoint the feeling of a moment or step. When the other dancers hold Weeks upside down, his body arched, Wheeldon says, referring to Auguste Rodin’s sculpture, “It’s quite Gates of Hell.” To the quartet in a men’s dance, he says, “Make sure there’s a lot of breath through the body.”

Wheeldon’s people live in a world created by scenic and costume designer Jean-Marc Puissant, who has worked on many Wheeldon productions at The Royal Ballet and elsewhere. “He’s so willing to dare,” says the choreographer. “He doesn’t ever go for the obvious, and he often pushes me to work that way with him. It’s not always obvious to the audience what’s going into his work, and I enjoy that a lot. And I think for this piece it’ll be useful, because it marries two worlds. It opens with quite a literal statement about where we are and what we’re doing. By the same token, they’re dancing, so then it instantly becomes something a bit more poetic.”

As a choreographer, Wheeldon says he feels “like I’m in a constant state of evolution.” His work on Broadway and with contemporary companies like Ballet Boyz is part of that evolution, as is day-to-day life. “I’m very much a person who tries to live in the moment, so what I’m reading or listening to at this moment in time often ends up partly informing what I’m doing,” he says. “I saw the movie Detroit the other night, which was so hard to watch, but such a reflection, especially now, of the times we live in and the times we come from and how little we’ve learned.”

Enter the temptations and pressures of social media, inundating us with reminders of what Wheeldon calls this “very weird world we live in now.” Choreographing is, for him, a way to put his mind and energy into something productive. “One of the joys of being immersed in making a new work,” he says, “is that you really are immersed in it.”

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Header image: SF Ballet in Bound To© by Christopher Wheeldon // © 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.


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.


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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