Max Cauthorn was an on-the-rise corps member when he stepped into the title role of Liam Scarlett's Frankenstein last February; when the curtain came down, he was San Francisco Ballet's newest leading man. In his first full-length starring role, he carried the physically and emotionally demanding three-hour ballet with fluent technique and a natural charisma. But he didn't do it alone: In her own lead-role debut with SFB, soloist Lauren Strongin brought tenderness and steely integrity to Frankenstein's true love, Elizabeth.
Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
The Joffrey Ballet and University of California—Berkeley's Cal Performances have joined forces on a five-year residency series that offers the public in-depth, behind-the-scenes access to the art of ballet. The first installment runs Nov. 13–19 with repertory classes taught by Joffrey dancers, a panel discussion and open rehearsals as well as performances in Zellerbach Hall November 17–19.
"There is so much interesting work happening, and we want to share it," says Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater, whose Bay Area ties go back to his days as a San Francisco Ballet principal dancer and ballet master. He has slated Justin Peck's In Creases, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Mammatus, the West Coast premiere of Alexander Ekman's Joy and Joffrey ballet master Nicolas Blanc's Encounter for this year's bill.
Joffrey Ballet dancers in rehearsal for Alexsander Eckman's "Joy." Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Cal Performances.
For some of us, every day feels like World Ballet Day LIVE. But the official event takes place on Thursday, October 5, with a free 22-hour live-stream relay showcasing The Australian Ballet, Bolshoi Ballet, The Royal Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and San Francisco Ballet. Each will welcome the world into company classes, rehearsals and behind-the-scenes extras.
Wearing leggings and a puffy vest as she works in one of The Royal Ballet's light-filled studios, Charlotte Edmonds could pass for a corps de ballet member. Instead, she is choreographing on them, creating dynamic, ballet-based contemporary dance in her role as the company's first-ever Young Choreographer.
"At the Opera House you have dancers who have 20 years more experience," she says. "I bow to their experience, but I also try to hold the room. It is sometimes quite nerve-racking! But it is always exciting."
Edmonds' uncanny instincts for choreography and leadership were already apparent at age 11, when she was a first-year student in the Royal Ballet School's Lower School—and a finalist in its competition for the Ninette de Valois Junior Choreographic Award. She got her first professional commission at age 16, and was barely 19 when Royal Ballet director Kevin O'Hare named her the inaugural recipient of the company's Young Choreographer Programme. The paid position provides her with studio space, access
to dancers and the mentorship of renowned choreographer Wayne McGregor.
Photo by Alice Pennefeather, Courtesy ROH
Natasha Sheehan was already creating buzz when she debuted as a San Francisco Ballet corps member in December 2016. Then just 17 years old, the 5' 1" phenom had been promoted directly from her trainee class—and had just won the 2016 Erik Bruhn Prize, besting a cadre of international professionals.
At the Bruhn competition, Sheehan and SFB principal dancer Angelo Greco mesmerized in Foragers, a contemporary work created by Myles Thatcher, and danced a transcendent Giselle Act II pas de deux. "You could hear a pin drop in the auditorium," says SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson, who has kept an eye on her since she entered the SFB School at age 11. "Her work is very articulate, very beautiful. But she is also mature beyond her years."
Julian MacKay was born to be a pioneer. Growing up amid bison and hot springs in Montana, he developed a sense of adventure that came in handy when, at age 11, he entered the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow.
"It was this guinea-pig experiment," the Bozeman native remembers. "No American had ever gone so young." In 2015 he became the first American to graduate from the school with a full Russian diploma, having completed the lower and upper ballet division—at the top of his class—and passed all his academics in Russian, which he had learned to speak fluently within his first year.
Then in May 2016, MacKay became the youngest-ever soloist at the Mikhailovsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. He soon debuted as the slave in Le Corsaire, the Bronze Idol in La Bayadère and James in La Sylphide, roles that showcased his clean technique and lofty jumps.
Most vacations don't turn into the job of a lifetime. But that's exactly what happened when Jahna Frantziskonis took company class at San Francisco Ballet in the spring of 2015.
“I had never been to San Francisco or seen the company besides on video," explains Frantziskonis, 23. She had come to the city to visit her younger brother, Elias, an SFB School student at the time. “He said, 'Just come, take a class, see what happens.' " Less than a week after she got back to Seattle, where she was a second-year corps dancer at Pacific Northwest Ballet, she had received an invitation to join the SFB corps.
“It was very unexpected," she says, seeming to still marvel at the outcome nearly two years later. But artistic director Helgi Tomasson confirms that hiring her was no fluke. He immediately noticed three qualities every SFB dancer needs: stage presence, musicality and versatility. “I could see her fitting very well into the repertory we have, in the classical, neoclassic and contemporary," he says of her accidental audition.
Frantziskonis with Benjamin Griffiths in Balanchine's "Rubies" at PNB. Photo Courtesy PNB.
The West Coast Falls for Forsythe
After 40 years in Europe, choreographer William Forsythe recently put down stateside roots as a professor at the University of Southern California's new Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. USC is welcoming him with Fall for Forsythe, a monthlong festival that culminates October 21–23, when Pacific Northwest Ballet, San Francisco Ballet and Houston Ballet perform influential works at The Music Center's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.
“I can't wait to see the way each company dances his work," says SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson, alluding to the unique blend of rigorous classicism and convention-flouting individuality Forsythe cultivates. SFB will perform Pas/Parts 2016, created on Paris Opéra Ballet in 1999 and extensively reworked on SFB's dancers.