Nowadays, when a ballet company wants to promote a new work, or an upcoming season, they go all-out. Rather than cutting together a bunch of performance footage, companies are creating mini-films that bring the artistic director or choreographer's vision to life. And with recording and editing equipment more widely available than ever, it makes sense.
Take, for example, two recent films produced by Dance Theatre of Harlem and San Francisco Ballet, respectively. In DTH's season trailer, we get less of a performance overview and more of a narrative, conveying the power of tradition, representation and diversity within the ballet world, and using a curious little girl as an example of how ballet can change lives. It's even set against an original song by India Arie!
SFB's trailer for corps member Myles Thatcher's upcoming premiere Ghost in the Machine takes us on a whirlwind adventure covering many behind-the-scenes aspects of a new work. We see Thatcher sketching out movement patterns in his notebook, conferring with a costume designer and taking class, plus tantalizing glimpses of the choreography.
It seems like Hollywood movie trailers become more sophisticated every year, so it's no surprise that media-savvy ballet companies aren't far behind.
From April 20–May 6 2018, San Francisco Ballet will host a festival featuring an impressive roster of top choreographers.
SFB artistic director Helgi Tomasson has chosen choreographers with massive reputations and tons of experience. The full lineup is as follows: David Dawson, Alonzo King, Edwaard Liang, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cathy Marston, Trey McIntyre, Justin Peck, Arthur Pita, Yuri Possokhov, Dwight Rhoden, Stanton Welch, and Christopher Wheeldon. These artists have, collectively, worked with a tremendous variety of dance companies around the world. Their stylistic approaches are just as diverse.
There are several things to celebrate about this group. King, who has been the artistic director of San Francisco–based Alonzo King LINES Ballet since 1982, has (surprisingly) never made a ballet for SFB. It's high time the two major San Francisco companies pooled their powers. There is some racial diversity, with King, Rhoden, Ochoa and Liang representing decades of experience and leadership. Former Royal Opera House associate artist Cathy Marston seems to be receiving her first nod from a major American ballet company, despite a two-decade, international choreographic career (she has created for The Washington Ballet).
But, as usual, there are so few (too few) women. Recent conversations about gender parity in the ballet world might make it seem like female choreographers are only just now appearing—that there aren't women who can match the men in terms of an impressive resume. But that's not the case. Artists like Helen Pickett, Francesca Harper, Crystal Pite, Emery LeCrone, Jessica Lang, Azure Barton and Amy Seiwert have been around for a while, quietly creating for companies around the world, and oddly overlooked by most large American companies. It would have been great to see a few more experienced women alongside their accomplished male counterparts.
Longtime San Francisco Ballet principals (and husband and wife) Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian have announced their retirement at the end of the 2017 season. They'll make a cross-country move to become the joint artistic directors of the Pennsylvania Ballet Academy. In addition to new directors, the academy will have a brand new facility, beginning this summer.
Zahorian trained at one of Pennsylvania's other top schools, the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. During her 20-year career with SFB, she was known for interpretations of all the major classics, as well as her roles in major works by current choreographers like Christopher Wheeldon and Mark Morris. Karapetyan joined SFB as a principal in 2005, after dancing with Zurich Ballet.
There will be a farewell performance for both dancers at the end of the season.
San Francisco is in the midst of a generational shift, as three principal men retired last year. There will be lots of room for promotions in the next few years, and we're excited to see the future success of the company's many talented dancers!
(Photo by Erik Tomasson, courtesy SFB)
In Balanchine's comedic Coppélia, San Francisco Ballet's Frances Chung brings out Swanilda's playful side.
All of Swanilda's actions come from a place of pure fun. She's kind of sassy, but I like bringing out her playfulness instead of taking a more bratty approach. The role comes quite naturally to my personality. When my partner and I are in the studio, we're very playful even though we're working hard and refining everything. I try to have a good time and I think that it translates onstage.
As Swanilda, my love for Franz is very youthful, like when you hit someone because you like him. I'm quite confident in myself and in our love, even though I see him blowing kisses at another girl (really a doll). I get mad for a second, but at the end of the day I know he's going to choose me. That's my underlying feeling. When I finally make the connection that she's a doll, I think it's hilarious!
The Bay Area dance scene continues to grow, and San Francisco Ballet soloist James Sofranko has added his voice to the mix. His new company, SFDanceworks, was founded in 2014 and presents its debut season this week at the ODC Theater in San Francisco.
The U.S. has a surprising lack of contemporary dance companies that perform a broad repertoire—Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and L.A.'s BODYTRAFFIC and LA Dance Project are three, and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet was another. Sofranko's troupe looks to become one of those few, with a mixed rep of new work, emerging choreographers and established names.
Most contemporary companies exist to fulfill the choreographic vision of the founder. Though many ballet companies now perform work that blurs the line between contemporary and ballet, like Mats Ek's Appartement or Jiří Kylián's Petit Mort, the dearth of smaller, flexible troupes comprised of versatile dancers is majorly lacking in the U.S. dance scene. And, it limits opportunities for ballet dancers who have a penchant for contemporary work.
As of yet, SFDanceworks appears to be a project-based group, but Sofranko has taken time to find his artistic and financial footing, and the company may someday become a full-time option. The premiere season features choreography by HSDC resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo and HSDC company member Penny Saunders. Former SFB dancers Dana Genshaft, Garrett Anderson and Kendall Teague have joined the roster, as well as The Joffrey Ballet's Amber Neumann and Smuin Ballet’s Ben Needham-Wood. Genshaft, who also choreographs, has a work on the program and the company will perform a duet from Lar Lubovitch's Concerto Six Twenty-Two, along with a premiere by Sofranko.
SFDanceworks joins the re-emerging Oakland Ballet, and many other Bay Area companies, to help build a vital performing community for dancers. The season runs June 23–25 at the ODC Theater in San Francisco.
Dores André doesn’t like shopping, but she loves clothes. Her favorite source of style inspiration is the 1964 comedy What a Way to Go!, starring Shirley MacLaine and a closet of over-the-top costumes. “It’s just crazy—she wears, like, thousands and thousands of outfits,” André says. “I wish I owned every single piece in that movie.” When it comes to her own personal style, “I’d say it’s a little like Natalie Wood meets Pussy Riot,” she says. Black is an easy go-to, but when she has time she puts together more eclectic, colorful ensembles, and she likes a bit of punk edge. In the studio, André dresses for the work she’s rehearsing. “I don’t like wearing pink tights in general, but if I’m doing a classical piece I’ll wear them,” she says. “Or if it’s a little more contemporary, I’ll wear shorts instead of a skirt.” She looks for pieces that are flattering (long-sleeved leos are one favorite), while still allowing her to dance her best. “You have to look good, but also make it so you can look good dancing,” she says.
Yumiko unitard: “Yumikos are the best. This one’s, like, 10 years old—they’re so sturdy.”
ASOS jacket: “I like big sweaters and pants before class, and then I usually take them off quite fast.”
Freed of London pointe shoes, Heart maker: “I love that I wear Hearts.” André typically puts on her pointe shoes for center. If it’s a new pair, she’ll wear them at the end of barre.
C/MEO Collective kimono: “It’s an Australian brand. I own many things from them. I like how their clothes can be flowy but also very structured, and the materials are a little thicker.”
T-shirt: “This was a present from a friend, and I made it a crop top. It’s from the planetarium in Puerto Rico.”
Jeans: “I got these at a vintage store in San Francisco called Afterlife—best name for a vintage store.”