Sofiane Sylve had huge plans for 2020: Departing her post as a principal dancer at San Francisco Ballet, she embarked on a multifaceted, bicontinental career as ballet master and principal dancer at Dresden Semperoper Ballett, and artistic advisor and school director at Ballet San Antonio—and then COVID-19 hit, sidelining performances and administrative plans at both companies. But ballet dancers are nothing if not resilient. In her new leadership roles, Sylve is determined to help shepherd ballet through this challenging time—and transform it for the better. Pointe caught up with her by phone while she was in Dresden.
You started these amazing new positions, and then COVID happened. How have you had to adapt?
In Dresden, La Bayadère can't happen because of the amount of people in the cast, and the costumes and wigs. BSA had to cancel October's Don Quixote. We're not sure Nutcracker is going to happen. I can't have it on my conscience to have 25 dancers in a room, even if I do everything in San Antonio that Germany has been doing. In Germany, you have to wear a mask everywhere you go, and you can't use the dressing rooms. They open the studios five minutes before you can go in, it's only an hour class, they shuffle you out and clean for the entire hour. You need cleaning staff 24/7—no U.S. company has a budget for that.
Sylve teaching a master class at San Francisco Ballet School
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.
How are you juggling these pivotal responsibilities at two companies—not to mention the travel?
I wanted my plate to be full, and it's full, and I'm loving it. But with COVID, the travel is very difficult—I can get into Texas, but I could get stuck because of travel restrictions. I am on Zoom all day; I've hired BSA dancers and ballet masters on Zoom, and we do a lot of classes online. You see people in their homes, they see me running around with my dogs. In a way, it's made us seem more human to each other.
Sylve with Carlo Di Lanno in Justin Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes at San Francisco Ballet
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
One of your major opportunities is building a new BSA school from scratch.
That was my big draw, because I feel that education is a big part of being a company. My idea was to create a three-level school at first, which would be divided into seven or eight levels as we grow. I'm basing it on the French curriculum, which is a lot of footwork and musicality. I find that a lot of choreographers are looking for musicality, and I want to train a generation of dancers that choreographers want to work with. I'm trying to have a soft opening in 2021. In terms of COVID, Plan A is to have everything normal, Plan B is a hybrid and Plan C is bringing you everything at home. We're discussing what makes sense.