Newly appointed principal WanTing Zhao in Helgi Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Meet San Francisco Ballet's Newly Promoted Principals and Soloists

San Francisco Ballet has announced its 2019 company promotions, and artistic director Helgi Tomasson has elevated five talented young artists who all started in the company's corps de ballet. With several world premieres along with Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream and the full-scale Jewels planned for the 2020 season, there will be ample opportunities for these dancers to shine on the SFB stage. Read on to learn more about them, and congratulations to all!


Esteban Hernández - Principal

Esteban Hernández as the Bluebird in Helgi Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

Esteban Hernández has been an audience favorite since he began his career in SFB's corps in 2013, and was cast early in soloist roles. He brings lively allégro and abundant charisma to works like Justin Peck's Rodeo: Four Dance Episodes, and this season imbued gravity into his principal role in Liam Scarlett's Die Toteninsel. The Guadalajara native co-produces the annual Despertares gala in Mexico City with his brother Isaac Hernández, a lead principal at English National Ballet, and in 2016 was named one of the Top 100 Most Influential People in Mexico.

WanTing Zhao - Principal

Zhao in Helgi Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

WanTing Zhao trained at Beijing Dance Academy, the Rock School and SFB School before joining the corps in 2011. Her clean, clear technique shone in works like Serge Lifar's Suite en Blanc—including the "Cigarette" variation—and she was named soloist in 2016. Zhao created roles in Benjamin Millepied's The Chairman Dances—Quartet for Two and in Dwight Rhoden's Let's Begin at the End, and her 2019 season included Mercedes and the Queen of the Driads in Don Quixote, Carabosse and Lilac Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty, and principal roles in world premieres by Yuri Possokhov and Liam Scarlett.

Benjamin Freemantle - Principal

Benjamin Freemantle in Trey McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

A breakout star of last year's Unbound Festival, particularly for his impassioned lead role in Trey McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, Benjamin Freemantle was promoted to soloist at the end of the 2018 season. Trained in his native Canada and the SFB School, he joined SFB's corps in 2015 and danced Lensky in Onegin early on. His repertoire includes featured roles in works by Millepied, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon, Mark Morris and Justin Peck.

Madison Keesler - Soloist

Madison Keesler and Angelo Greco in Helgi Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

After training under Marcia Dale Weary at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and at the SFB School, Madison Keesler joined Hamburg Ballet and then SFB's corps, then became a first artist with English National Ballet, where she danced the title role in Akram Khan's innovative Giselle. Keesler's well-earned promotion comes after a strong season that included Mercedes in Don Quixote, Sapphire Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty and the Princess in John Neumeier's The Little Mermaid.

Cavan Conley - Soloist

Cavan Conley in Liam Scarlett's Die Toteninsel. Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

A former soloist at Tulsa Ballet and 2011 YAGP national finalist, Cavan Conley joined SFB's corps in 2018. His Tulsa repertoire included works by Balanchine, Wheeldon, John Cranko, Edwaard Liang and Val Caniparoli, making him a seamless fit for SFB's programming. This season, Conley made a splash dancing Bluebird alongside Julia Rowe's Enchanted Princess in Tomasson's The Sleeping Beauty.

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Sydney Dolan Takes Center Stage at Pennsylvania Ballet

This is Pointe's Summer 2020 cover story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

Just days before the world shuttered under the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, and the curtain came down indefinitely on dance companies everywhere, Pennsylvania Ballet soloist Sydney Dolan debuted Gamzatti in La Bayadère with captivating ease. Her jumps soared, her technique was sound, and her cheeky smile paired with exquisite port de bras was beguiling. Though she didn't know the company would soon cancel the remainder of its season, her beautiful performance acted as a kind of send-off into the unknown.

Dolan's career could be described in one word: charmed. At just 19 years old, she's flown through the ranks at PAB, debuted a long list of roles, won a Princess Grace Award and been named one of Dance Magazine's "25 to Watch." Yet it's her challenges that have shaped not only her training but her outlook, giving her a solid foundation for becoming one of Pennsylvania Ballet's rising stars.

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Courtesy de Roos

SAB Student Founds Dancewear Nonprofit to Help Others in Need

When School of American Ballet student Alexandra de Roos was 8 years old, she placed a collection box at her dance studio for others to donate their gently used dancewear. De Roos, now 17, has since turned that single collection box into a nonprofit organization that aims to minimize economic barriers in the performing arts with free dancewear and classes.

De Roos' organization, Peace Love Leotards, has collected about $2,600 of new and gently-used dancewear and $2,000 in grants and donations since formally launching in April. Dancers or studio owners can request items through a form on the organization's website.

"I knew that dancewear was really expensive and that a lot of students might not be able to do the thing that they love because it's cost-prohibitive," de Roos said. "I really wanted to create something to allow people to have the same experience of the love and joy of dance that I've been so grateful to have."

After SAB shifted its winter term online amid the COVID-19 pandemic, de Roos decided to expand Peace Love Leotards. She reached out to dance companies, resulting in partnerships with brands including Jo+Jax, Lone Reed Designs, RubiaWear and Wear Moi.

"To have them be like 'We want to help you with this and we love this idea and what you're doing is amazing,' that was really exciting to me," she said. "It was very heartwarming."

Jordan Reed, the creator of custom dancewear brand Lone Reed Designs, said she has donated seven items to Peace Love Leotards with plans to donate more consistently every quarter. Custom leotards often retail at higher prices, but Reed, a former Houston Ballet corps member, said the one-of-a-kind clothing offers an "extra bit of confidence, which can go more than a long way in a dancer's journey of training."

Paul Plesh, a sales director for Wear Moi in the United States and Canada, said the company donated 11 leotards after finding Peace Love Leotards' mission to be "commendable." Joey Dowling-Fakhrieh, the founder and creative director of Jo+Jax, said dancewear "can make a significant impact on a student's confidence, as well as how much they enjoy the process of learning dance."

De Roos has worked to expand Peace Love Leotards, Inc. rapidly in the past few months, but she first created the organization at eight years old after participating in a mentorship program with competitors in the Miss Florida and Miss Florida's Outstanding Teen pageants. The pageants, which are part of the Miss America Organization, require competitors to have personal platforms they advocate for as titleholders. As a competition dancer, de Roos instantly thought about the cost barriers to dance when wondering what her own future platform would be.

De Roos said she and her young classmates often outgrew nearly brand-new dancewear, so she approached her studio's owner about placing a collection box at the studio.

Barbara Mizell, who owns Barbara's Centré for Dance in Florida, said she was unsurprised by de Roos' proposal. De Roos always had "such a way of pushing herself and she never forgot those around her," Mizell said. As the box filled up, she distributed the dancewear to others at the studio, local schools with dance programs, and the local YMCA.

"When they could start to see that it was providing happiness for others, then it was almost like the kids couldn't wait to donate," Mizell said.

Nearly a decade after the Miss Florida organization inspired her to launch Peace Love Leotards, de Roos is now a titleholder herself, as Miss Gainesville's Outstanding Teen 2020. Her new mission for Peace Love Leotards is applying for grants, and she has already received a $1,000 grant from the Delores Barr Weaver Legacy Fund that will be used to fund a Title 1 school class.

"The whole organization behind Peace Love Leotards is the dancers," de Roos said. "Being able to help the dancers that are in need and being able to think about the dancewear that they're going to be receiving or have received has been truly amazing."

#TBT: Royal Ballet Principals in a Gala Tribute to Tchaikovsky (1993)

It's not often that you get to see eight principal dancers sharing a stage, but Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's centennial is a special circumstance. In a 1993 gala honoring the composer, former Royal Ballet principals Darcey Bussell and Zoltan Solymosi, Leanne Benjamin and Tetsuya Kumakawa, Lesley Collier and Irek Mukhamedov and Viviane Durante and Bruce Sansom performed alongside The Royal Opera Chorus in Madame Larina's ball scene from the opera Eugene Onegin.

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