Browse Exhibits (4 total)

Captured Live: 50 Years of Bay Area Dance Photography


Captured Live: 50 Years of Bay Area Dance Photography highlights dance images from key photographic collections from the Elyse Eng Dance Collection at the Museum of Performance + Design. Photographers currently represented include Katherine Kahrs, Chester Kessler, Henrietta McDowell, and Robert McLeod. Additional information about these collections is available on their respective collections pages, accessible through the "Browse Collections" link on the left and through individual links below.

Katherine Kahrs is a teacher, painter, and photographer. During the 1980s, Kahrs served as an official photographer for the Pacific Dance Center and the Palo Alto Dance Center, thus compiling an important visual record of their contributions to dance education. She also photographed performances by such groups as the Margaret Wingrove Dancers, the Sugano School of Ballet, the New Dance Co., Dancers' Repertory Theatre, the Golden Gate Ballet, Footwork, the San Francisco Jazz Dance Co., and the San Francisco Moving Co. Many individuals affiliated with these dance groups are also featured in the collection. The collection includes slides, negatives, photographic prints as well as programs and related promotional materials featuring Kahr's photography. For more information and to access the finding aid, click here.

Chester Kessler
Chester Kessler was a student of Minor White’s photography program at the California School of Fine Arts. During the late 1950s and the early 1960s, he photographed and documented performances of postmodern dancer Anna Halprin and San Francisco Dancer’s Workshop. His collection at MP+D contains approximately 1,500 photographs, negatives and transparencies of important dancers and dance companies in works choreographed by notables such as George Balanchine, Ruth Beckford, Carlos Carvajal, Lew Christensen, Anna Halprin, and Welland Lathrop. For more information and to access the finding aid, click here.

Henrietta McDowell
Henrietta (Henri) Deming McDowell was an official photographer for the San Francisco Ballet from the 1950s to the early 1970s, documenting nearly every ballet performed in that period of time. Promotional materials and souvenir programs often featured her photographs. Her photography and articles about ballet and Lew Christensen appeared in numerous publications. The collection at MP+D includes negatives, mini positives, slides, loose and bound black and white and color prints of varying sizes, and personal papers consisting of news clippings, manuscripts, publications, correspondence, and awards. Noted dancers and choreographers featured in the collection include Lew Christensen, Michael Smuin, Carlos Carvajal, Robert Gladstein, Sally Bailey, Anita Paciotti, Tomm Ruud, Betsy Erickson, and Jocelyn Vollmar. For more information and to access the finding aid, click here.

Robert McLeod
Robert J. (Bob) McLeod was a San Francisco-based photographer. He worked for years at the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle. McLeod was married to photographer Beth Witrogen, whose photographic work is also included in this collection. The collection at MP+D includes photographic prints, negatives, slides, programs, and press clippings from the Examiner and Chronicle featuring his work. Notable dancers and choreographers reflected in his collection include Mikhail Baryshnikov, Ethan Stiefel, and Desmond Richardson, as well as several prominent dancers and choreographers who worked with companies such as San Francisco Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. For more information and to access the finding aid, click here.

All images on this site are low-resolution JPEG files meant for reference use only.

Cataloging, digitization, and access of these collections is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts/Art Works. This exhibit is sponsored in part by a grant from Grants For the Arts.

Celebrating 90 Years of San Francisco Ballet

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The 2023 Season marked the 90th anniversary of San Francisco Ballet, the oldest professional ballet company in the United States. Since it was founded as the San Francisco Opera Ballet in 1933, SF Ballet has been a pioneer for ballet in America, making history by staging the first full-length American productions of Coppélia (1938), Swan Lake (1940), and Nutcracker (1944). This online exhibit looks at various aspects of SF Ballet's vast history, from the early SF Opera Ballet days to this historic anniversary, that have made SF Ballet a unique and dynamic company that continues to innovate and evolve as we look ahead to the next 90 years of ballet 

This online exhibit is arranged as follows as follows:

The World Beyond The Stage

To begin, as we look ahead to the future of ballet with the next@90 festival, this section looked at all aspects involved to bring these productions to life. The first section of the online exhibit features a selection of images offering a glimpse into what happens behind the scenes and the creative teams that bring these productions to life. The installation also highlights SF Ballet's Grammy Award-winning orchestra, now celebrating its 48th season.   

Evanescent Ballets in SF Ballet's 90-Year History

As the Company presented Helgi Tomasson's Giselle, one of the greatest Romantic ballets, which tells the poignant tale of a peasant girl with a gentle heart and a passion for dance whose life was tragically cut short, this section features a sample of unique ballets by visiting and local choreographers that were only performed by the Company once in the season it premiered in throughout SF Ballet’s history to date. These ballets include works from the Company's earliest days as the San Francisco Opera Ballet (1933-1942), past Gala performances, and other repertory premieres.

A Choregrapher's Company: Choreographic Workshops from 1960-1973

In conjunction with SF Ballet's program The Colors of Dance, this section featured select works by SF Ballet Company members. These include images from the annual choreographic workshops from 1960 through 1973, featuring new works choreographed by then-current members of SF Ballet. These workshops and various festivals that followed throughout the years have allowed SF Ballet dancers various opportunities to create new and unique works on their fellow Company members and across the globe. We also feature works by current Company members set on the pre-professional Trainees in the SF Ballet School including COLORFORMS choreographer Myles Thatcher. 

Cinderella: A Timeless Classic

For the story ballets closing out the 90th anniversary season, we revisit past SF Ballet productions of these works from other choreographers. This section features a selection of images from Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin's Cinderella, which premiered in 1973.   

The Timeless Romance of Romeo and Juliet

The last section to close out the 90th anniversary season features select images from past productions of Romeo and Juliet choreographed by Willam Christensen (1938) and Michael Smuin (1976). 

The exhibit is in partnership with San Francisco Ballet and it is sponsored in part by a grant from Grants for the Arts. 



Helgi Tomasson: 35 Years of Artistry


Helgi Tomasson: 35 Years of Artistry (2020) celebrated Tomasson's 35th anniversary as the longest-serving, sole artistic director of San Francisco Ballet

During his tenure, Tomasson has choreographed more than 50 works, including five full-length ballets, the most by any company director in SF Ballet's history. The exhibit looks back at Tomasson's works for the company, highlighting the following full-length productions -- Swan Lake (1988/2009), The Sleeping Beauty (1990), Romeo & Juliet (1994), and Giselle (1999). 

About Helgi Tomasson:

Helgi Tomasson, one of the most venerated classical dancers of his generation, embarked on his 35th season with San Francisco Ballet in 2020. Born in Iceland, he danced with Harkness Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, and New York City Ballet, where he distinguished himself as a dancer of technical purity, musicality, and intelligence. Tomasson assumed leadership of SF Ballet in 1985. Under his direction, SF Ballet has become a company widely recognized as one of the finest in the world. Tomasson has balanced devotion to the classics with an emphasis on new works, cultivating frequent collaborations and commissions with choreographers such as William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky, Cathy Marston, and Mark Morris, among many others. He has choreographed more than 50 works for the Company, including full-length productions of Swan LakeThe Sleeping BeautyRomeo & Juliet (taped for Lincoln Center at the Movies' Great American Dance), Giselle, and Nutcracker (taped for PBS's Great Performances). He conceptualized the 1995 UNited We Dance festival, in which SF Ballet hosted 12 international companies; the 2008 New Works Festival, which included 10 world premieres by 10 acclaimed choreographers; and the 2018 Unbound: A Festival of New Works. A loyal supporter of the Museum of Performance + Design (MP+D) through the years, Tomasson has also connected SF Ballet to the world, through co-commissions with American Ballet Theatre, The Royal Ballet, and Dutch National Ballet; and major tours to Paris, London, New York City, China, and his native Iceland. 

Image credit: Helgi Tomasson // © Erik Tomasson

This exhibit is sponsored in part by a grant from Grants For the Arts.

Preserving Bay Area Dance Legacies


Preserving Bay Area Dance Legacies presents highlights of key San Francisco Bay-Area based dancer/choreographers whose papers are a part of the Elyse Eng Dance Collection at the Museum of Performance + Design. Dancer/choreographers represented in this exhibit include Carlos Carvajal, Welland Lathrop, Gary Palmer, and June Watanabe.

This exhibit is part of the culmination of a preservation and access project (July 2020-June 2021), which allowed for the processing, rehousing, and creation of detailed finding aids for the collections of each of the dance luminaries chosen for this project. This exhibit offers a sample of the rich materials from each of the four collections. For more details, please click on the choreographer's name.

Carlos Carvajal

The son of a Filipino immigrant, folk and ballet dancer/choreographer Carlos Carvajal has been recognized as one of the leaders of the San Francisco Bay Area's dance renaissance in the 1970s and served for 12 seasons as Co-Artistic Director of the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival. Although he began as a folk dancer, in 1951 Carvajal started dancing with San Francisco Ballet (SFB), then abroad with companies such as Ballet Nacional of Venezuela. He served as ballet master and associate choreographer with SFB in the 1960s and has created more than 200 works for ballet, opera and television, including SFB, SF Opera, Oakland Ballet, and Dance Theater of Harlem. In 1970, he founded Dance Spectrum, choreographing ballets that explored religion, mythology and eastern philosophies, as well as folk dance from around the world.

Welland Lathrop

Welland Lathrop was a dancer, teacher, choreographer, and a leader of the west coast modern and avant-garde dance movement. In 1928, he moved to San Francisco and began studying dance with Ann Mundstock. In 1946, he established the Welland Lathrop School and Dance Company, where he was joined by legendary dancer/choreographer Anna Halprin, MP+D’s most heavily researched subject. Lathrop retired and closed his school in the late 1960s, but continued to work with other San Francisco area dance groups including, Shela Xoregos Performing Company.

Gary Palmer

In 1982, Gary Palmer created Men Dancing, a popular San Francisco Bay Area dance series that featured only male dancers and choreographers in order to "give male dance artists a creative space outside of traditional roles (as partners to ballerinas) or archetypes (heroes or villains)." The series included works by Remy Charlip, Jose Limon, Lucas Hoving, Robert Moses and dozens of others.

June Watanabe

June Watanabe has created contemporary dance theater works and collaborated with distinguished artists from diverse disciplines including taiko masters, visual artists like Ruth Asawa and Sandra Woodall, and choreographers Remy Charlip and Alonzo King. Her work incorporates and illuminates the Japanese American experience and explores ritualistic formalities and womanhood. June and her family were held in an internment camp for three years, and her internment works have been used to teach students and the general public about the relocation and displacement of Japanese Americans during WWII.

Image: Portrait of Anna Halprin and Welland Lathrop (circa 1946-1954), photo by Jay Risling.

All images in this exhibit are low-resolution JPEG files meant for reference use only. 

Cataloging, digitization, and access of these collections is supported in part by awards from the National Endowment for the Arts/Art Works, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, and California Revealed. This exhibit is sponsored in part by a grant from Grants For the Arts.