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


For the last sixty years of San Francisco Ballet's 90-year history, the Company has been known for being "a choreographer's company," with SF Ballet's repertory being unique in the number of works created by Company-affiliated choreographers. This group of choreographers is comprised of current and former Company members.  

While most of the first thirty years of the Company's repertory featured works by the then-Artistic Directors, Adolph Bolm (1933-1937), Willam Christensen (1938-1952), and Lew Christensen (1951-1984), a significant development in the creation of new works was the Choreographic Workshops, an annual event from 1960-1973, which serves as the focus for this page.  

The first workshop, Ballet! 1960, was conceived by then-Company member Michael Smuin to give the dancers work during a long layoff, and to fulfill the desire of many to experiment with choreographing themselves. Sixteen dancers formed an independent "chamber group," with Smuin working as artistic director, ballet master, principal choreographer, and lead dancer. Fellow dancers Jeffreys Hobart served as business manager and Maurine Simoneau as costumes designer. Following a strong positive response from the public and the press, the event was officially folded into the Company's programming. The following year, Ballet! ’61 performed over 6 consecutive weekends with 11 premieres and now 22 dancers. Performances were staged in the company’s rehearsal studio, temporarily renamed to The San Francisco Ballet Theatre during that time.  

In subsequent years, the Choreographic Workshops series would expand to more performances and more venues, first expanding to touring various locations in California in 1962. The success of these performances garnered national attention, resulting in a nine-week tour across 48 towns in 17 states. In 1965, there were 125 performances across 32 states as well as Mexico and Canada, featuring new works from a dozen choreographers. Due to growing local demand, Ballet! '68 featured two seasons, with performances at the Presentation Theater at San Francisco University and Nourse Auditorium (now the Sydney Goldstein Theatre. The larger venues allowed for more experimentation, such as then-Resident Choreographer Carlos Carvajal incorporating a live rock band and a light show during that year's production of his work, Voyage Interdit: A Noh Play.  

During its 13-year history, these workshops presented 123 world premieres from 43 Company members and two guest artists, with several works entering the Company's permanent repertory. Participating choreographers included principal dancers Kent Stowell, Robert Gladstein, Jocelyn Vollmar, Soili Arvola, John McFall, Carlos Carvajal, and Tomm Ruud, amongst others. In cases such as Ruud and Gladstein, these dancers stayed on with the Company as resident choreographers and rehearsal directors. Then-Artistic Director Lew Christensen also participated in the series, contributing new and existing works. The series ended in 1973 with Smuin returning to SF Ballet as Associate Artistic Director. 

This tradition of innovation continues to the present day with former and current Company dancers working with San Francisco Ballet in varying capacities and creating new work for the Company. The 2023 Season includes Val Caniparoli’s Emergence and Yuri Possokhov’s Violin Concerto, both new works created as part of the next@90 festival as well as the stage debut of COLORFORMS by Choreographer and Company Soloist Myles Thatcher, which premiered as a dance film in SF Ballet's 2021 Digital Season and is included in Program 5 The Colors of Dance. 


*Research by Mary Wood, Dance Educator 



San Francisco Ballet in Smuin’s Symphony in Jazz, 1960 

Choreographer: Michael Smuin 

Music: Rolf Liebermann 

Costumes: Maurine Simoneau 

Photographer: Unknown 


San Francisco Ballet with drummer Kaye Duncan in Smuin and Stowell's Session II, circa 1961

Choreographer: Michael Smuin and Kent Stowell.  

Percussion: Kaye Duncan 

Costumes: Maurine Simoneau 

Photographer: Henri McDowell 


Cynthia Gregory and David Anderson in performance of Clarke's Triptych, 1963 

Choreographer: Thatcher Clarke 

Music: Robert Philips 

Costume Design: Art Fine 

Photographer: Henri McDowell 


Gail Visentin and Terry Orr in a performance of Christensen's Bach Concert, 1963 

Choreographer: Lew Christensen 

Music: Johann Sebastian Bach 

Photographer: Henri McDowell 


Lynda Meyer, Gail Visentin, and David Anderson in a performance of Gibson's Adagio for Ten and Two, 1964 

Choreographer: Richard Gibson 

Music: Samuel Barber 

Costume Design: Suzanne Gibson 

Photographer:  Henri McDowell 


Cynthia Gregory in a performance of Poindexter's The Set, circa 1963-1965 

Choreographer: Ron Poindexter 

Music: Dave Brubeck 

Photographer: Henri McDowell 


Betsy Erickson and Zola Dishong in a performance of Carvajal's Voyage Interdit: A Noh Play, 1966 

Choreographer: Carlos Carvajal 

Music: Love, İlhan Mimaroğlu, Auni, and The Fugs 

Projections: John Patterson and David Barnard 

Photographer: Henri McDowell 



Lynda Meyer and Lee Fuller in Gladstein's Psychal, 1967 

Choreographer: Robert Gladstein 

Music: Béla Bartók 

Scenic and Costume Design: Kageyama 

Photographer: Henri McDowell 


Virginia Johnson and John McFall in a performance of Vollmar's Eclipse, 1967 

Choreographer: Jocelyn Vollmar 

Music: Antonin Dvorák 

Scenic Design: Jud Stoddard 

Photographer: Henri McDowell 


Nancy Robinson and a male dancer in Gladstein's Divertissement, 1967 

Choreographer: Robert Gladstein 

Music: Jacques Ibert 

Scenic and Costume Design: Jud Stoddard 

Photographer: Henri McDowell 


Anita Paciotti and Daniel Simmons in Arvola's A.C.–615, 1971 

Choreographer: Soili Arvola 

Music: Folk music by Weldon Myric, Wayne Moss, David Briggs, and Norbert Putman 

Costume Design: Louis Rodriquez 

Photographer: Henri McDowell 


Wendy Van Dyck, Jennifer Karius, and Rodolphe Cassand in Ruud's Mobile, circa 1994 (World premiere at Ballet! '69) 

Choreographer: Tomm Ruud 

Music: Aram Khachaturian 

Costume Design (1978): Ron Hodge 

Photographer: Marty Sohl 

File preparation for this exhibit by SF Ballet Digital Asset Administrator, Rachel Bauer. Exhibit text and design by SF Ballet Department of Education and SF Ballet Archivist at MP+D.

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