Evanescent Ballets in SF Ballet's 90-Year History
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As the Company presents Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle this Season, one of the greatest Romantic ballets that tells the poignant tale of a peasant girl with a gentle heart and a passion for dance whose life was tragically cut short, this rotation looks at a sample of unique ballets that to date have only been performed by San Francisco Ballet during the season in which they premiered and not returned to the War Memorial Opera House stage since. These ballets include works from the Company’s earliest days as the San Francisco Opera Ballet (1933-1942), Gala performances, and repertory premieres. While these ballets were only performed by SF Ballet once, the choreographers and dancers featured in these performances are among those who have been a significant part of not just SF Ballet history but American ballet history.
El Amor Brujo featured choreography and dancing by famous Spanish flamenco dancer Vicente Escudero. The ballet also featured his wife, Carmita García, an established dancer, and Maclovia Ruiz, a Mexican-born dancer who joined SF Ballet during its inaugural year in 1933, making her one of SF Ballet’s earliest BIPOC Company members.
Hansel and Gretel premiered in 1943 as part of the first holiday program Willam Christensen created for SF Ballet. The following year, Christensen would premiere his production of Nutcracker, which continues to be the center of SF Ballet’s holiday season through the choreography of Helgi Tomasson. Featured dancer Ruby Asquith joined the Company in 1940 as its first prima ballerina. Following her retirement in 1954, Asquith joined her husband, Harold Christensen, then-Director of the SF Ballet School, as a faculty member, a role which she held for nearly 30 years.
The first version of George Balanchine’s The Seven Deadly Sins premiered at Paris’ Théatre des Champs-Elysées on June 7, 1933, and was revived at New York City Ballet in 1958 before making its premiere (and subsequently sole set of performances) during SF Ballet’s 1964 Season. With revised choreography by then-Artistic Director Lew Christensen, one of the central characters in the work was performed by Cynthia Gregory. Gregory trained under Ruby Asquith and Harold Christensen at the SF Ballet School since the age of 14 and joined the Company in 1961, performing several leading roles until she joined the American Ballet Theatre in 1964, gaining international acclaim over her career.
Anita Paciotti has been a part of SF Ballet since she started as a student in SF Ballet School. Paciotti became a Principal Dancer in the Company, dancing with SF Ballet from 1968–1986. In 1987 she was appointed to Principal Character Dancer and currently holds the role of SF Ballet Rehearsal Director since 1991. John McFall choreographed We, the Clown during his 14th year as a Company Dancer. Like Paciotti, McFall was a student at SF Ballet School, attending in 1964 on a Ford Foundation Scholarship and joining the Company the following year. His first choreographic work set on the Company premiered in 1969, with over ten more pieces to follow. After 18 years with SF Ballet, McFall was named Artistic Director of BalletMet in 1986. In 1994, he was named Artistic Director of Atlanta Ballet, a position he held until retiring in 2016, succeeded by former SF Ballet Principal Dancer, Gennadi Nedvigin.
Kent Stowell trained under former SF Ballet Artistic Director Willam Christensen at the University of Utah before joining SF Ballet in 1957 at the age of 18. In collaboration with fellow dancer Michael Smuin, Stowell was instrumental in creating the Ballet! 60 and Ballet! 61 workshop series, which continued until 1973, to support their fellow dancers during Company layoffs, also providing Stowell his first opportunity to choregraph. After dancing with companies like the New York City Ballet and Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, where Stowell also worked as Ballet Master, Stowell and his wife Francis Russell became co-Directors of Pacific Northwest Ballet. While at PNB, Stowell also worked as Principal Choreographer and Russell as Director of the School, roles they kept until retiring together in 2005. Their eldest son, Christopher, joined San Francisco Ballet in 1985, where he danced for 16 years, retiring as a Principal Dancer.
Arthur Mitchell made history when he joined New York City Ballet in 1955 and became the company’s first African American Principal Dancer a year later. In 1969, three years after leaving NYCB, Mitchell made history again, founding a training school and the first African American classical ballet company, Dance Theatre of Harlem. Manifestations premiered with the Company in 1975 and was part of SF Ballet’s 1984 repertory season, the final season curated by Co-Artistic Directors Lew Christensen and Michael Smuin before Christensen’s death in October 1984.
Dancer and Choreographer Val Caniparoli celebrates his 50th year with SF Ballet this Season. He joined the Company as a dancer in 1973 and was appointed Resident Choreographer in the 1980s. His first work set on SF Ballet, Loves Lies Bleeding, premiered in 1982, and has had over 20 works set on the Company since. Caniparoli’s most recent work, Emergence, premiered as part of this Season’s next@90 festival. Evelyn Cisneros is considered the first Hispanic prima ballerina. She joined SF Ballet in 1977 and in her 23-year tenure performed nearly every starring role in the SF Ballet’s repertory. Following her retirement from the stage, Cisneros pivoted towards teaching, first working in the Center for Dance Education at SF Ballet. In September 2020, Cisneros was named Director of Frederick Quinney Lawson Ballet West Academy.
During Helgi Tomasson’s 37-year tenure as SF Ballet’s Artistic Director, he choreographed over 50 original works set on the Company. These include works that were repertory favorites, such as 7 For Eight, which will be performed in the upcoming The Colors of Dance program (March 14-19, 2023) and Romeo & Juliet, which will close out the Season. Many of Tomasson’s pieces were choregraphed for gala performances and special events, such as When We No Longer Touch, which premiered at the 1995 A Class Act: Classical Action, a concerted effort against AIDS, a special event featuring San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Opera, and San Francisco Symphony, among other local artists and organizations.
Gerald Arpino was a renowned ballet dancer and choreographer, best known as being a founding member of the Robert Joffrey Ballet Theatre, now Joffrey Ballet. When the company formed in 1956, Arpino served as lead dancer, becoming co-director with Robert Joffrey in 1965 after an injury cut short his dancing career two years earlier. Following Joffrey’s death in 1988, Arpino became the sole director of Joffrey Ballet, moving the company from New York City to its now permanent home in Chicago, Illinois. Following Arpino’s retirement in 2007, former SF Ballet Principal Dancer and Assistant to the Artistic Director Ashley Wheater was named Joffrey Ballet’s Artistic Director. Former SF Ballet Principal Dancer Nicolas Blanc is also now at the Joffrey Ballet as Rehearsal Director and Choreographer.
Sofiane Sylve joined SF Ballet in 2008 as a Principal Dancer, having previously danced at the principal level at ballet companies such as Germany’s Stadttheater, Dutch National Ballet, and New York City Ballet. While at SF Ballet, Sylve danced many leading principal roles, such as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis in Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle, which is currently being performed as part of the 2023 Season. Sylve moved on from SF Ballet in 2020 to Semperoper Ballett, working as a ballet mistress as well as the Artistic Advisor for Ballet San Antonio. In the 2021-22 season, Sylve became the full-time Artistic Director of Ballet San Antonio and Director of the School of Ballet San Antonio.
The late Sir Kenneth MacMillan spent the majority of his dancing and choreography career with the Royal Ballet, joining the main company in 1948, working exclusively as a company choreographer from 1955 until 1966, then as company director from 1970 to 1977, and finally as resident choreographer from 1977 until his death in 1992. One of MacMillan’s final ballets, premiering with the Royal Ballet in 1991, Winter Dreams takes its story from Anton Chekhov’s play, Three Sisters.
“Jockey Dance” is an excerpt from August Bournonville’s final ballet, From Siberia to Moscow, choreographed in 1876. While it may be too soon to say this ballet will not be performed again by SF Ballet, the work that premiered as part of the 2020 Season’s Opening Night Gala, is only an excerpt of a larger work. SF Ballet’s premiere of “Jockey Dance” was performed by then-recently promoted Principal Dancer Esteban Hernández and then-Soloist Max Cauthorn, promoted to Principal Dancer in Spring 2020, and staged by former Principal Dancer Ulrik Birkkjaer.
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.