The World Beyond the Stage
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SF BALLET PRODUCTION
Backstage is where so much of the invisible work happens to create the overall vision of the performance that audiences see onstage. From designers and stage managers, to dressers and stagehands, a dedicated team of highly skilled professionals work behind the scenes to bring the magical world of ballet to life. Crew is divided into six categories: Carpentry, Electrics, Sound, Props, Wardrobe, and Make-up. There are approximately 80 crew people behind the scenes, and while a typical mixed rep might use 20 stagehands, Tomasson’s Nutcracker requires 45 stagehands.
To learn more about the work done by SF Ballet Production department from the perpectives of Production Stage Manager Jane Green, Manager of Wardrobe, Wig, Make-up & Costume Construction Kate Share, and Head of Properties Ken Ryan talking about their roles for SF Ballet's production of Christopher Wheelson's Cinderella (on stage as part of the 2023 Season from March 31-April 8), please refer to the Meet the Artist: SF Ballet Production: On Creating the Magic of Wheeldon’s Cinderella, recorded as part of the 2020 Season.
Regardless of the scale of a ballet work, from solo dancer to grand full-length ballet, the wardrobe, hair/wig, and make-up on the dancer(s) are an integral part of how audiences take in a performance. To that end, SF Ballet's Production Department retains dedicated staff for each of these aspects to prepare dancers and to give them the necessary tools needed so that for each performance, SF Ballet dancers go on stage looking their best from head to toe.
The most fundamental costume piece associated with ballet is the pointe shoe. Properly fitted shoes are crucial for ballet dancers to execute the complex movements audiences see on stage. Dancers use varying techniques to customize their pointe shoes to their needs in rehearsal and in performance, depending on the ballet being performed. Due to the nature and construction of pointe shoes, dancers will go through a pair of brand-new shoes in one evening, and if it's a demanding performance, such as a story ballet, maybe even only one act.
For full-length story ballets, scenic design is an integral part of how the story is told. SF Ballet’s Nutcracker sets have had many changes throughout the years. From using repurposed materials during wartime for the first production in 1944 to the opulent design of the current production that premiered in 2004, the sets for Nutcracker, and so many other such ballets, play a significant part in how audience members experience a performance.
As these sets will usually have several moving components, the Stage Manager plays a critical role in running the show, overseeing everything happening off and onstage, allowing for the performances to proceed as seamlessly as possible. This aspect is also just one part of the stage manager's role, as not only do they manage the physical set changes, but the start/stop of the show, light cues, and other related aspects.
SF BALLET ORCHESTRA
Music is inextricably linked to any ballet performance. Throughout its history, SF Ballet has been accompanied by talented musicians. In 1975, the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra was formally established, with renowned conductor Denis de Couteau as the first Music Director, a position he held until 1998, when he retired as Music Director Emeritus. de Coteau sadly passed away the following year in 1999. On January 5, 2022, SF Ballet announced a new partnership with the San Francisco Conservatory of Music to create a new fellowship advancing opportunities for black musicians. In honor of the new fellowship, several members of the SF Ballet Orchestra shared their remembrances of de Coteau and his legacy here.
In 2005, Martin West was named Music Director and Principal Conductor. Since then, he has made a number of critically-acclaimed recordings with the SF Ballet Orchestra, with the Orchestra winning 2 Grammy Awards in 2015.
A NEW DIGITAL FRONTIER
When the COVID-19 Pandemic forced the 2020 SF Ballet season to abruptly end, the Company had to pivot in a new direction to allow performances to reach its audiences. While performances are always recorded for archival purposes and select performances have been recorded for broadcast on television and/or cinemas, SF Ballet filmed a performance of George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream on March 14, 2020, specifically intended for online streaming. Subsequently, world premieres from choreographers Danielle Rowe and Myles Thatcher were reimagined as dance films, which premiered as part of San Francisco Ballet's first ever all-digital season in 2021.
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.