A Tribute to Helgi Tomasson

A Tribute to Helgi Tomasson

SF Ballet says farewell to its departing director

Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson has led San Francisco Ballet since 1985. Under his leadership, the Company has transformed into one of the world’s leading ballet companies, recognized for its innovative focus on new and contemporary choreography, ongoing support of emerging choreographers and the next generation of dancers, and deeply held dedication to the classics.

Tomasson on Film

This year, SF Ballet produced tribute videos to share with audiences before each live program of the 2022 Season. Get a taste of what Tomasson’s colleagues and fellow luminaries say about his legendary transformation of SF Ballet.

Through the years

Between the years of 1985 and 2000, San Francisco Ballet delighted in several “firsts.” Within Tomasson’s first years with the Company, SF Ballet toured to Tokyo, Paris, and London for the first time, and experienced a renaissance in the public eye. The years also marked first Company commissions of choreographers William Forsythe, Mark Morris, Christopher Wheeldon, and Julia Adam, and the first of Tomasson’s many major new-works festivals. “I just felt there was no reason for us not to become not only a major national company but an international one,” Tomasson remarked in 1989. “And I think we have embarked upon that road.”

When the new millennium began, Tomasson fueled his energy into the creation of story ballets, touring the globe, commissioning works, and reaching new audiences via TV broadcasts.

Join us as we reveal photo highlights from Tomasson’s 37 years at the helm of San Francisco Ballet.


2003Don Quixote premieres, with new production elements introduced in 2011.


2004 – Tomasson's Nutcracker premieres. Pictured here is Tomasson with former Principal Dancer Vanessa Zahorian rehearsing the new ballet.


2007 – SF Ballet tours to Reykjavik, Iceland for the third time, where Tomasson is honored with the Grand Cross of the Falcon Order from his home country.


2008 – Tomasson's Nutcracker airs nationwide on PBS's Great Performances.


2008 – Celebrating the Company's 75th anniversary, Tomasson and SF Ballet present 10 world premieres by 10 choreographers, including Wheeldon's Within the Golden Hour, Morris' Joyride, Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House, and Margaret Jenkin's Thread.


2009 – SF Ballet tours China in a three-week, three-city debut, performing Tomasson's new Swan Lake.


2013 – Wheeldon's Cinderella, a co-production between SF Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, debuts in San Francisco. Cinderella is Wheeldon's eight commission and first full-length story ballet for the Company.


2014 – The Company returns to Paris, presenting 18 ballets by 11 choreographers at the Théâtre du Châtelet. "A critic's dream," wrote The Arts Desk.


2015 – Tomasson's Romeo & Juliet inaugurates Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance and is shown at cinemas nationwide.


2018 – UNBOUND: A Festival of New Works unites 12 choreographers, including Alonzo King, Cathy Marston, David Dawson, Justin Peck, and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa in San Francisco.


2020 – Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream takes the stage for one night, the first time it is seen in San Francisco in 34 years.


2022 – SF Ballet celebrates Helgi Tomasson's 37th and final year with the Company. His new ballet, Harmony, premieres.


1985 – Six months after taking his final bow as a principal dancer at New York City Ballet, Tomasson joins San Francisco Ballet as Artistic Director.


1986Confidencias, Tomasson’s first ballet for the Company, premieres in January.


1987 – Tomasson commissions New Sleep, a radical new ballet by William Forsythe, and presents it in Tokyo—the Company’s first tour to Japan’s capital city.


1988 – Tomasson’s first version of Swan Lake premieres, putting “San Francisco Ballet on the international dance map,” writes Anna Kisselgoff in The New York Times.


1990 – Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty premieres.


1991 – SF Ballet tours to New York City for the first time in 26 years.


1995 – Tomasson invites twelve companies from five continents to perform in San Francisco for UNited We Dance, a “strikingly original festival” (New York Times) commemorating the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter.


1998 – Tomasson, who cites Jerome Robbins as mentor, returns to the stage for the first time since retiring from dance to perform as the ringmaster in Robbins’ Circus Polka.


1999 – Tomasson’s Giselle premieres and the Company debuts in London, England; Nervi, Italy; and Belfast, Northern Ireland.


2000 – SF Ballet presents six world premieres in a week, with new works by Julia Adam, Yuri Possokhov, Christopher Stowell, and Sea Pictures by 26-year-old Christopher Wheeldon.

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SF Ballet Tips a Hat

Take a behind-the-scenes peek and discover the impact Tomasson had on the many dancers, choreographers, designers, and staff who worked with him over his 37-year tenure.

Former Principal Dancer Evelyn Cisneros

“My life and dance career have been profoundly impacted by Helgi and his vision for the Company.”

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Ballet Master and former SF Ballet dancer Anita Paciotti

“We must all tip our hats and raise our glasses to this remarkable man, my friend, Helgi Tomasson.”

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Peter Boal, Artistic Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet

“As I’ve watched his ballets over the decades, I see him in each one. Not just the dancer, but the person.”

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Lighting Designer James F. Ingalls

“I truly appreciated Helgi’s wise and thoughtful approach to design and production.”

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From the Archives

Ready to share your own memory of Helgi Tomasson? Submit up to 100 words to press@sfballet.org to be considered for inclusion on this page! Photos encouraged.