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Ballet Master Betsy Erickson Takes a Final Bow

Ballet Master Betsy Erickson Takes a Final Bow

After 44 Years with SF Ballet, Betsy Erickson Is Retiring

After a 44-year career as a revered dancer and ballet master with San Francisco Ballet, Betsy Erickson is retiring. Her remarkable career in ballet has also included choreography and staging ballets on other companies worldwide. Betsy will be sorely missed by her SF Ballet family, but her contributions to the organization will not be soon forgotten.

Erickson joined SF Ballet as a dancer in 1964, performing at the Stern Grove Festival. Her formal dance training began on a Ford Foundation Scholarship at San Francisco Ballet School, where she studied with Lew Christensen, artistic director of the Company; Harold Christensen, director of the School; and Ballet Russe dancer Anatole Vilzak.

Betsy Erickson rehearsing Smuin’s The Tempest. // © San Francisco Ballet. Photo courtesy SFMPD.

Erickson’s dancing career spanned 20 years at SF Ballet and American Ballet Theatre (ABT). Her repertory with SF ballet included principal roles in works by George Balanchine, Lew Christensen, Jerome Robbins, and Michael Smuin; the central pas de deux in Lew Christensen’s Vivaldi Concerto Grosso was created expressly for her.

Betsy Erickson and Val Caniparoli in Christensen’s Vivaldi Concerto Grosso // © Marty Sohl, photo courtesy SFMPD

“I danced beside so many who inspired me and challenged me to be the best I could be.
There were choreographerswho stretched me in ways I didn’t know were possible.
Tudor and DeMille, Robbins and Massine made me grow inmy early years at ABT.
Lew Christensen, Michael Smuin, and Balanchine shaped me into the dancer
I would become in the ’70s and ’80s.”—Betsy Erickson

In 1992, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson appointed Erickson as ballet master. A central member of the artistic team, Erickson has spent the past 28 years staging ballets and rehearsing hundreds of SF Ballet dancers. For each performance season, she has been responsible for coaching a vast range of a ballet’s components, from a principal pas de deux to a large corps de ballet ensemble. And after so many Nutcracker runs, she’s a whiz at the complicated casting of the magical “Snowflakes” and “Flowers” roles.

In addition to her deep ties to the Company dancers, Erickson has formed unique relationships with the choreographers she’s worked with over the years. In particular, she’s developed an eye for the choreography of Val Caniparoli, Lew Christensen, Mark Morris, Alexei Ratmansky, Jerome Robbins, Tomasson, and Christopher Wheeldon.

Betsy Erickson instructs San Francisco Ballet dancers during a rehearsal of Tomasson’s Swan Lake // © Erik Tomasson

“I’ve seen many generations of dancers and musicians work with this company.
We made it through hard timesand joyous times often with few resources
other than our strength and creativity. And now it is your turn to take this company
forward to the next generation. Remember we all stand on the shoulders of those
before us and become the building blocks for the next generation
to inspire and challenge them.”—Betsy Erickson

Erickson has also excelled in choreography, having received numerous awards and fellowships, including a California Arts Council Fellowship, six National Endowment for the Arts choreographer fellowships, and a National Dance Residency Program Grant. Outside of SF Ballet, her expertise is known internationally—she has traveled the world staging works on other ballet companies.

Betsy Erickson // © David Allen

Erickson is known throughout the organization for her steady and kind demeanor, and her willingness to jump in and lend a hand. In retirement, she looks forward to spending more time with her family and working on other projects.

On behalf of SF Ballet dancers, musicians, stage crew, choreographers, staff, and volunteers, we deeply thank Betsy for her years of service to SF Ballet. She has certainly earned a standing ovation. Brava, Betsy!

Header Image: Betsy Erickson rehearsing Smuin’s The Tempest // © San Francisco Ballet. Photo courtesy SFMPD.