Your Ultimate Guide to Ballet Accelerator

Your Ultimate Guide to Ballet Accelerator

It’s 21st-century ballet, full speed ahead.

What Is It? Ballet at full speed for the 21st century featuring works by two Brits, Cathy Marston and David Dawson, and our own Helgi Tomasson.

Who’s It For? Anyone who loves a modern update on a classical theme, picked up The Feminine Mystique in undergrad, or enjoys the pure thrill of watching elite athletes compete.


Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets in Tomasson’s 7 For Eight // © Erik Tomasson

What Am I Seeing? 7 for Eight does what the title says: it’s a ballet in seven sections for eight dancers created by SF Ballet Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson in 2004. Its black-on-black color scheme, dramatic lighting effects, and shifting moods update the Baroque music for a modern era.

What Am I Hearing? Seven keyboard concertos by J.S. Bach written between 1729 and 1741. Six are played with a piano. One, played during a man’s solo, is performed on a harpsichord, as it would have been in the period.

What Should I Look For? Notice how the number of dancers on stage shifts and morphs throughout the ballet. The eight dancers seem to be able to make an infinite (or, rather seven) number of shifting groups, from solos, to duets, to trios, and full ensemble configurations. And notice how the ballet’s mood changes throughout: from yearning and reaching to playful and clever.


Mathilde Froustey and Benjamin Freemantle rehearsing Cathy Marston’s new work // © Erik Tomasson

What Am I Seeing? Cathy Marston is one of the hottest names in choreography right now. Following major premieres in New York and Chicago,Mrs. Robinson is her second commission for SF Ballet. Set in 1960s California and inspired by The Graduate, this new work explores questions of love, sex, identity, femininity, and feminism while exploring the inner psyche of one of America’s most recognizable characters.

What Am I Hearing? Not Simon and Garfunkel! This newly commissioned score by British composer Terry Davies gives a sense of structure to the work and features motifs for each of the main characters. 

What Should I Look For? Cathy’s ballets tell stories, but not through traditional mime. Rather, she creates movement phrases and gestures based on words that help establish character and narrative. In this case, she’s interested in what drives Mrs. Robinson in her affair with Benjamin.  See if you can identify these repeated movements throughout the work and what they tell you about its protagonists.


San Francisco Ballet in Dawson’s Anima Animus // © Erik Tomasson

What Am I Seeing? An example of physically emotional virtuosity by dancemaker David Dawson. Anima Animus is ballet pushed to every extreme; technique stretched to its outer limit. Playing with the idea of opposites—man-woman; black-white; lifted-grounded—this work nods to ballet’s past while pointing toward its future.

What Am I Hearing? Ezio Bosso’s Violin Concerto No. 1 “Esoconcerto.” Bosso’s score creates a sense of driving motion matched by the dancing.

What Should I Look For? The second movement and its virtuosic play between the two principal women and the four men. For the way that Dawson manipulates ballet technique: rarely is a dancer truly upright—everything is leaning, at an angle, off-balance. And for the wing-like gestures the dancers’ make with their arms, evoking flight.

Header image: Norika Matsuyama in Tomasson’s 7 For Eight // © Erik Tomasson