Your Ultimate Guide to Program 1
A Perfect Ballet Tasting Menu
What Is It? A perfectly balanced tasting menu of ballet, featuring the grandeur of the past, the poetry of the present, and the innovation of the future. These three works from George Balanchine, Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, and Cathy Marston showcase SF Ballet’s athleticism, artistry, and range in everything from classical technique to abstract and story-based contemporary works.
Who’s It For? For fans of showmanship and splendor, Florentine sunsets with a glass of wine, and feminist retellings.
What Am I Seeing? The first of many ballets in the 2022 Season that celebrate the artistic legacy of Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson. Like its title suggests, Trio—choreographed by Tomasson in 2011—is split into three parts that he refers to as “occasions,” as each evokes a different image or memory. It moves from a spirited opening full of non-stop movement to a lyrical, intimate adagio, ending with an exciting, joyous finale.
What Am I Hearing? Composer Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s only string sextet, Souvenir de Florence. Although originally divided into four movements, it is performed here in an arrangement for string orchestra in three parts, with the final two movements played as one. This final section—with its Russian folk influence—differs melodically and rhythmically from the preceding allegro and adagio.
What Should I Look For? The layers of trios built into all aspects of the ballet, from its lighting and costume design to its choreography. The pinks and purples of the lights and costumes in the first movement transition into the earth tones and shadows of a muted adagio, before moving into the rich browns of the conclusion. In addition to this visual triptych is a gripping, dramatic moment in the second movement where a couple is interrupted by a mysterious figure of death, transforming a pas de deux into a tug of war for the ballerina’s soul.
MRS. ROBINSON WORLD PREMIERE
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 puts Mrs. Robinson center stage, delving into the inner psyche of one of America’s most recognizable characters and exploring questions of love, sex, identity, femininity, and feminism.
What Am I Hearing? Not Simon & 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? Marston’s ballets tell stories, but not through traditional mime. Rather, during her choreographic process, she creates movement phrases and gestures based on words that help establish character and narrative. In this ballet, she’s particularly interested in what drives Mrs. Robinson. See if you can identify any repeated movements throughout the work and what they tell you about its protagonists.
SYMPHONY IN C
What Am I Seeing? Twentieth-century choreographer George Balanchine’s 1947 Symphony in C (a reworking of his Le Palais de cristal, created for the Paris Opéra Ballet the previous year), with its white tutus and black tunics. Each movement features a principal couple, two soloist couples, and the corps de ballet. Balanchine was a “master of neoclassical work,” says Tomasson; his works are highly technical yet sparkle with a brilliance and exuberance that you won’t want to miss.
What Am I Hearing? Carmen composer Georges Bizet’s Symphony in C Major, a composition that was first performed 60 years after his death. It follows the classical four-movement symphony structure—an opening allegro, a slow andante, a fast scherzo, and a rousing finale. With its rich, elegant melodies and bubbly charm, it’s a perfect accompaniment to all that Balanchine’s movement requires of the dancers.
What Should I Look For? Balanchine’s signature blend of simple and complex steps done with speed and precision by a stage bursting with corps de ballet dancers. Also, feats of strength, trust, and endurance. A highlight is the principal couple in the second movement adagio; in a quiet, breathtaking moment, the ballerina repeatedly falls backwards into her partner’s arms.
Program 1 was performed from February 1–12, 2022.
Header Image: San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s Trio // © Erik Tomasson