San Francisco Ballet
Founded in 1933, San Francisco Ballet was first the San Francisco Opera Ballet under the leadership of ballet master, Adolph Bolm. Currently, it’s home is in the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco, under the direction of Helgi Tomasson. San Francisco Ballet was the first professional ballet company in the United States. It is among the world's leading dance companies, presenting over a hundred performances annually, with a repertoire that spans both classical and contemporary ballet. Along with American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet, San Francisco Ballet has been described as part of the “triumvirate of great classical companies defining the American style on the world stage today.
William Christensen, Harold Chistensen and Lew Christensen are considered by many to have done more than anyone else to establish ballet in the United States. Born into an artistic and musical family, the three brothers studied folk dance and ballet from early ages and were part of the famous vaudeville Orpheum Circuit during the 1920’s and 1930’s, bringing to Americans across the country ballet for the first time with their act “The Christ Brothers.”
When vaudeville faded, in 1935 Harold and Lew joined George Balanchine’s new company, the American Ballet. Three years earlier, Willam formed a ballet school in Portland, Oregon, and then in 1937, he was engaged as principal male soloist by San Francisco Opera Ballet. He became the company’s ballet master and choreographer in 1938. With his brother, Harold, he purchased the company from the Opera in 1942, and renamed it the San Francisco Ballet.
In 1951, Willam retired as director of the San Francisco Ballet and moved to Utah, where he started teaching ballet in the country’s first university ballet department at the University of Utah. With a group of his students, he founded the Utah Civic Ballet, now known as Ballet West Ballet West, in 1963.
Under Balanchine’s tutelage at American Ballet, Lew Christensen became the first American-born danseur noble. After World War II ended and having completed his tour of duty, he joined Balanchine’s and Lincoln Kirstein’s Ballet Society, which would become the New York City Ballet, eventually becoming ballet master. In 1951, he joined his brother Willam as co-director of San Francisco Ballet.
In 1938, the company's first major productions included Coppélia, choreographed by Willam Christensen; in 1940, Swan Lake, the first time that the ballet was produced in its entirety by an American company; and on Christmas Eve,1944, Nutcracker, the first complete production ever danced in the United States.
In 1957, the San Francisco Ballet was the first American ballet company to tour the Far East, performing in 11 Asian nations. In 1972, San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House was named the official residence of San Francisco Ballet. In 1973, Michael Smuin became co-artistic director of San Francisco Ballet with Lew Christensen; Smuin had danced with the Company from 1953 to 1961. Under his direction, the San Francisco’s productions included “Romeo and Juliet,” aired on the PBS series, “Great Performances: Dance in America in 1978, marking the first time that a West Coast ballet company, and a full-length ballet, was shown on the PBS TV series. Other televised ballets included “The Tempest,” and “A Song for Dead Warriors.”
In 1985, Helgi Tomasson became artistic director, and under direction, San Francisco Ballet has been recognized as one of the most innovative ballet companies in the world due to its early and frequent commissioning of new works by aspiring choreographers around the globe, the breadth of its repertory, spanning classical ballet, neoclassical ballet, and contemporary ballet, and the diversity of its company members. Ms. Tomasson has staged acclaimed full-length productions including “Swan Lake,” “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Giselle,” “Don Quixote” co-staged with former principal dancer and current choreographer in-residence Yuri Possokhov, and “Nutcracker.”
Today, San Francisco Ballet presents approximately 100 performances each year. The company’s diverse repertory includes works by Sir, Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, David Bintley, August Bournonville, Van Caniparoli, Lew Christensen, Nacho Duato, Jorma Elo, William Forsythe, James Kudelda, Jiri Lylian, Serge Lifar, Lar Lubovitch, Wayne McGregor, Agnes de Mille, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Hans van Manen, Peter Martins, Mark Morris, Rusolf Nureyev, Marius Petipa, Roland Petit, Yuri Possokhov, Alexei Ratmansky, Jerome Robbins, Laim Scarlett, Paul Taylor, Helgi Tomasson, Anthony Tudor and Christopher Wheeldon.
In May 1995, San Francisco Ballet hosted 12 ballet companies from around the world for United We Dance: An International Festival. The festival commemorated the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations charter, which took place at the San Francisco War Memorial and performing Arts Center.
Within the Golden Hour
San Francisco Ballet has also performed frequently overseas tours, including engagements at the famed Opera de Paris-Palais Garnier in Paris, London’s Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, Athens’ Megaron Theatre, Herod Atticus Amphitheatre, Copenhagen’s Tivoli Gardens, and the Edinburgh Playhouse in the Edinburgh International Festival. In 2009, the San Francisco Ballet made its first trip to the People’s Republic of China, with performances in Shanghai and Beijing. The company has received many awards including the Laurence Olivier Award, in the category of Outstanding Achievement in Dance.
San Francisco Ballet programs for 2016 include: Program 1 (Jan. 24-Feb. 5): North American premiere of William Forsythe’s incendiary 1999 “Pas/Parts;” “Magrittomania;” Yuri Possokhov’s first ballet for the company; an homage to Belgian surrealist painter René Magritte; and Helgi Tomasson’s “7 for Eight,” a multi-movement, Bach-inspired chamber work for eight outstanding dancers. Program 2 (Jan 27-Feb. 6): the premiere of Liam Scarlett’s “Fearful Symmetries,” based on John Adams’ orchestral essay; Mark Morris’ “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes,” set to Virgil Thomson piano music; and Igor Stravinsky’s “Rubies,” the central panel of George Balanchine’s full-evening “Jewels.” Program 3 (Feb. 19-28): and Tomasson’s production of “Swan Lake” by Jonathan Fensom with the Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. Program 4 (March 8-13): Léo Delibes version of “Coppélia.” Program 5 (March 16-22): Jerome Robbins’ “Dances at a Gathering;” and Possokhov’s “Swimmer.” Program 6 (April 5-16): Alexei Ratmansky’s “Seven Sonatas;” Tomasson’s “Prism;” and Wheeldon “Rush.” Program 7 (April 7-17): Premiere of “In the Countenance of Kings;” Chrisopher Wheeldon’s “Continuum,” set to the music of Ligeti; opens the festivities; and Balanchine’s classic “Theme and Variations.” Program 8 (April 30-May 8): John Cranko’s “Onegin”