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San Francisco Ballet Celebrates Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson's 37th and Final Season in 2022

The Season comprises seven programs that reflect the expansive unfolding of Tomasson’s career as a dancer and choreographer.

San Francisco Ballet Celebrates Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson's 37th and Final Season in 2022

San Francisco Ballet has announced Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson's farewell season in 2022, celebrating Tomasson's remarkable 37-year tenure leading the Company. The Season comprises seven programs that reflect the expansive unfolding of Tomasson's career as a dancer and choreographer, encompassing works by luminaries in the field and repertory from Tomasson's own canon. It celebrates his legacy of making SF Ballet a creative hub for many emerging choreographers and transforming the organization into a globally renowned ballet company. "From my very first days in San Francisco, my goal has been to build a ballet company that draws from the past while looking forward. Thirty-six years later, I'm proud that San Francisco Ballet's distinctiveness derives from this duality: a brilliant ability to bring the classics to life as well as a curiosity for exploring new works," says Tomasson. "I am excited for the Company in its next chapter, as the arrival of a new artistic director will usher in new artistic opportunities to continue in the spirit of innovation and exploration. In planning my final season with San Francisco Ballet, I reflected upon the many artists and works that have inspired me throughout my career, while honoring commitments to works that were planned pre-pandemic and haven't yet taken the SF Ballet stage. I designed a final season that offers a heartfelt look back at the artistry of my almost four decades here-a love letter to this company and our community."

Highlights of the 2022 celebratory season, to be performed live at the War Memorial Opera House (WMOH), include the world premiere of Tomasson's Harmony, a work choreographed during the pandemic and Tomasson's 46th work on SF Ballet; Mrs. Robinson by Cathy Marston, and new works by Christopher Wheeldon and Dwight Rhoden. Helgi Tomasson's works to be revived on the 2022 Season include Trio, Caprice, Don Quixote, The Fifth Season, Prism, and Swan Lake. Blake Works I by William Forsythe and The Seasons by Alexei Ratmansky will have their SF Ballet premieres. Additional works on the 2022 Season include Symphony in C by George Balanchine, In The Night by Jerome Robbins, La Sylphide by August Bournonville, and Magrittomania by Yuri Possokhov.

"Helgi has planned a seven-program season to ensure we have the ability to adjust our performances should additional protocols be necessary. The repertory has been chosen to assure the maximum ability to rehearse, produce, and perform as we re-open," says Executive Director Kelly Tweeddale. "We have a lot to celebrate in 2022: the commitment of our entire community to get us this far, the ability to keep our artists in the creative mode during the darkest of times, the almost four decades-long tenure of Helgi Tomasson in his final celebratory season with San Francisco Ballet, and being reunited with our audiences, without whom we could not exist."


San Francisco Ballet has been working with its entire workforce in the past year to maintain an aggressive testing protocol for artists and support staff in order to avoid the transmission of the COVID-19 virus or its variants at the workplace. Protocols around seating audiences in the War Memorial Opera House for the 2022 Season will depend on the presence of the virus within the community, and may include the need for proper social distancing, preventative masking guidelines, and proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test as may be required by public health order protocols currently in development.

During the pandemic, SF Ballet, SF Opera, and the City of San Francisco accelerated the replacement of seats in the Orchestra, Dress Circle, and Grand Tier areas of the WMOH, and the project is almost complete. In addition to updated seating and better sightlines, the ventilation and air handling systems have been tested and upgraded to comply with CDC protocols put in place during the pandemic.


Since Helgi Tomasson's arrival in 1985, San Francisco Ballet has evolved from a respected regional troupe to an international company praised for its wide-ranging repertory, dancers of remarkable range and skill, and artistic vision. As a choreographer, teacher, and coach, Tomasson has fostered an uncompromising classicism that has become the bedrock of the Company's repertory and training. He balances this devotion to the classics with an emphasis on new work, commissioning ballets from choreographers William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky, Mark Morris, Cathy Marston, Liam Scarlett, and Justin Peck, among others. Tomasson has expanded SF Ballet's repertory, acquiring works by choreographers such as Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, August Bournonville, Michel Fokine, Hans van Manen, Wayne McGregor, Sir Kenneth McMillan, Agnes de Mille, Nacho Duato, Flemming Flindt, Roland Petit, Jerome Robbins, and Antony Tudor. He has also cultivated choreographic talent within the Company, including Yuri Possokhov and Val Caniparoli, both of whom have since created works around the globe. Tomasson's own works have been performed by New York City Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Houston Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Alberta Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón, and Asami Maki Ballet.

Helgi Tomasson has choreographed more than 50 ballets since becoming Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer of San Francisco Ballet, of which 46 were created on the Company. His repertory includes full-length productions of Don Quixote (co-staged by Yuri Possokhov), Giselle, Romeo & Juliet (taped for Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance), The Sleeping Beauty, Nutcracker (taped for PBS' Great Performances), and two productions of Swan Lake (1988 and 2009). His repertory ballets, such as 7 for Eight, Chi-Lin, Concerto Grosso, The Fifth Season, Handel-a Celebration, Meistens Mozart, Nanna's Lied, and Sonata, showcase the unique qualities of individual dancers.

Helgi Tomasson has conceptualized several unprecedented festivals for San Francisco Ballet, starting with UNited We Dance: An International Festival, held in San Francisco in May 1995 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter, and for which Tomasson invited 12 international companies to present new works created by choreographers from their country. In spring 2008, as part of its yearlong 75th anniversary celebration, SF Ballet presented a New Works Festival of 10 world premieres by 10 acclaimed choreographers from stylistically diverse backgrounds. Ten years later in spring 2018, Tomasson presented Unbound: A Festival of New Works featuring 12 world premieres by 12 international choreographers, several of whom created their first works for the Company.

Tomasson has also connected San Francisco Ballet with the world, with major co-commissions with American Ballet Theatre (Lar Lubovitch's Othello, Alexei Ratmansky's Shostakovich Trilogy and The Seasons), The Royal Ballet (Liam Scarlett's Frankenstein), and Dutch National Ballet (Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella©). Under Tomasson's direction, SF Ballet has toured the world, performing in China (2009, 2015), Copenhagen (1998, 2010, 2019), London (1999, 2001, 2004, 2012, 2019), Moscow (2012), New York City (1991, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2008, 2013, 2018), and Paris (1989, 1994, 2001, 2005, 2014).

Tomasson's achievements have garnered him numerous awards and honors. In his native Iceland, he was given the Grand Cross Star of the Order of the Falcon, the country's most prestigious honor. Tomasson was also granted the rank of Officier in the French Order of Arts and Letters in May 2001. He has received three Isadora Duncan Awards (1989, 1996, 2007), a Dance Magazine Award (1992), a Dance/USA Honor (2012), and the Lew Christensen Medal (2005). He has been presented with honorary doctorates from Dominican College of San Rafael (1996) and the Juilliard School (2002). In 2020, Tomasson received the San Francisco Arts Medallion, created by the Museum of Performance + Design to recognize those individuals whose leadership, action, and generosity have benefited the cultural life of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Tomasson is also artistic director of San Francisco Ballet School, alongside School Director Patrick Armand. For Tomasson, the School is central to the life and development of the Company, and its alumni make up more than 70 percent of the Company at San Francisco Ballet in the upcoming season.

Born in Reykjavik, Iceland, Tomasson began his early ballet training there with an Icelandic teacher and joined the National Theatre's affiliated school, led by Danish instructors Erik and Lisa Bidsted. He began his professional career at age 15 with the celebrated Pantomime Theatre in Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens. Two years later, Jerome Robbins met Tomasson and, impressed by his dancing, arranged a scholarship for him to study at the School of American Ballet in New York City. Soon after, Tomasson began his professional career with The Joffrey Ballet and two years later joined The Harkness Ballet. Over the next six years, he became one of the company's most celebrated principal dancers.

In 1969, Tomasson entered the First International Ballet Competition in Moscow as a United States representative and returned with the Silver Medal (the Gold Medal was awarded to Mikhail Baryshnikov). The following year, Tomasson joined New York City Ballet as a principal dancer, distinguishing himself as a dancer of technical purity, musicality, and intelligence. He was one of the foremost interpreters of George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins, and both men created roles in new ballets for Tomasson. Balanchine encouraged him to choreograph and, in 1982, Tomasson choreographed his first ballet for the School of American Ballet Workshop.

A celebratory event to honor Helgi Tomasson is scheduled for April 24, 2022. More details including dinner and performance tickets will be available in early 2022.


San Francisco Ballet plans for an in-person Nutcracker at the War Memorial Opera House in December 2021. Tickets for Nutcracker will go on sale to the general public once artist and audience protocols for December are set.


San Francisco Ballet will present its 89th Season Opening Night Gala on Thursday, January 27, 2022. The annual black-tie launch of the repertory season includes a pre-performance cocktail hour and dinner hosted by the SF Ballet Auxiliary at San Francisco City Hall and a performance by San Francisco Ballet at the War Memorial Opera House. More details will be announced in fall 2021.

Principal series subscribers in the 2021 Season can renew their subscription packages starting May 12. Three, five, and seven program subscription packages to SF Ballet's 2022 Repertory Season range in price from $66 to $2,555 and go on sale to the public later this summer. Individual tickets for SF Ballet's 2022 Repertory Season, starting at $29, will be available at a later date in fall 2021. Visit sfballet.org or call Ticket Services, Monday through Friday, 10 am to 4 pm at 415-865-2000.

2022 REPERTORY SEASON

Program 01, February 1-12

Program 01 opens with George Balanchine's Symphony in C, performed to the score by George Bizet. Symphony in C received its SF Ballet premiere in 1961 and has remained a regular component of the Company's repertory alongside 30 other ballets by the choreographer, at least one of which has appeared each season of Tomasson's appointment. The New York Times hailed SF Ballet as "one of the world's foremost exponents of the Balanchine repertory," and Symphony in C's four movements offer a unique opportunity to showcase each rank of the Company. As a former principal dancer of New York City Ballet (NYCB), Tomasson has also contributed to The George Balanchine Foundation's Interpreter's Archive tapes, passing on his knowledge to future generations of dancers. Symphony in C, with costumes after Karinska, was last seen at SF Ballet in the 2011 Repertory Season.

Helgi Tomasson's Trio, an abstract dance set to Tchaikovsky's Souvenir de Florence, includes jewel-toned costumes by Mark Zappone, with scenic design by Alexander V. Nichols and lighting by Christopher Dennis. "In thirty-three minutes Tomasson brings out the best in his company," wrote British Theatre Guide about Trio in 2012. Trio premiered in 2011 in San Francisco before touring to New York, London, and Washington, D.C, and was the last seen in San Francisco during the 2017 Repertory Season.

Cathy Marston's Mrs. Robinson receives its world premiere on Program 01, re-positioning the story of The Graduate, the 1960s American novella and film, from the perspective of the notorious seductress Mrs. Robinson. With an original score by Terry Davies, scenic and costume designs by Patrick Kinmonth, and a scenario developed by the choreographer and Edward Kemp, Mrs. Robinson is Marston's second commission and narrative ballet created for SF Ballet. Her first, Snowblind, toured to The Kennedy Center in 2018 and Sadler's Wells in 2019.

Program 02, February 3-13

Helgi Tomasson's Caprice, a "clean limbed, articulate ballet" (The Guardian), opens Program 02. Caprice premiered in the 2014 Repertory Season and exemplifies Tomasson's musical curiosity, set to Camille Saint-Saën's Symphony No. 2 with an added adagio from Symphony No. 3. The ballet builds upon a string of pas de deux for two principal couples dressed in white by Holly Hynes, with scenic designs by Alexander V. Nichols. Caprice toured to Paris for the 10th anniversary of Les Étés de la Danse in 2014, and to Beijing and Shanghai in 2015.

Jerome Robbins' In The Night received its SF Ballet premiere in 1985, the first year of Tomasson's appointment, and is one of 18 ballets by the choreographer in the Company's repertory. "When I was newly appointed artistic director here at SF Ballet, I let [Robbins] know that I'd be asking for some of his ballets," said Tomasson, reflecting on his longtime mentor and colleague. "He didn't hesitate, he just said, 'You can have all of them.'" Beginning with the Ravinia Festival in 1985, SF Ballet has toured In The Night throughout the world, notably in Barcelona, Athens, New York City, Paris, Beijing, and Napa, California, in 2018, the same year the company received the Jerome Robbins Award for excellence in dance. In The Night involves three principal couples who dance to four nocturnes by Frédéric Chopin, with original costumes by Anthony Dowell and lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

SF Ballet presents the Company premiere of William Forsythe's Blake Works I in Program 02. Called "a brilliant expression of purity and modernity" by Vogue, Blake Works I is Forsythe's 2016 creation for Paris Opera Ballet and sets seven movements of dance to songs from James Blake's 2016 album The Colour in Anything. The ballet includes "complexity, speed and changing directions of the choreography" (Financial Times) as a hallmark of its modernity. The choreographer also contributed to the ballet's stage, costume, and lighting design, in collaboration with costume designer Dorothée Merg and lighting designer Tanja Ruhl. "[San Francisco Ballet] dances Forsythe better than any other American company," wrote the Los Angeles Times in 2016.

Program 03, February 26-March 6

Program 03 opens on February 26 with the return of Tomasson/Possokhov's Don Quixote (with original choreography by Alexander Gorsky after Marius Petipa), last performed during the 2019 Repertory Season. Called "charming and exhilarating" by HuffPost, Don Quixote features scenic and costume design by Martin Pakledinaz and lighting design by James F. Ingalls, with music by Ludwig Minkus. Don Quixote is based on the classic novel by Miguel de Cervantes and was first performed by SF Ballet during the 2003 Repertory Season, with new production designs introduced in 2012.

Program 04, March 15-20

August Bournonville's La Sylphide, noted as the original "ballet blanc" of Romantic-era ballet, returns to SF Ballet after a 25-year absence. "This is San Francisco Ballet at its best," wrote the San Francisco Chronicle after the ballet's last performances at SF Ballet in 1997. "Tomasson's obvious affection for the ballet, his affinity for the Bournonville style and his dancers' commitment to this tradition add up to a 'Sylphide' for the ages." Tomasson, who began his professional career at Copenhagen's Pantomime Theatre in Tivoli Gardens in his youth, stood out for his "finish and authority in [Bournonville's] style" (The Washington Post) as a principal dancer at NYCB. In this production of La Sylphide, directed by Tomasson and with scenic and costume designs by Jose Varona, SF Ballet celebrates the lineage of the Danish style of dance, codified by Bournonville, and embodying lightness, clarity, and elegance in movement.

SF Ballet presents the west coast premiere of Alexei Ratmansky's The Seasons, a co-commission with American Ballet Theatre, where Ratmansky is artist-in-residence. With music by Alexander Glazunov, The Seasons is a divertissement for characters of the elements, including Winter, Frost, The Rose, The Spirit of The Corn, Bacchus, and Bacchantes, and SF Ballet School students as flowers. The Seasons includes costume designs by Robert Perdziola and lighting design by Mark Stanley. The Seasons is the ninth of Ratmansky's ballets in SF Ballet's repertory and is one of the choreographer's many re-imaginings of Marius Petipa's ballets from Imperial Russia.

Program 05, April 2-16

Last performed by the Company in 2019, Tomasson's The Fifth Season premiered at SF Ballet during the 2006 Repertory Season. Set to Sir Karl Jenkins' String Quartet No. 2, The Fifth Season includes scenic and costume design by Sandra Woodall, with lighting design by Michael Mazzola. The Orange County Register called The Fifth Season, "often mesmerizing and breathtakingly beautiful."

Tomasson's Harmony will premiere on Program 05. An excerpt from Harmony was seen on the 2021 Digital Season's Virtual Benefit program on January 14, 2021, a selection of "most buoyant classicism, a celebration of [the dancers'] unique strengths" (San Francisco Chronicle). Harmony will include new costumes by Emma Kingsbury and music by Baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau.

SF Ballet Choreographer in Residence Yuri Possokhov's Magrittomania premiered in 2000, while Possokhov was a principal dancer at SF Ballet, and was last seen at SF Ballet during the 2016 Repertory Season. The first of Possokhov's eventual 16 ballets created on the Company, Magrittomania is a celebration of and nod to the work of surrealist artist Réné Magritte. Created in tandem with scenic and costume designer Thyra Harshorn, lighting designer Kevin Connaughton, and music by Yuri Krasavin after Ludwig van Beethoven, Magrittomania is a "critical and audience hit" (DanceTabs).

Program 06, April 6-15

Helgi Tomasson's Prism premiered at the New York City Ballet on May 3, 2000 and had its SF Ballet premiere on January 30, 2001. Prism "set off a thunderous applause" (The New York Times) at its world premiere and was hailed as "Tomasson's finest work" (San Francisco Chronicle) at its San Francisco premiere. With costume design by Martin Pakledinaz and lighting design by Mark Stanley, Prism is a neoclassical ballet in three parts set to Beethoven's Piano Concert #1. It begins with a selection of trios, followed by duos in the second movement, and ends with dazzling solos for the finale. At its SF Ballet premiere, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote: "The jazziness of [former SF Ballet Principal Dancer Gonzalo] Garcia's solos, especially after all the on-the-beat beauty of much of 'Prism,' acted as nice reminders of the Jerome Robbins legacy that is Tomasson's artistic birthright. The sense of community 'Prism' achieves, the feeling of togetherness and warmth, is a major achievement not unlike that at the close of the 'Goldberg Variations' Robbins created for Tomasson a generation ago."

The program also includes two new works by Christopher Wheeldon and Dwight Rhoden. This will be Wheeldon's 11th work for SF Ballet; his first commission was Sea Pictures in 2000, and most recently he choreographed a selection for SF Ballet's Dance of Dreams during the summer of 2020. Dwight Rhoden's first work for SF Ballet, LET'S BEGIN AT THE END, was created during the 2018 Unbound: A Festival of New Works. The upcoming commission will be his third with the Company, following his contributions to Dance of Dreams last summer.

Program 07, April 29-May 8

Called "a runaway box office hit" (San Francisco Chronicle) at its premiere in 2009, Helgi Tomasson's Swan Lake opens Program 07 on April 29, with performances through May 8. The story of the white swan Odette and Prince Siegfried, and their foils, the black swan Odile and Von Rothbart, is brought to life with set and costume designs by Tony Award-winner Jonathan Fensom; lighting by Jennifer Tipton; projection design by Sven Ortel; hair, wig, and makeup design by Michael Ward; and the timeless score by Tchaikovsky, playing out over a prologue and three acts. Swan Lake offers standout roles for the corps of 30 swans and Odette/Odile. San Francisco Ballet presented America's first full-length production of Swan Lake in 1940, and this production of Swan Lake is Tomasson's second; the ballet is not only a classic of the repertory, but an integral part of San Francisco Ballet's history. It was last seen on stage in the 2017 Repertory Season and is on the current 2021 Digital Season, opening May 20.

SAN FRANCISCO BALLET SCHOOL, EDUCATION, AND COMMUNITY

San Francisco Ballet is home of the San Francisco Ballet School, one of the best training institutions in the industry for pre-professional ballet dancers. It is led by renowned dancer and pedagogue Patrick Armand with oversight by Helgi Tomasson, and boasts an international roster of prominent instructors, a Trainee program for pre-professional students, and a robust scholarship and financial aid program. More than 70 percent of San Francisco Ballet dancers trained at SF Ballet School, which enrolls approximately 700 students annually.

SF Ballet School boarding students reside in San Francisco Conservatory of Music's new $193 million Ute and William K. Bowes, Jr. Center for Performing Arts (Bowes Center), marking an unprecedented model of collaboration among arts training institutions in the nation, offering a holistic, multidisciplinary approach to education for students of both schools. "With this partnership, we can increase the number of students we are able to house, but more importantly, we can improve the students' overall quality of life. SF Ballet School can now offer an integrated model of education for our students that emphasizes the importance of exposure to and knowledge of other artistic disciplines. I am very excited about what this all means for the overall experience of young people enrolled at both of our institutions," said SF Ballet School Director Patrick Armand.

In addition, SF Ballet School awards more than $1 million in financial aid and merit-based scholarships to students annually and is committed to assuring access, support, and opportunity to a diverse student body. Its Community Scholarship Program, which provides scholarships to students who participated in SF Ballet's Dance in Schools and Communities (DISC) residency program, awards more than $420,000 annually to San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) students to receive dance training at SF Ballet School.

Beyond SF Ballet School, SF Ballet's robust education and community programs reach more than 40,000 people in the Bay Area annually. Its more than 40-year partnership with the SFUSD through the DISC program provides free and equitable access to arts education and is one of the longest-standing dance-in-schools programs in the country. It has served as a model for education and community programs for ballet companies across the country. During the COVID-19 pandemic, SF Ballet partnered with SFUSD and KTVU Plus to create SF Loves Learning, a daily educational television show to help close the digital divide for students struggling with distance learning. The television show's anti-racist and culturally responsive programming includes daily dance lessons taught by SF Ballet's professional teaching artists, as well as lessons in science, literacy development, and music with SFUSD teachers. Since its premiere in April 2020, SF Ballet and SFUSD have created approximately 200 episodes and reached over 200,000 children and community members across the Bay Area.

In the last five years, SF Ballet's community engagement programs have greatly expanded their reach by offering free dance classes for individuals with Parkinson's disease, Sensory Friendly Dance Workshops and Relaxed Dress Rehearsals for the special needs community, and a partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco that provides free ballet and dance classes and camps for youth ages 6-18. In 2020 and 2021, SF Ballet offered weekly dance classes for individuals with Parkinson's disease on Zoom and partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs to provide distance learning, digital field trips, and holiday viewing parties that included a screening of SF Ballet's Nutcracker for more than 700 children at 18 Clubhouses across the Bay Area.

SF Ballet's annual appearance at the Stern Grove Festival, which includes fun, educational activities for the whole family, and the annual Fan Fest celebration in conjunction with Bay Area Dance Week have been free and open to the public. Due to the COVID-19 health pandemic, San Francisco Ballet will not perform at Stern Grove Festival or host Fan Fest in the spring and summer of 2021. Instead, it will partner with Stern Grove Festival to provide free virtual dance classes and arts education programs for children this year.


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