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Dancers of the SF Ballet


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#1 Alexandra

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 10:20 AM

Ann Murphy has a piece in DanceView Times this week she called The Singing Body in which she discusses several dancers in the context of Helgi Tomasson as a ballet master.

One of dance’s deepest joys is watching dancers bloom. One day we witness a brilliant technician without particular color or perfume; the next day this same dancer has become an artist whose impeccable technique has moved into the background and something magical has surfaced, like a rose evolving from a tight-fisted bud into a perfectly-petaled blossom. Helgi Tomasson has the gift not only of intuiting which young dancers might grow into surpassing artists. He knows how to help them flower.


Any comments? On the piece, the ideas in it, or the dancers?

#2 BalletNut

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 10:40 AM

I echo Murphy's praise of LeBlanc and Maffre, but I must say I never thought of Kristin Long as hyperextended.

I'm glad someone besides me likes Sarah Van Patten. :)

Looking forward to seeing Blanc and Viselli to see if I agree with her assessments of them.

#3 Alexandra

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Posted 18 March 2004 - 11:04 AM

Thanks, Ballet Nut -- what do you think of her assessment of Tomasson as a ballet master, as a "grower" of dancers? He's struck me as having that gift, too, but I don't see the company nearly as much as you do, of course.

#4 Rubies

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Posted 19 March 2004 - 12:34 PM

If Murphy's point is that Tomasson's helps growing artists flourish artistically, I think she should have pointed out younger dancers! She focused on the principals and maybe one or two new soloists. What about long-term corps dancers or dancers that have moved up through the ranks while developing their own style? Most of the dancers that Murphy singles out are and have been principals for their entire careers at SFB: Muriel Maffre, Tina LeBlanc, Lorena Feijoo, Yuri Possokhov, etc. Kristin Long moved quickly up the ladder; I would have liked to hear more about her, Katita Waldo, or Julie Diana. Even Gonzalo Garcia was talked about in the present tense rather than describing his growing artistry through the years. While I understand that one can grow artisically while remaining in one position (ie. principal), it would have given more weight and credit to Tomasson's ability if Murphy had focused on dancers who have been with the company for their entire or majority of their careers.

#5 Alexandra

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Posted 19 March 2004 - 01:13 PM

I think one of the points, though, is that there's also a knack in helping principals develop -- look at other companies, it doesn't happen automatically. A dancer may be promoted on the basis of technique, or because of success in a single role and everyone expects great things, and then, five years later, they're in the "whatever happened to..." category.

#6 Rubies

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Posted 19 March 2004 - 01:27 PM

Murphy's thesis statement is "Helgi Tomasson has the gift not only of intuiting which young dancers might grow into surpassing artists. He knows how to help them flower."

To me (and maybe not to others) "young dancers" alludes to the inexperienced dancers, not principals. I also wished that she actually had some documentation that it was Tomasson himself that was guiding the artistic development. She has no interviews or documentation; only her observations of watching the dancers onstage. This growth may be due in part to company class instructors, ballet masters and mistresses, or specific choreographers. Interestingly, Murphy does not mention the obvious artistic growth shown by Katita Waldo, Kristin Long, or Tina LeBlanc when they returned from maternity leave (this was documented in numerous articles).

#7 Alexandra

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Posted 19 March 2004 - 02:17 PM

She has no interviews or documentation; only her observations of watching the dancers onstage.


Yes! That's the point. It's a commentary by someone who has been watching, and wrtiing about, the company -- and other companies and comparing SFB dancers to them, and probably puzzling out what she feels are the differences -- for many years. This isn't something that one could document, and criticism is different from a feature article with interviews and a quote from this or that person of "who meant the most to me." Ballet masters or mistresses may very well be part aof the process, but they're chosen by the artistic director and he oversees the productions.

Sorry to be argumentative but this kind of comment -- expecting an article to be one thing when it's another -- comes up a lot in our discussions and I'm responding as an editor and a writer. If I'm doing a feature, I don't expect people to be disappointed or critical because it's not analytical, and vice versa. As an editor and a writer, I don't know how to get around this and so it's a concern.

#8 socalgal

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Posted 19 March 2004 - 03:03 PM

There is a difference between 'finding' talent that one likes and 'developing' talent. Also, different types of 'talent' exist at different companies. I say this because I really had a difficult time reading this article. It seemed naive to me. I have observed this company for years and have also had the chance to see years of their seasons and sometimes viewing some programs multiple times.

In my observations, SFB has developed a definite vision that is clear and centered around a very carefully selected repertory. It has always been evident to me that this Artistic Director knows exactly what he envisions for his company.....from top to bottom, from repertory to technical style. It makes this company stand out in its unique artistry. The dancers that are selected for SFB have a very distinct commonality that makes them the tools for this man's vision. I think this is a unique trait for an AD of one of the bigger American ballet companies - this unification of vision and style.

Does this AD bring dancers along? I suppose if feeding them good artistic food in generous doses is part of this equation, then I guess you can call it that. What I have witnessed is that so many of the dancers at SFB have been found all over the world and brought in after dancing elsewhere. There are some that have risen from the school, but not many. The dancers mentioned in the article were mostly mature dancers or had something that this AD wanted to use to heighten his own vision. I believe this AD to be a master at bringing in excellent new work and the dancers to compliment this work. This AD also has a keen eye for programing artistically interesting seasons. Most recently, I have noticed that more corps dancers have been getting opportunities to step out into soloist roles - a very healthy practice. I hope that it continues. Right now, SFB is auditioning for two principle dancer positions. Let's watch and see if he promotes from within....

:devil:

#9 carbro

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Posted 19 March 2004 - 08:38 PM

There is a difference between 'finding' talent  that one likes and 'developing' talent.

Good point, Socalgal. Still, we would have to assume that a dancer with an established career would assume s/he would have to make some stylistic/artistic adjustments in moving to another company (unless it's ABT) :devil:

Does the company look like its own, organic self, as the article suggests? Or is it a collection of dancers who tend to look like they've never taken class in the same studio? When I saw them about 1 1/2 yrs ago (?? I have a bad sense of dates), they looked rather more than less cohesive to me.

#10 Alexandra

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Posted 20 March 2004 - 11:47 AM

There are two ways to "grow" dancers: choreograph for them or acquire repertory for them; or a mix of both. Dancers need new work made on them, but they also need good roles, and the two aren't necessarily the same. I don't think Tomasson is a very good choreographer, but I do think he is a fine director. I think the "feeding" of dancers is the most important thing an artistic director does -- the repertory has to please the audience, of course, but the knack of finding exactly the right role for a dancer at the right time, of getting a ballet that might seem a bit odd but is acquired because it's right for the dancers is very rare. It's what I've admired about Tomasson the most -- Yuan Yuan Tan in "Bugaku" is just one example. The principals are drawn from many schools but (to address carbro's question) the company does look organic -- in small ballets. I still think it doesn't have a first-rate corps, and that shows in ballets blancs, but that's something that takes decades to develop. I think you have to both build from within and bring in from without if you want to aim as high as Tomasson is aiming (and do what he was hired to do).

I remember when he first took over from Smuin, he "tamed" a few of the dancers he'd inherited; their dancing looked more classical. He knew, from the beginning, how he wanted the company to look.

#11 Paul Parish

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Posted 21 March 2004 - 09:35 AM

First I'd like to defend Ann Murphy. As a writer myself, I find her a colleague I really admire. She has integrity and guts and really loves dance. I always finding her thoughtful and stimulating and deeply concerned with what the dancers are doing, how they're doing it, and why, and whether it's a worthy goal they're aiming at. She tends to bring the kind of mind associated more with modern dance -- rigorous, edgy -- to the theater than a ballet-mind -- and indeed, it's about modern dancers that she's illuminated me the most, the kind who do unpleasant things for good reasons. But I think in this particular case she's seized on an extremely important point about SFB – the singing body -- and talked about it in a lot of detail. It's a company full of dancers with a phenomenal ability to make transitions through positions -- you see the lines, but you also see the sweep and flow of movement.

My temperament is very different from hers. I might not have picked the particular examples she did -- though I myself DO go on about Tina leBlanc. I wouldn't have used the same similes and metaphors to describe their qualities -- and sometimes I don't agree with her. But I find her really stimulating and interesting and likely to be seeing something I missed.

If she’d been writing an essay for an English class, she might have been supposed to work her thesis harder, and stick to dancers who’ve come up through the company – and here have BEEN some, such as Elizabeth Loscavio – and Julie Diana, who started out in the corps and got her first chances as the White Cat and such-like, and for whom Tomasson may be thought to have gotten such odd ballets as “The Invitation” (which Lynn Seymour herself coached Diana in, and in which Diana was sensational – and it was indeed a preparation for her Juliet in Tomasson’s Romeo and Juliet, in which she was simply astounding….. But I only say this to agree with Murphy and bring in other examples to back her up.)

It IS true that fantastic dancers have not been coming out of SFB School like they did 10 years ago. It’s hard to say why – it didn’t look like there was that much talent at the school shows there for a while, no matter what the teachers could do. I think that's turning around, and there are some very fine dancers in the upper classes right now, but there was certainly a dull patch after Jennifer Blake and Chidozie Nzerem graduated. Tomasson's probably been going afield to get dancers because the likes of Elizabeth Loscavio aren't growing on our trees right now.

But I repeat, it DOES look like he's bringing dancers along -- Sarah van Patten got maybe too much of a rush at first, but he cooled it with her, and it looks like that’s paying off BIG-time-- her dancing so far this year has been remarkable. She was astounding, no less, in Le Quattro Stagione. She came in from the Royal Danish Ballet, yes, but she’s young, and wasn’t a star there, and just came in as a soloist here.

Among the dancers I see coming along are Elizabeth Miner, who’s getting some large featured roles (and was spectacular as Cupid in Don Quixote, indeed was spectacular as Cupid in Con Amore several years ago; Tomasson used her in his new 7 for Eight, and she was beautiful in it). But the women are not as hot as the men in the company – lovely as Joanna Mednick has been this year, I don’t see her jumping levels to ballerina – whereas I can see a LOT of the men in big starring roles – James Sofranko, Pablo Piantino, Garrett Anderson, Hansuke Yamomto have already done outstanding work in featured roles, just totally taken the stage and made us love them.

But whether any of them could have danced Melancholic like Nicholas Blanc (new French soloist) did Saturday night – well, I’d love to see it. But the way he took a pique arabesque, fouetted half- around to face that leg, then fell backwards out of it, and from THERE flipped himself over like a garden rake lying on its side, was a miracle of strength and co-ordination we just won't see very often.

#12 BalletGirl

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Posted 21 May 2004 - 11:10 AM

Does anyone know who got promoted from the 2003-2004 season and who got hired??? If anyone knows-- please let the rest of us know!-- I can't wait!! :yes:

#13 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 21 May 2004 - 11:22 AM

Welcome to Ballet Talk, but if there hasn't been an official announcement yet, you'll have to wait! It can be awkward for both the dancers and the company to post unconfirmed position changes, and we don't do it here. Sorry. :shrug:

#14 Alexandra

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Posted 27 May 2004 - 08:32 AM

Just to let you know, I've checked with the San Francisco Ballet press office and they expect to be announcing promotions in July. We'll tell you as soon as we know!

#15 sandik

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Posted 27 May 2004 - 08:57 AM

But the way he took a pique arabesque, fouetted half- around to face that leg, then fell backwards out of it, and from THERE flipped himself over like a garden rake lying on its side, was a miracle of strength and co-ordination we just won't see very often.

Tangentially to the thread (since I don't get to see the company can't really comment on their performing) this is one my many favorite moments from 4T's, and I laughed out loud at the comparison to a garden rake!


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