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Discussion of UNBOUND Reviews

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7 hours ago, miliosr said:

I suppose my ambivalence also stems from this: What does this emphasis on "being relevant" mean for what I can only describe as the "white tights and tutus" genre of ballet? In the future, will anyone be interested in making new dances in that genre? Or is it now a spent field in terms of new work? [Note: I understand that cost may have prevented any of the Unbound choreographers from working "in the grand manner". But, in any event, how many of them are all that interested in making those kinds of lavish dances that don't make you think (to quote Croce)?]

I may get in trouble for mentioning this, but since a certain reviewer did not love Myles Thatcher's ballet, and made it sound a bit like the issue was Thatcher's choice of themes, there may be a brouhaha. Dores Andre was not happy about this review and posted a statement on Instagram, and other sympathetic readers/commenters seem to think it's time to argue for more 'relevant' ballet that joins with social protest. Ballets in the classical 'grand manner' are not likely to get much attention in this climate. At least the ones that "require no thinking". Personally, I think people may be arguing at cross purposes (surprise, surprise) since it is likely the reviewer doesn't object to Thatcher's themes of gender equality and identity, per se, but to Thatcher's handling of the subject matter, and his choreography in this particular ballet. No one does great work at all times and on all subjects. That's life. And this is not the only person to state they didn't like various things about the Otherness ballet. If it becomes impossible to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of a ballet (or artwork) due to its subject matter, there's a problem. There may be some people that think 'mere' ballet is being transcended to make an important political statement or social protest, but politics doesn't 'transcend' art. The fact that artwork may have a political theme, or that artwork can be used in service of a political campaign (even against the artist's intentions), doesn't remove the many functions of art that have nothing to do with today's social issues. Is Otherness effective ballet? Or is it only effective as a social statement? Or is it relatively successful at both things? I have a feeling we're going to get to hear more about this.

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Maybe it would be helpful to quote the critic, the Chronicle's Allan Ulrich, directly rather than via a secondary source.

Quote

Unbound offered its first misfire in Myles Thatcher's "Otherness," which jumbles genders, clothed in blue and pink, until they all stop fighting, strip down to chartreuse and jettison their dark  glasses. The dancing was hectic here: The metrical complexity of John Adams’ “Absolute Jest” are treacherous for dancers at the best of time. Thatcher can do a lot better than playing identity politics.

Ulrich may have thought it too schematic (pink and blue) and that the Adams' music was too  complex for the ideas. Ulrich last line about identity politics is a bit simplistic and maybe what caused the reaction. Ann Murphy at the Examiner calls "Otherness" a charming ballet but that "the music overpowers this gentle equal rights ballet." Janice Berman says it doesn't go far enough: "The choreography has its moments of clever fun, but doesn’t, for the most part, advance the idea of gender stereotyping and the narrowness that drives it." 

I think that many social statements on gender roles in ballet have been made all along over the past five years, as we've seen more and more same sex partnering almost as a norm – in Scarlett's and Peck's works, and in smaller venues, like PS122, for decades. Look at Merce Cunningham's assignment of gender roles.

"Don't make you think"? Maybe it's more don't make you stop thinking, as when you come across too many well worn ideas and cliches – all stumbling blocks and nothing there to freshen the imagination.

Incidentally, the subtitle that linked cell phone use and suicide apparently has been eliminated from Christopher Wheeldon's ballet, "Bound To".

 

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5 hours ago, Quiggin said:

Incidentally, the subtitle that linked cell phone use and suicide apparently has been eliminated from Christopher Wheeldon's ballet, "Bound To".

OK, that's interesting. I like it when the creators are still willing to make adjustments as needed. Is it true that all the lighting is being done by the same staging artist? If that is so, the individual choreographers may well want to try different stagings for any revival of their/the ballet.

I'm not particularly interested in Ulrich's first review (there is now a 2nd Ulrich review out for Program C), but I am curious about how the discussion around Thatcher's themes will develop. Or if it's just a 'San Francisco' moment that will quickly fade.

Reading Ulrich's review of Unbound Program C, which includes Ochoa's Guernica, I have a nitpick. Ochoa has referred to Picasso's cubism, and his Minotaur and bull imagery in her ballet, but Picasso and Braque's cubist period was a narrow, intense period that both artists migrated away from before WWI even began. Picasso spent many more years developing other approaches to art and never returned to Cubism. Gurenica is not, strictly speaking, cubist, but a very graphic-styled painting, in the same vein as many of Picasso's lithographs/etchings and drawings of the 'mature' period. It certainly relates to Picasso's Surrealist and African 'periods'. I don't recall any bull/Minotaur imagery in Picasso's cubist period - that is from a later time of different interests. I've only seen a rehearsal of Ochoa's Guernica, and I didn't get a sense of cubist principals at work in the choreography. Can anyone clarify how the ballet refers to Picasso's cubist period? Or is that simply a misunderstanding and the ballet really refers to Picasso's later visual 'mythology' of bulls/Minotaurs and the like? [Sergei Diaghilev's Ballets Russes performed Parade as a kind of Cubist ballet, and Picasso designed the stage sets and costumes.]

For reference (the first image is Picasso's Guernica (1937), followed by a couple of his Minotaur/bull works...

DE00050_0.jpg?itok=fNaBP-d7

W1siZiIsIjIxMDAzNyJdLFsicCIsImNvbnZlcnQi

Vollard358-1.jpg

 

Edited by pherank

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Posted (edited)

I agree that the ballet did not replicate space of the painting but I'll strongly disagree that:

Quote

Picasso and Braque's cubist period was a narrow, intense period that both artists migrated away from before WWI even began. Picasso spent many more years developing other approaches to art and never returned to Cubism.

TJ Clark devoted his six Mellon lectures to how Picasso tried to save the truth of Cubism (against Picabia-ism, Purism, Duchamp) for years and at least up to Guernica where it gave him tools to create the great painting.

Elizabeth Cowling in Picasso Style and Meaning:

Quote

Cubist geometry – the splintered, jagged forms and crisscrossing diagonals – and Cubist mobile space – dramatic twisting movements fo forms rotating and meshing in space – generated the sense of chaos and disintegration needed to suggest a violent explosion. Since Cubism had always been the butt of the right-wing, chauvinsit press in France and was condemned as degenerate in Nazi propaganda, a Cubist style was also the 'right' style for the mural.

Clark says in Farewell to An Idea "Cubism ... is the moment when modernism focused on its means and purposes with a special vengeance. The idiom that resulted became the idiom of visual art of the twentieth century ... an idiom adequate to modern experience."

You could also say that Cubism is in Balanchine and Ratmansky through the Constructivist experiments of the 1920's, some of the basis of which came to the Soviet Union by way of Vladimir Tatlin and other visitors to Braque's and Picasso's studios. And in Cunningham through Black Mountain and Josef Albers and Oskar Schlemmer and Kurt Schwitters.

I dwell on this because I think it's important that with all the simplifying biographies and revisiionist histories these kinds of things are remembered.

 

Edited by Quiggin

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2 hours ago, Quiggin said:

I agree that the ballet did not replicate space of the painting but I'll strongly disagree that:

TJ Clark devoted his six Mellon lectures to how Picasso tried to save the truth of Cubism (against Picabia-ism, Purism, Duchamp) for years and at least up to Guernica where it gave him tools to create the great painting.

Elizabeth Cowling in Picasso Style and Meaning:

Clark says in Farewell to An Idea "Cubism ... is the moment when modernism focused on its means and purposes with a special vengeance. The idiom that resulted became the idiom of visual art of the twentieth century ... an idiom adequate to modern experience."

You could also say that Cubism is in Balanchine and Ratmansky through the Constructivist experiments of the 1920's, some of the basis of which came to the Soviet Union by way of Vladimir Tatlin and other visitors to Braque's and Picasso's studios. And in Cunningham through Black Mountain and Josef Albers and Oskar Schlemmer and Kurt Schwitters.

I dwell on this because I think it's important that with all the simplifying biographies and revisiionist histories these kinds of things are remembered.

I welcome your response. 😉
I'll admit I'm not a T.J. Clark fan (and I have no Art Historian/Critic favorites), so we may butt heads (but I'll keep that to a minimum). For me, the power of Guernica does not lie in any vestiges of Cubism, but in its mythopoetic content, and its overt sociopolitical content.

Clark sees Nietzsche in Picasso's work, and others have mentioned Einstein's theories as a basis for Cubism, and all this theorizing has its interest, but it's very difficult to prove the assertions unless an artist specifically cites an influence on their artwork ("I was reading the Special Theory of Relativity the other day and I got some ideas for how I could approach my latest portrait painting of my wife.")

Clark's interest in depictions of interior space in Picasso's work are informative, but I feel Clark tries too hard to make Cubism an 'explanation' for everything that follows, and essentially doesn't allow Picasso to move beyond the concepts of Cubism, and I don't think that's what was happening for Picasso in the late 1930s and beyond. Cubism is considered to be the most influential art movement of the 20th century, but that doesn't really justify stamping a work as "Cubist" if it doesn't pertain to the same concerns and rules.  That's just not useful. Picasso's Guernica definitely reminds us of bits and pieces of earlier Picasso works (no surprise there), say Les Demoiselles d'Avignon from 1907. But Guernica was not a return to Analytical Cubism, and there are no Picasso statements that I know of that hint he was trying to do so with Guernica or any other later work. Picasso was very interested in myth-making by the time of Guernica - we see endless Greco-Roman references in his work of the later period. That was never a major concern of Cubism. (it's interesting that Braque also used a lot of Greco-Roman myth references in his later work.)

[Constructivism is another widely misused term - people are often referring to Suprematist paintings as examples of Russian Constructivism.]

Anyway, I'm trying to understand why Ochoa thinks that her Guernica ballet employs Cubism, or references Cubism - I really don't know, and hope she talks more about this in the Symposium.

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My Elizabeth Cowling (who's not a Clarkist) quote disappeared above and it's important for the political point she makes – and maybe to Ochoa's case.

Quote

Cubist geometry – the splintered, jagged forms and crisscrossing diagonals – and cubist mobile space – dramatic twisting movements of forms rotating and meshing in space – generated the sense of chaos and disintegration needed to suggest a violent explosion. Since Cubism had always been the butt of the right-wing, chauvinist press in France and was condemned as degenerated in Nazi propaganda, a Cubist sytle was also the "right" style for the mural.

I myself see Cubism in Picasso's work fairly strongly through The Dance (a nightmarish painting based on Picasso's experience with the Ballets Russes) and Mandolin and Guitar* of 1924 which is derived from the sets from Mercure, among his most adventurous theater work.

I understand your point about Picasso's mythopoetic interests and how he was creating many of the characters and motifs of Guernica out well before he painted Guernica (such as Bullfight, 1934), but Picasso never gave up one thing for another and often worked in two styles at the same time. For instance, the conventional curtain for Parade and the Cubist costumes; the almost kitsch, Ingre-like drawings of Stravinsky and Satie and the famous Three Musicians, now handsomely sitting in the Museum of Modern Art. The very late Mosqueteros, a show of which John Richardson curated at the Gagosian gallery in 2009, seem to throw everything, all Picasso's tools and techniques, together at once.

*Clark says Guitar and Mandolin (1924) is Nietzschean (not that Picasso thought of Nietzsche) "in the sense its objects are no longer solid and serviceable, least of all for our inner world... They rear up in front of us wafer thin [like Guernica?] .. They have became outsides. Outsides are all they are. ... The stars on the table are anti-night. They are pure scintillation."

https://www.guggenheim.org/artwork/3441

Edited by Quiggin

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I'm going to mix and match my art genre comments here and say that in some ways Picasso foreshadows the sampling aspect of post-modernism in the way he selects and combines elements.  I have a feeling, though, that he gets the "permission" to take things apart from his experiences with Cubism.

On 4/25/2018 at 12:07 AM, pherank said:

Dores Andre was not happy about this review and posted a statement on Instagram, and other sympathetic readers/commenters seem to think it's time to argue for more 'relevant' ballet that joins with social protest. Ballets in the classical 'grand manner' are not likely to get much attention in this climate.

If you take a long view of the art form, ballet has swung back and forth between abstraction and expression from its earliest days.  At some points, abstraction/formalism gets all the attention, while at other times, narrative/expression is the guiding idea.  Right now, we're in a period that echoes Doris Humphrey's query: "What shall we dance about?"

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Allan Ulrich published his thoughts on Program D. https://www.sfchronicle.com/performance/article/Pita-s-Bjork-Ballet-a-stunning-work-in-12869373.php?r=1 (It's a SF Chronicle article and not SF Gate - does that make a difference? I just now capitulated and paid for a subscription in order to read it.)

I'm attending the matinee tomorrow (Saturday) for Program D. Anyone else going to this program, or saw the Thurs night performance? I'm looking forward to it.

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On 4/27/2018 at 12:08 PM, Terez said:

Allan Ulrich published his thoughts on Program D. https://www.sfchronicle.com/performance/article/Pita-s-Bjork-Ballet-a-stunning-work-in-12869373.php?r=1 (It's a SF Chronicle article and not SF Gate - does that make a difference? I just now capitulated and paid for a subscription in order to read it.)

I'm attending the matinee tomorrow (Saturday) for Program D. Anyone else going to this program, or saw the Thurs night performance? I'm looking forward to it.

It's worth noting that Claudia Bauer awarded Program D 5 stars, which is quite an improvement over her 2 stars for Sleeping Beauty. With SB her biggest problem seemed to be the costumes and stagings, but with Program D there's some truly wild costumes that Bauer must be OK with.

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Since no one has posted the latest from Alastair Macaulay...

San Francisco Ballet’s Limpid Sophistication Shines in ‘Unbound’

"Individual dancers have been outstanding; so has the larger ensemble. Though from a wide variety of backgrounds, the dancers share the same virtues of intensely elegant clarity, high refinement and fervent commitment. New York has two influential ballet companies, New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theater, to both of which San Francisco Ballet owes debts. (Mr. Tomasson created roles for both George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins as a City Ballet principal, and his company’s repertory contains works created for both New York companies.) But the limpid sophistication of the San Francisco style is apart from either."

"True, I’m eager to revisit only two of these — “Your Flesh Shall Be” and “Hurry Up” — but these eight were so striking, so fully developed along their own lines, that the four evenings all felt substantial. As for the four I found less individual — Edwaard Liang’s “The Infinite Ocean,” Dwight Rhoden’s “Let’s Begin at the End,” Myles Thatcher’s “Otherness” and Stanton Welch’s “Bespoke” — you could easily see why each had its admirers. And “Bespoke” did more than any other ballet of the season to showcase the really remarkable beauties of the company’s classical style."

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/27/arts/dance/san-francisco-ballets-limpid-sophistication-shines-in-unbound.html

I think Macaulay has been dying to use the word "limpid" in something.  ;)

Overall, the festival reviews have been very positive, although everyone, naturally, is wondering if any of the ballets will matter in a few years. Or be forgotten entirely.  Fortunately, the buzz over the festival should ensure a good turnout for the Kennedy Center performances in October.

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Big time sensuality: hyper Björk ballet unveiled in San Francisco
by Judith Mackrell
https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2018/may/03/big-time-sensuality-bjork-ballet-rave-puts-san-francisco-under-its-spell-unbound-festival

"I saw all 12 works over a weekend, and in that concentrated viewing some of the festival’s choreographers appeared markedly braver than others. But overall these ballets constitute a fine statement of faith in the future of the art form. If I were Tomasson and cherry-picking my dream triple bill, Peck, Marston and Pita’s works would be frontrunners, but Wheeldon, Dawson and McIntyre’s would not be far behind. Lucky San Francisco, to be so spoiled for choice."

"...There is a superb chemistry between casting and choreography. Sarah Van Patten is terrifyingly good as Zeena – her hands clawed, her spine rigid and her gaze steely with possessiveness and pain. Mathilde Froustey’s Mattie is her quicksilver opposite, light, sensuous and supple. Ulrik Birkkjaer’s Ethan, his back bowed from years of dutiful service, develops poignant layers of rectitude and longing."

Vanishing acts from SF Ballet
by Paul Parish
http://www.ebar.com/arts_&_culture/dance/259259/vanishing_acts_from_sf_ballet

"What could be counted on was that our fabulous dancers would come through, and that we'd see them from angles we hadn't seen before. I'd never seen the slutty side of Sarah Van Patten until Pita's "Bjork Ballet," nor the gamine in Isabella de Vivo until McIntyre's "Your Flesh Shall be a Great Poem." We'd only seen hints of the majesty that the Greek-statue-beautiful Benjamin Freemantle brought to that same ballet, with a poignancy reminiscent of Housman's poem "To an Athlete Dying Young." Sasha De Sola was a heroine of the entire festival, wonderful in fresh ways in everything she did, perhaps the most versatile star in the company after Van Patten. De Sola can sink to the floor like a contact-improv dancer (in Wheeldon's "Bound To"), she can spin like a steel ball in a pinball machine, stop on a dime; whatever, she's always radiant. And yet another breakout role made Dores Andre a stone diva in "Guernica," which displays her dramatic temperament, knowing legs and tragic face in an over-the-top "moment of truth" showstopper. This ballet may age well. On opening night, it seemed punched out, felt more like a Vegas Paso-doble production number than Picassoesque."

> The ballet that seems to be most controversial - love it or hate it - seems to be Ochoa's Guernica. Some people find it exhilarating, and some unconvincing and kitschy. With all the talk about whether or not any of these ballets will, individually, have a long life, or all simply vanish into thin air, it occurs to me that the real work of art here was the festival: a few hundred people working together frantically and living in the moment to create something that is very much of its time. In a way, the ballets belong together as a time capsule of themes, concerns, and dance styles and techniques representing this particular moment in human history and dance culture. Even Guernica, which obviously refers to Pablo Picasso's world, still feels like commentary on the present situation we find ourselves in. UNBOUND is a festival of many voices, but I think it has managed to coalesce and form a common spirit. Given all the people involved, I'm not sure that was ever inevitable, but something clicked.

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The Fjord Review just posted an excellent in-depth review by Rachel Howard:

Future Movement
San Francisco Ballet's Unbound festival, Programs B, C & D

https://www.fjordreview.com/boundless-san-francisco-ballet-unbound/

"A festival of new works in search of ballet’s future must be valued as much for the conversation it catalyzes as the new dances themselves, and on this count alone, San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound festival ranks as a landmark success. Heated, giddy, disappointed, perplexed: Talk echoed through the War Memorial Opera House lobby all last week, as audiences rushed from candid panel discussion to curtain time, and the 12 international choreographers commissioned for this sweeping, questing survey paced the aisles, and glamorous visitors like Julie Kent flitted through the crowds. Ballet diehards and newcomers alike compared knee-jerk reactions. And the last of the four programs on offer gave everyone prime fodder, juxtaposing hard-earned sublimity (Dwight Rhoden’s intensely felt “Let’s Begin at the End”) with spectacular absurdity (Arthur Pita’s cheerfully superficial “Björk Ballet”)."

It's a shame Program A wasn't also part of this discussion (Howard wrote about Program A earlier), just to see a general summing up of the festival. It's always fascinating how different people's responses can be: Howard definitely comes down hard on Pita's Björk Ballet - "a shamelessly silly low-bar entry", but was excited by Thatcher's Otherness. She also seems to be less enthusiastic for Marston's Snowblind than other critics have been ("I am not generally excited by ballet adaptations of literature"). Howard's summary statement about the company I think is on target:

"…That points to the true triumph of this festival: San Francisco Ballet’s dancers. Wherever the future of ballet choreography may be headed, the present of this company—its culture of vulnerability, commitment, interconnectedness on stage, and generosity towards the audience—is thrilling."

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Allan Ulrich's summation of the 2018 Unbound Festival:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/performance/article/Treasures-and-memories-abound-in-S-F-Ballet-s-12900842.php

Quote

"Even with three years’ planning, Unbound boasted its share of unforeseen dilemmas. For commissioning scores, Tomasson had sought special funding, which never came through. And a continuing injury kept the much-in-demand principal dancer Joseph Walsh out of the entire festival, necessitating multiple cast changes. The company, nevertheless, coped handsomely, and Walsh, one trusts, will be back for the October tour to Washington, D.C.’s Kennedy Center, where the best of the Unbound festival receives its East Coast premiere..."

"...Unbound will be remembered for the performances as much as for the dances. The pool of available dancers was limited for all choreographers, so members of the corps and soloist ranks were cast, and many came through with career-making performances. Revelations abounded. Benjamin Freemantle in the McIntyre, Lonnie Weeks in the Wheeldon, Solomon Golding in Alonzo King’s “The Collective Agreement,” Esteban Hernandez in Dwight Rhoden’s “Let’s Begin at the End” and Jahna Frantziskonis, seemingly everywhere, served as heralds of a new generation at the Ballet.

They won’t, however, compensate for the departure of two company stalwarts. Kochetkova, pursuing “other opportunities,” was our last direct link to the Bolshoi Ballet. Over more than two decades, retiring soloist James Sofranko served masterfully in a mind-bending variety of roles. They are part of the Ballet’s history now."


> Yuri Possokhov would be the only remaining Bolshoi-trained dancer in the building - and he's not dancing anymore. I do remember a Bolshoi dancer being hired a few years ago, but he never ended up coming to SF. Maybe it's time for a Mariinsky-trained dancer to come to SF.  😉
I'm glad some of the critics/writers have been talking about just how much planning and organization have gone on in the last 3 years to bring this festival about. Most audience members just think it's something that made SFB crazy for a couple of months - like a super Nutcracker season. But there's been so much more happening behind the scenes.

 

Edited by pherank

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Carla Escoda's summary of the Unbound Festival -

SF Ballet Unleashes a Dozen New Works at 'Unbound,' and Pop Wins
https://www.kqed.org/arts/13831659/san-francisco-ballet-unleashes-a-dozen-new-works-at-unbound-and-pop-wins

"…Together, all four made a powerful argument for the utility and wide-ranging expressiveness of ballet. More broadly, the use of pop and techno music provided fuel for some of the most interesting work in the festival — and, ironically, harkened back to a turbulent time in San Francisco Ballet’s history when artistic director Michael Smuin was ousted for daring to infuse strains of pop and Broadway into the repertoire."

Escoda is approving of both Pita's Björk Ballet, and Ochoa's Guernica, both of which didn't fair so well with other dance writers, or forum members:
"Pita closed the festival on a high, with genre-smashing Icelandic musician Björk as his muse."
"Another keeper is Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Guernica. This was pitched as a themed response to the Syrian genocide, linked to Picasso’s depiction of the destruction of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War. But sometimes too much advance information can undermine a ballet — for as an abstract work, this one proved gripping."

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Sarah L. Kaufman has reviewed the 6 Unbound Festival works debuting at the Kennedy Center this past week:

San Francisco Ballet takes the Kennedy Center stage with six bold new works
https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/theater_danc/san-francisco-ballet-takes-the-kennedy-center-stage-with-six-bold-new-works/2018/10/24/115257b4-d79c-11e8-9559-712cbf726d1c_story.html?utm_term=.8cf0f271902f


Sleek modernism in the San Francisco Ballet’s new works
https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/theater_danc/sleek-modernism-in-the-san-francisco-ballets-new-works/2018/10/26/d5b8c362-d92d-11e8-9559-712cbf726d1c_story.html

There have also been a couple 'print' interviews published:

Interview: San Francisco Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson Brings ‘Unbound’ to The Kennedy Center
https://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2018/10/19/interview-san-francisco-ballet-artistic-director-helgi-tomasson-brings-unbound-to-the-kennedy-center/

Choreographer Cathy Marston Talks Kennedy Center Debut With San Francisco Ballet
http:// https://dcmetrotheaterarts.com/2018/10/19/interview-choreographer-cathy-marston-makes-her-kennedy-center-debut-with-san-francisco-ballet/

[In addition, there is an excellent hour-long interview of Helgi Tomasson available at the Conversations on Dance website (audio) and on YouTube (audio and video)]

Edited by pherank

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