Jump to content
This Site Uses Cookies. If You Want to Disable Cookies, Please See Your Browser Documentation. ×

Helgi Tomasson to step down by 2022


Recommended Posts

https://datebook.sfchronicle.com/dance/helgi-tomasson-to-step-down-at-s-f-ballet-in-2022-after-nearly-40-years-at-the-helm

"Helgi Tomasson will step down as artistic director and principal choreographer of the San Francisco Ballet by June 2022, the company announced Wednesday, Jan. 6."

 

"“This had been on my mind for a while, even before the pandemic,” he said in a video interview over Zoom. “And as I assess where we are now, I feel the company has come through this very well."

Edited by PeggyTulle
Link to post

Just got the email!  Wow, I'm surprised! But then I realized he's been with the company ~40 years... he's certainly earned a well deserved rest!  The Datebook article mentions he has family in Europe.

I already find myself speculating on who will take over 😉  Seems like diversity is a big topic, so I'm glad it already sounds like they're focusing their search around that.

I'm purely an outsider, but I will really miss Helgi.  He brought in some fantastic choreographers, the Unbound festival was a huge achievement... these will be big shoes to fill.

Link to post

I hope there can be a real celebration/sendoff for Tomasson by then, because the many cancelled sendoffs at companies are just depressing.

I find myself leaning more towards the current NYCB model - 2+ directors instead of just one:
NYCB is using an Artistic Director, Associate Artistic Director (which sounds belittling - they should have come up with better titles), Resident Choreographer and Artistic Advisor, plus repertory directors.

Maybe a "Managing Director" with a separate "Artistic Director", and a "Resident Choreographer and Artistic Advisor"...

Link to post

I'll stir things up with a list of possibles - each having their own particular strengths and weaknesses.

Sofiane Sylve
Gonzalo Garcia
Val Caniparoli
Christopher Stowell

Christopher Wheeldon
Yuan Yuan Tan
Yuri Possokhov

Benjamin Millepied
James Sofranko

The choreographers in my list likely prefer to keep that job and not add to the headaches - but you never know.

I think everyone wants to avoid a polarizing personality, and a situation in which a good number of dancers jump ship. That certainly would look bad given that SFB now touts a 'school to company' approach. It needs to continue to be a stable environment for artists and staff.

[EDIT: this list has been updated below...]

Edited by pherank
Link to post

Oooh I like this.  Honestly when the announcement was made, Sofiane Sylve was the first person who came to my mind.  Both because she seems interested in teaching younger students (which would mesh well with the "school to company" approach) and because she's got experience coaching older dancers and seems to have good relationships with various choreographers around the world (and could presumably commission some of their works).  

Millepied and Sofranko are both interesting ideas I hadn't considered!

I have often wondered about YYT's goals post-ballerina career!  For whatever reason she's never stuck me as being interested in the administrative side, but I wonder what would happen if SFB followed the NYCB lead and had a "team" rather than an individual leading the company.  YYT does seem to maintain good relationships with many prominent choreographers out there.

Another few names I've thought of (particularly with the "team" approach) are Danielle Rowe and Cathy Marston.  They've been doing lots of work on SFB dancers lately and seem to get on well with the company.

Link to post

Oh! And another thought - it's stuck me that Madison Keesler is being groomed for something post-dancing.  She's got charisma and poise, and she seems able to interface well with donors and patrons.  She's still young and has quite a few years ahead of her in her dance career, but I could see her taking on some other role within SFB when she's done dancing.

Link to post
21 hours ago, pherank said:

I'll stir things up with a list of possibles - each having their own particular strengths and weaknesses.

Sofiane Sylve
Gonzalo Garcia
Val Caniparoli
Christopher Stowell

Christopher Wheeldon
Yuan Yuan Tan
Yuri Possokhov

Benjamin Millepied
James Sofranko

The choreographers in my list likely prefer to keep that job and not add to the headaches - but you never know.

I think everyone wants to avoid a polarizing personality, and a situation in which a good number of dancers jump ship. That certainly would look bad given that SFB now touts a 'school to company' approach. It needs to continue to be a stable environment for artists and staff.

I'm an outsider too, and find myself curious why Gennadi Nedvigin isn't on your list. In addition to his long career at San Francisco Ballet he now has directorial experience at Atlanta Ballet (a company with a school attached) and where he has been involved in mounting major new productions/commissions and involved in major diversity initiatives. He also has a long-standing relationship with Possokhov so a Nedvigin/Possokhov pairing of sorts would be quite workable assuming the San Francisco board didn't find that too much of a Russian take-over.

I'll add that there is a changing of the guard on the administrative end in Atlanta (the company's chief executive/ceo, who also used to work for San Francisco Ballet) is stepping down. So--again, just speculating as an outsider--perhaps Nedvigin would be all the more interested.

On the whole I'd be sorry to lose Nedvigin from Atlanta. So I guess I hope I'm wrong...but he kind of seems like a potential candidate to me...

 

Edited by Drew
Link to post
56 minutes ago, Drew said:

I'm an outsider too, and find myself curious why Gennadi Nedvigin isn't on your list. In addition to his long career at San Francisco Ballet he now has directorial experience at Atlanta Ballet (a company with a school attached) and where he has been involved in mounting major new productions/commissions and involved in major diversity initiatives. He also has a long-standing relationship with Possokhov so a Nedvigin/Possokhov pairing of sorts would be quite workable assuming the San Francisco board didn't find that too much of a Russian take-over.

I'll add that there is a changing of the guard on the administrative end in Atlanta (the company's chief executive/ceo, who also used to work for San Francisco Ballet) is stepping down. So--again, just speculating as an outsider--perhaps Nedvigin would be all the more interested.

On the whole I'd be sorry to lose Nedvigin from Atlanta. So I guess I hope I'm wrong...but he kind of seems like a potential candidate to me...

 

"My bad" as they say. I agree that Nedvigin is now also a good contender. But I think AB needs him to stay, as well. They need the stability, especially during this pandemic period. But I think AB needs some artistic stability as well - a vision that plays out over 10 years at least.

Link to post
15 minutes ago, pherank said:

"My bad" as they say. I agree that Nedvigin is now also a good contender. But I think AB needs him to stay, as well. They need the stability, especially during this pandemic period. But I think AB needs some artistic stability as well - a vision that plays out over 10 years at least.

I, too, think it would be better for Atlanta if Nedvigin stayed, but he has been here for a few years and I don’t think he is under an obligation not to put his hat in the ring for an opportunity like this, especially with a company (San Francisco) with which he has a long history. Especially when the CEO he has been working with here in Atlanta is retiring. I hope he doesn’t, and there are plenty of other contenders for the job anyway, but I would understand if he did. 

Link to post

Even if Atlanta Ballet needs Nedvigin, in my opinion, that would be an awful reason not to hire him, if he is the best candidate for San Francisco Ballet.

Link to post

So here's how I'm thinking about these various people...

Sofiane is my top "artistic" choice - she checks all the right boxes for SFB artistic concerns of the last 40 years. And she taught at the school the entire time she was an SFB principal, so knows the issues and vision that have been in place during that period. She appears ambitious and unafraid to assume bigger roles. Choreographers were eager to create on her, and she seems to maintain a connection to that community. Unknowns: how well does she interface with other staff and board members? Does she have any interest in the managerial and fund raising side of things, or does someone else need to be assigned those duties? (In effect, filling the Wendy Whelan role to someone else's Jonathan Stafford role.)

Gonzalo Garcia has been a star dancer with SFB and NYCB, and is retiring soon. He's a respected dancer, but I don't know if he has any interest or aptitude in management. I'm not sure if he's maintained friendships with SFB dancers/staff.

Val Caniparoli has a long history with SFB and the SFB School, and is a choreographer which is always a plus. He lives in SF. It's unknown to me if he would be willing to reduce his artistic output (considerably) to take on a director role.

Christopher Stowell also has a long history with SFB, seemed to be groomed for the A.D. position by Tomasson, and now has A.D. level experience. I feel bad saying it, though, but I just don't get excited about the idea of Stowell leading the company (artistically speaking). And a certain excitement is needed here.

Gennadi Nedvigin is beloved at SFB, has many old friends in the organization, knows the repertoire inside and out, and may even have an idea or two about how things can be further developed. Like Sofiane, he is not a choreographer, and so would have to maintain good relationships with the choreographers of the world to get first-rate ballets created on the company. Friends with Yuri Possokhov, so likely Yuri would stay on, or at least continue to work with SFB on a regular basis.

James Sofranko is a former SFB soloist who has managerial, artistic advisor and A.D. experience now.

Patrick Armand is the head of the SFB School, and a success in that endeavor. He did not dance with SFB, and it's unknown what he thinks of their current repertoire, but I imagine he doesn't have much of an issue with it since he's training dancers with the SFB company in mind. It is unknown to me if he would be interested in the A.D. role.

Christopher Wheeldon is a well-known choreographer with a long association with SFB and Tomasson. It is unknown to me whether he would be willing to put his choreography on the back burner to lead a company.

Yuan Yuan Tan is one the highest regarded SFB dancers in the history of the company. She has served as a muse to both Possokhov and Tomasson. Like Sofiane, she is comfortable dancing and creating both classical and contemporary roles. YYT retires soon. She heads a school in Shanghai, I believe, so there may be a strong pull in that direction. But I think it would be a big deal for the Asian-American community for a Chinese-born dancer to head a major North American ballet company. Possokhov would likely retain his position if YYT were A.D.

Yuri Possokhov is Resident Choreographer at SFB. I personally think he would rather continue to create than play director, but it's not an impossibility. I kind of doubt he would like the bureaucratic side of company life. His English language skills are basic. On the plus side, he has a long association with the company as dancer and then choreographer and he seems to act as conduit to the Russian artistic community.

Vanessa Zahorian retired her principal dancer position at SFB to become co-artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet Academy (with husband Davit Karapetyan who is also a possibility for A.D.). An admired dancer with many friends at SFB. Knows the repertoire. I can see a situation in which Patrick Armand leaves to assume another role, and Zahorian and Karapetyan become heads of the SFB School.

Benjamin Millepied is the outsider here, but he has A.D. experience, he's a West Coast-based choreographer, and seems to get along well enough with the SFB dancers and Helgi Tomasson. He definitely favors contemporary repertoire (don't know if that means he would program fewer classical ballet options), and that could be an issue. The one obvious strike against him would be his ill-fated time at POB, which tended to make him seem unreliable. However, he's done well managing his own troupe.

Edited by pherank
Link to post

I'll play . . . 

I would add Ashley Wheater to the pool of candidates who have worked under Helgi Tomasson and have since acquired directorship experience. But he is secure at the Joffrey Ballet and wouldn't gain all that much moving up a little further on the hierarchy of American ballet companies.

Not only do Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan know the repertory by heart but they would bring a certain glamour to the directorship. Karapetyan also has a lot of contacts in the Euro dance world. But they seem settled with their academy in Pennsylvania.

I would throw in Felipe Diaz's name as an under-the radar choice since he's been dancer, teacher, ballet master and assistant to the director at the company. If you follow the company dancers on Instagram, he shows up a lot in after performance photos with them. So I think he is well-liked.

Christopher Wheeldon has a nice set-up with the Royal Ballet and his own foray into company management with Morphoses was not a success. Benjamin Millepied flamed out spectacularly in Paris so I think he would be a hard 'NO' from the board's perspective. Besides, he seems most interested in contemporary dance trends.

I would agree with pherank that the board most likely wants a successor who will emphasize continuity and not drive out half the company and generate a lot of bad publicity (see Corella, Angel).

 

 

Link to post
37 minutes ago, miliosr said:

I'll play . . . 

I would add Ashley Wheater to the pool of candidates who have worked under Helgi Tomasson and have since acquired directorship experience. But he is secure at the Joffrey Ballet and wouldn't gain all that much moving up a little further on the hierarchy of American ballet companies.

Not only do Vanessa Zahorian and Davit Karapetyan know the repertory by heart but they would bring a certain glamour to the directorship. Karapetyan also has a lot of contacts in the Euro dance world. But they seem settled with their academy in Pennsylvania.

I would throw in Felipe Diaz's name as an under-the radar choice since he's been dancer, teacher, ballet master and assistant to the director at the company. If you follow the company dancers on Instagram, he shows up a lot in after performance photos with them. So I think he is well-liked.

Christopher Wheeldon has a nice set-up with the Royal Ballet and his own foray into company management with Morphoses was not a success. Benjamin Millepied flamed out spectacularly in Paris so I think he would be a hard 'NO' from the board's perspective. Besides, he seems most interested in contemporary dance trends.

I would agree with pherank that the board most likely wants a successor who will emphasize continuity and not drive out half the company and generate a lot of bad publicity (see Corella, Angel).

Felipe Diaz is a good suggestion, Miliosr. I'll add him to my updated list.  😉
Felipe is indeed well liked. It's hard to tell about his "artistic vision", but he certainly knows the repertoire inside and out.

Link to post

Another person who comes to mind: former SFB Principal Muriel Maffre who was CEO of Alonzo King LINES Ballet for a while, and executive director of the Museum of Performance and Design in SF. But I'm not sure what she is doing at this point in life.

There are lots of potential leaders in the extended SFB family:

Lorena Feijóo
Rubén Martín Cintas
Evelyn Cisneros
Damian Smith

and on and on...

Link to post
6 hours ago, PeggyTulle said:

Might as well add Tiit Helimets to the growing list. He's been coaching SFB dancers for the past few years. 

Tiit is certainly unafraid of throwing his hat in the ring, as it were - he's not afraid of new experiences. I see him as a potential SFB School teacher (he likes working with children), or ballet master. I'm not sure what his artistic vision is exactly, when it comes to dance. I don't think he champions any particular style or approach.
 

Sofiane Sylve
Val Caniparoli
Christopher Stowell
Gennadi Nedvigin
James Sofranko
Patrick Armand
Felipe Diaz

Christopher Wheeldon
Gonzalo Garcia
Yuan Yuan Tan
Yuri Possokhov
Vanessa Zahorian
Davit Karapetyan
Tiit Helimets

Benjamin Millepied
Lorena Feijóo
Rubén Martín Cintas
Evelyn Cisneros
Damian Smith

Link to post

When Gonzalo Garcia left the company for City Ballet, it caused a bit of a break or schism – which might be difficult to mend (as it has with other mid-career dancers who've left SFB and then had second thoughts, though that Iron Rule seems to have been relaxed in recent years). Christopher Stowell seemed to have left abruptly and there may have been some conflict between his vision and Helgi Tomasson's. Which I was a bit saddened by since I have a feeling I would have been sympathetic to his programming. Of the listed names Sofiane Sylve seems the most interesting choice to me, but would she want to return to San Francisco which seems like a bit of Europe only at first (and always seems to be in seach of what kind of paradise it really wants to be)?

One of the big things about the SFB directorship means having to charm the San Francisco 400 (actually 90 or so souls) and sell them on what you're doing and make them feel a part of the decision-making process with sponsorships of programs, etc and make yourself part of their lives, their adoptee. That would seem to be at least fifty per cent of the job. Another significant per cent might be being psychologist-in-chief for dancer/dancer conflicts of which from reports Tomasson was a master.

And being able to program mid-point between ABT and City Ballet would be important. Which might mean someone like Damian Woetzl and his kind of directorship at Vail. But would she or he end up being like Pamela Rosenberg at the SF Opera who introduced too many breaths of fresh air all at once, too many cross breezes?

Link to post
4 hours ago, Quiggin said:

When Gonzalo Garcia left the company for City Ballet, it caused a bit of a break or schism – which might be difficult to mend (as it has with other mid-career dancers who've left SFB and then had second thoughts, though that Iron Rule seems to have been relaxed in recent years).

"Funny" you should mention this. The mention of Garcia's name has had me thinking that dancers (particularly male dancers) at San Francisco Ballet who decamp for other pastures are rarely seen with the company again, even as guests. The only one I can think of who left and then returned in some capacity is Aaron Robison.

Link to post
10 hours ago, Quiggin said:

Which I was a bit saddened by since I have a feeling I would have been sympathetic to his programming.

What interests you about his programming? I'm curious.
 

5 hours ago, miliosr said:

"Funny" you should mention this. The mention of Garcia's name has had me thinking that dancers (particularly male dancers) at San Francisco Ballet who decamp for other pastures are rarely seen with the company again, even as guests. The only one I can think of who left and then returned in some capacity is Aaron Robison.

There'a a lot of ego involved with these things, of course, but often dancers leave because they feel their career isn't moving forward at the pace they think is appropriate. They want to dance the best possible roles, and we can't really blame them for trying. But the move doesn't always work out - that's why it's so important for artists to treat staff and co-workers respectfully and be honest about their specific needs, hopes and dreams. Madison Keesler left SFB because she felt she needed exposure to different rep and different ways of doing things (technically, she also turned down SFB School's trainee offer in favor of a Hamburg Ballet apprenticeship). But she maintained a good relationship with Tomasson and he took her back. Robison also seems to get along well with people. He got an offer he couldn't refuse with ENB (and that meant being closer to family). But the grass wasn't greener and he returned to SF. Robison has struggled with injuries in recent years and I know that SFB has a particularly good rehab approach in place - the company goes to some trouble to take care of the dancers, physically and mentally, so that has to leave an impression on the dancers.

Ana Sophia Scheller is an example of someone who just didn't appreciate the SFB culture and work schedule (apparently almost immediately), and wanted something quite different from what SFB offers. I've talked about her situation elsewhere, but her impressions struck me as a bit bizarre considering how easy it is for professional dancers to get information about company life, work schedules and repertoire at these big companies. So why, given the choice, opt to move to a place that isn't what she's looking for?

RE: Garcia - I do wonder if Tomasson has softened in recent years. He may have felt slighted at the time (having invested time and energy in Garcia). I'm sure Tomasson was intending SFB to be equal to any company, and to have one of his principals run off to NYCB for "greener pastures" was probably infuriating, and/or depressing. Tomasson likely wants his dancers to believe in the company vision as much as he does, but there will always be artists who want something more or different. It's a short career, after all.

Edited by pherank
Link to post

Gonzalo Garcia did return for Tina LeBlanc's farewell performance but things did look a little strained during final bows when everyone was on stage at once.

Gonzalo Garcia in a sense grew up in the company and his leaving was a big thing both for the company and as a topic of discussion of whether it was appropriate for one major company to "poach" principal dancers from another company of its stature. Audience members did feel the loss during the following year or two – in comments among themselves and at at least one q&a with Helgi Tomasson. In a way I felt that Taras Domitro was hired to take Garcia's place as a very dynamic, firecrackery, slightly rough-edged dancer and take up some of his repertoire like The Four Temperaments, Symphony in C and Don Quixote. And after Domitro left, that "chair" seems to have gone to Joseph Walsh and with it roles like the lead in The Swimmer.

Link to post
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...