San Francisco Ballet opened its 2022 season last evening with a triple bill featuring the World Premiere of Mrs Robinson – a new ballet by Cathy Marston – together with Helgi Tomasson’s Trio and George Balanchine’s Symphony in C.
Mrs Robinson is Cathy Marston’s re-imagination of the 1963 novel, The Graduate, by Charles Webb – which was turned into a film of the same name in 1967, starring Anne Bancroft and Dustin Hoffman. Marston, well known for her narrative ballets, revisits the story of the mature seductress who has an affair with a young graduate. It’s her second commission for the Company – the first having been Snowblind, premiered by San Francisco Ballet in 2018.
Award-winning British choreographer Cathy Marston trained at the Royal Ballet School, and was an Associate Artist of the Royal Opera House from 2002 to 2007, before going on to direct the Bern Ballett in Switzerland from 2007 to 2013. With a passion for literature, she has a distinctive style of dance-drama, and a repertoire which includes ballets derived from works such as Bronte’s Jane Eyre, Nabokov’s Lolita, D H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, as well as the historically-inspired The Cellist, Victoria and Witch-hunt. She has received commissions from prominent dance companies across Europe, in the United States, Canada, Cuba, Hong Kong and Australia.
To celebrate the occasion of the World Premiere, San Francisco Ballet have released a short film of a scene from Mrs Robinson, starring Principal Dancers Sarah Van Patten and Joseph Walsh. This film was shot at the Fairmont San Francisco in November 2020, prior to the intended premiere of the ballet which had to be postponed due to the pandemic.
Edward Kemp – who developed the scenario of Mrs Robinson with Cathy Marston – is currently Director of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, and has associations with some of the finest artistic companies in the United Kingdom. Early in his career he was Assistant Director at the Chichester Festival Theatre, then became the first Artistic Director of RADA, before taking on the role of Academy Director. Other institutions with which Edward Kemp is associated include the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Guildhall and Central Drama Schools, Trinity College of Music, the Royal College of Art, the Royal Opera House and Glyndebourne Education Departments. He has also taught both theatre and creative writing on both sides of the Atlantic.
The score for Mrs Robinson has been written by British composer Terry Davies. From the role of music director and orchestrator at the National Theatre, which is where he started composing professionally, Terry Davies became an Olivier Award winning composer and BAFTA nominee, with a wide range of credits in film, theatre and TV, having also composed for a large number of productions at the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre. He has written two musicals – The Birds, commissioned by the Istanbul City Theatre, and Kes! The Musical for the Octagon Theatre, Bolton which was revived at York’s Theatre Royal. Terry Davies is an associate artist of Matthew Bourne’s company New Adventures, and has written five of Matthew’s dance scores.
The program opens with Trio by Helgi Tomasson, now in his 37th and final season as Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet. This abstract work is set to Tchaikovsky’s String Sextet in D minor Op 70, known as Souvenir de Florence. Tchaikovsky wrote it in the summer of 1890 for the St Petersburg Chamber Music Society, and revised it between November 1891 and January 1892.
According to biographer Anthony Holden, Florence was a place in which the composer had experienced “a climate of creativity”, and Trio reflects the spirit of the music, with an exuberant first movement, followed by an intimate adagio, then a joyful finale. Originally written in four movements, the Sextet is performed here in an arrangement for string orchestra in three parts, with the final two movements played as one. Trio is as sumptuous visually and choreographically as it is musically.
The final work on the program is Symphony in C, a work originally entitled Le Palais de Cristal which George Balanchine wrote in 1947 for the Paris Opera Ballet where he was a guest ballet master. Symphony in C takes its name from the four-movement work which Georges Bizet wrote when he was 17, while studying at the Paris Conservatory as a pupil of Charles Gounod. The original manuscript was lost for years, and not published until after it was discovered in the Conservatory’s library in 1933. In 1948, Balanchine revived the ballet for the New York City Ballet, changing the title, set and costumes – the latter designed by Barbara Karinska – upon which those in this production are based.
Symphony in C is a delight. It’s elegant and vibrant, choreographed as only Balanchine could, and set to a wonderfully melodic score.
Program 1 of San Francisco Ballet’s 2022 season runs at the War Memorial Opera House until February 12th. For reservations, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.