From classic to contemporary – San Francisco Ballet at Stern Grove Festival


Davit Karapetyan and Vanessa Zahorian in Balanchine’s ‘Theme and Variations’ at the 2015 Stern Grove Festival © Erik Tomasson

The versatility of San Francisco Ballet will be on display this weekend as the Company presents four works at its annual performance at the Stern Grove Festival. Sunday’s program features Act II from Helgi Tomasson’s production of Swan Lake, his 2005 creation The Fifth Season, the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain, and Rubies from George Balanchine’s ballet Jewels. Martin West will lead the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra.

Despite Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake having been something of a failure when it premiered at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre in 1877 with choreography by Julius Reisinger, it was revived in 1895 by the genius of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov for the Imperial Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg. Almost all interpretations of what is possibly the world’s best loved ballet have subsequently been based on this revival, as has this version by San Francisco Ballet’s Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson. Act II is probably the most magical part of Swan Lake – the stage filled with dancers in shimmering white, the tender pas de deux between the Swan Queen, Odette, and Prince Siegfried, and some of the most romantic and beautiful of Tchaikovsky’s music. The principal roles will be danced on Sunday by Frances Chung and Tiit Helimets.


Hansuke Yamomoto in Wheeldon’s ‘Rush’ at last year’s Stern Grove Festival © Erik Tomasson

Welsh composer, Karl Jenkins – now Sir Karl Jenkins, having been knighted in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2015 Birthday Honours List – is the most performed living composer in the world today (The Arts Desk Global Survey). Sir Karl has composed for the advertising industry, for documentaries and a feature film, for commissions by HRH the Prince of Wales and the London Symphony Orchestra, for the royal gala at the opening of the Welsh Millennium Centre in 2004, he has numerous recordings and gold and platinum discs to his name – but his music hadn’t often been linked with the world of ballet before Tomasson selected his String Quartet No 2 as the score for The Fifth Season. Somewhat minimalist in design, this ballet gives Tomasson scope to present a diversity of styles – to music inspired by the Baroque era, followed by a Tango, a Waltz, a Romance and a Rondo. Tomasson also added a sixth movement, for a pas de deux, using the largo from Jenkins’ Palladio.  This performance features Dores André, Aaron Robison, Mathilde Froustey, Carlos Quenedit, Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets

Christopher Wheeldon choreographed his ballet After the Rain for New York City Ballet’s 2005 annual celebration of the Company’s founder, George Balanchine. The work, set to Estonian composer Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel, was created on NYCB principals Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto, and is in two parts, the second being an emotionally charged, almost haunting pas de deux, and it’s this which will be performed at Stern Grove. The dancers – in this instance Yuan Yuan Tan and Luke Ingham – are simply clad, with nothing to detract from their artistry and Wheeldon’s trademark creativity in a work of mesmerizing beauty. The British choreographer is currently Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet, and was granted an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in Her Majesty the Queen’s 2016 New Year’s Honours List.

The performance ends with Balanchine’s Rubies – the jazz-inspired movement from his gorgeous ballet Jewels, set to the Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra by Igor Stravinsky – with whom Balanchine had a very close and successful working relationship. Visually spectacular, Rubies is Balanchine having a bit of fun, slotting this spirited and playful movement between Emeralds – a cool, elegant piece with music by Gabriel Fauré – and Diamonds, Balanchine’s homage to the grandeur of Imperial Russia and the Mariinsky Theatre, with music by Tchaikovsky. The principal roles will be danced at the Festival by Vanessa Zahorian, Joseph Walsh and Jennifer Stahl.


WanTing Zhao and Carlo de Lanno in Thatcher’s ‘Frayed’ at a previous performance at Stern Grove © Erik Tomasson

San Francisco Ballet performs at the Stern Grove Festival on Sunday, July 31, at 2.00 pm. All Festival performances are admission free, no tickets are required, and admittance is on a first-come, first-served basis. For more details, visit or call (415) 252-6252.

San Francisco Ballet

Helgi Tomasson

Karl Jenkins

The Arts Desk

New York City Ballet

The George Balanchine Trust

Christopher Wheeldon

Arvo Pärt

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