Tailor-made for San Francisco Ballet

The second San Francisco Ballet program to open this week takes the title Distinctly SF Ballet – ‘Distinctly’ being the operative word. Not only were these ballets created for the company – by three Bay Area choreographers – but each is decidedly different in character and style from the others.

This triple bill opens with a ballet in the neoclassical style by Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, and is followed by a dramatic piece by Resident Choreographer Val Caniparoli, based on the works of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. The program closes with a work by company member, and rising choreographer, Myles Thatcher, which has a resonance with current social issues.

Maria Kochetkova in Tomasson’s ‘On a Theme of Paganini’ – © Erik Tomasson

Helgi Tomasson’s On a Theme of Paganini has been in the Company repertoire since it premiered in March 2008. For this work he chose Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini – the composer’s variations on the Caprice No 24 for solo violin written by Niccolò Paganini. This justifiably much-loved piece of music, with its one-movement format, is a concertante for solo piano and orchestra. It follows the style of a concerto in that the variations of the first section are mostly lively or dramatic – but suddenly they give way to the beautiful and lyrical Variation No 18 – the setting for the central pas de deux – before the work once more reverts to the style in which it opens.

Val Caniparoli is known for the versatility of his output.  His works are in the repertoires of more than 45 companies – mainly in the United States, but also in Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and South Africa – covering a range classical, contemporary and ethnic styles.  His association with San Francisco Ballet goes back over 40 years – both as a dancer and choreographer. He has also choreographed for three major US opera companies – San Francisco Opera, Metropolitan Opera and Lyric Opera of Chicago – and has also collaborated with the San Francisco Symphony.

Caniparoli has based his ballet Ibsen’s House on the female protagonists from five of the playwright’s works – A Doll’s House, Ghosts, Rosmersholm, The Lady from the Sea and Hedda Gabler – in which Ibsen confronted Victorian social mores, particularly those relating to the position of women in society. Aiming to highlight both the technical skills of the women in the company, as well as satisfy their aspirations to perform dramatic roles, Caniparoli chose well with Ibsen.  The work is set to Czech composer Antonin Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No 2 (omitting the third movement), a fine representation of Romantic-era chamber music, which reflects both the composer’s skill with lyricism and his love of Eastern European folk music.

Myles Thatcher has been a member of San Francisco Ballet since 2010, having danced both principal and featured roles, and Ghost in the Machine is the third ballet that he’s choreographed for the company. He also has works in the repertoires of New York City Ballet and Joffrey Ballet, and was selected by Alexei Ratmansky to participate in the 2014–15 Rolex Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative.

His first work for the Company, Manifesto – written in 2015, and for which he was nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award – reflected, he says, the personalities of his colleagues, and the way in which they related to each other. Ghost in the Machine – which premiered last April – focuses on what he terms “the vulnerability to share experiences with others, to find solace in community”, which he sees almost as a defense against the adversarial political environment with which we are surrounded today.

For the score, Thatcher has drawn from the prolific output of the remarkably versatile and dynamic British composer, Michael Nyman – also a conductor, pianist, writer, musicologist, photographer and film-maker. The seven pieces featured in this ballet are taken from The Draughtsman’s Contract, A Zed and Two Noughts, Drowning by Numbers, and three pieces from Nyman’s gorgeous score for The Piano.

San Francisco Ballet presents Distinctly SF Ballet, with the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, led by Martin West, at the War Memorial Opera House between February 15th and 25th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Ballet website.


Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes  by Cheryl A Ossola

Val Caniparoli


Myles Thatcher

Myles Thatcher/KQED interview


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