San Francisco Ballet’s Festival of New Works – creativity given free rein

This third program of San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound festival features works by Stanton Welch, Trey McIntyre and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa – who have taken inspiration for their creations from an eclectic range of sources.

Stanton Welch has links with San Francisco Ballet which go back a few years, for – following his basic training in Australia – he won a scholarship to study at the San Francisco Ballet School. He subsequently returned to his home country to join The Australian Ballet, where he became a leading soloist, and ultimately rose to the position of Resident Choreographer. He had occasion to return to San Francisco in 1995, having been commissioned to write a work for the United We Dance festival held in the city that year, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter. In addition to The Australian and San Francisco ballet companies, Stanton Welch has created works for Houston Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Birmingham Royal Ballet and Royal Danish Ballet. He is now Artistic Director of Houston Ballet.

The work which Welch has created for this festival is entitled simply Bespoke, and for the score he’s selected five movements from two violin concertos by J S Bach. It was the dancers themselves, he says, who influenced the way in which this work was created – their love for their art having provided the source of his inspiration. Obviously enjoying his participation in Unbound, he says that the interesting thing about this initiative is having “all these choreographers together feeling unbound – we’re not restricted by where we work or our responsibility as directors – it’s just about creation”.

Creation certainly is the buzz-word at Unbound – and the festival isn’t restricted to choreographers who operate in the world of ballet alone. Take filmmaker, writer and photographer Trey McIntyre, for instance, the creator of the second work on this program – Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem. His second commission for San Francisco Ballet, it was inspired by an old photograph of his grandfather, taken in the 1920s. This was a man whom McIntyre never knew, but with whom he somehow felt a link – a link strong enough to persuade him to create a ballet around it. The work is set to music by American singer-songwriter  Chris Garneau, and although the underlying theme of the ballet centers around loss and pain, the score has enough bright interludes to provide the work with its lighter moments.

Trey trained as a dancer, had the position of Choreographic Apprentice at Houston Ballet created for him, and later became the company’s Choreographic Associate. The recipient of numerous awards – including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Society of Arts and Letters – he founded his acclaimed dance company, Trey McIntyre Projects in 2005, but in 2014 turned his focus towards new artistic ventures in film and the visual arts – such as the feature-length documentary Gravity Hero.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa had a somewhat unusual introduction to ballet – she says that her mother decided that her tomboyish daughter ought to “become elegant and feminine, so she sent me to ballet.” Ballet was obviously where Annabelle was meant to be, for – following her education at the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp – she pursued a 12-year long career with various dance companies in Europe, before deciding in 2003 to concentrate on choreography. She has created works for over 50 companies around the world, and has an impressive list of nominations and awards to her name.

Lopez Ochoa describes her ballet Guernica as “an ode to Picasso, to cubism and to his …. body of work, but especially to his painting Guernica”, the compelling work which so powerfully represents the tragedy of war and the suffering it leaves in its wake. She says that she “feels so helpless against this senseless violence that we’re faced with,” but knows that what she can do is “create art and put it in front of an audience”. Guernica has been set to a range of works by composers which includes Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead – who go by the name of Raime, and who were included in Rolling Stone’s 2016 ’20 Great British Artists to Watch’ – Dutch composer Michel Banabila, and 19th century composer Charles Valentin-Alkan – making quite a combination of elements in one work. The result is, as can be seen from this short film, is fascinating.

San Francisco Ballet’s Unbound C runs at the War Memorial Opera House from April 24th for four performances, the final one being on May 5th. For more information visit the San Francisco Ballet website.


Information sourced from:

San Francisco Ballet program notes by Cheryl A Ossola

Artists’ websites:

Stanton Welch

Trey McIntyre

Chris Garneau

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

Pablo Picasso


Michel Banabila

Charles Valentin-Alkan


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