SAN FRANCISCO BALLET CELEBRATES ITS DIAMOND ANNIVERSARY
The celebrated San Francisco Ballet feted its 75th anniversary appropriately with a diamond themed opening night gala reminding us that it’s the oldest ballet company in the U.S. Opening night is always such a beautiful and glamorous affair that I mark it on my calendar each year.
This sold-out event was a hot-ticket. More than 1,200 guests filled City Hall for the pre-performance dinner that ranged from $1,000 to $3,500 that sold out first. Even the performance at the War Memorial Opera House that seats over 3,000 had a waitlist for standing room.
“I’ve never seen a better dressed crowd and it’s like a fashion show” observed a patron … and there are so many baubles and diamond necklaces.” And what better occasion than a diamond jubilee to haul out the jewels — everyone seemed to get in the spirit.
Deborah Leylegian wore over 75 carats of gems (her own) with a Bill Blass gown. Gail Glasser wore a copy of the Duchess of Windsor necklace (NY beauty Carol Petrie owns the original) by her late friend Tony Duquette.
And when I say fashion show, I mean runway — all the top designers were represented that night, especially in light of the San Francisco Chronicle’s best gown contest.
The fierce competition included Rosemary Baker in a one-shoulder peacock inspired print Alexander McQueen, Bita Daryabari in a deep pink off the shoulder chiffon John Galliano for Dior, Angelique Griepp in a tulle Oscar de la Renta, Pamela Joyner in a pink satin bejeweled John Galliano, and Marissa Mayer in a multi-colored colorful embroidered strapless Naeem Khan.
And the winner, selected by community vote, was engineer Marissa Mayer, VP at mega-mogul Google. Marissa loves fashion and even wears designer clothes to work, and it’s refreshing to see someone bucking the Silicon Valley trend of casual dress.
When dinner was announced, the crowd gasped when the curtains opened as the Rotunda looked like a Winter Wonderland — as magical and ethereal as any ballet set design. Jewel encrusted white and silver linens covered the dining tables and chairs and silvered glittering winter branches filled huge silver vases.
Musicians, dressed in white tie, lined the staircase, serenading the glamorous partygoers at the cocktail hour as they floated around the room to the photographers’ delight.
For this historic event kudos goes to Gala Chair Jean Larette, Dinner Chair Rosemary Baker, and Honorary Chairs Dr. and Mrs. Stephen Gill. The Encore dinner, for the younger set, was co-chaired by Elizabeth Doyel and Nina Federoff.
The catering of Dan McCall triumphed with four separate dinners, all beautifully presented. Décor Chair Samantha Cole-Mailman and event designer Robert Fountain choose subtle colors of taupe, ivory, and cream for the night. “With these colors every woman stands out,” Fountain exclaimed.
And stand out they did. Color was definitely ‘in’ this year, and gowns of every hue punctuated the room with the sparkle of emerald greens, royal blues, bright yellows, violets, fuchsia, and shocking pinks.
After dinner, the balletomanes dodged the drizzle as they headed for the grand opening night performance that began at 8 o’clock. A few clever ones such as Alex Chases and Ted Deikel called for their drivers to drive them across Van Ness Avenue, thus saving the gowns and hair.
Following with the traditional Star Spangled Banner, Board Co-Chairs James Herbert and Pamela Joyner, acknowledged the Company’s $100 million endowment. Wow! On stage, James was awarded the Christensen Medals, named from Lew Christensen who was director from 1951-1984.
Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson came to San Francisco 23 years ago via the New York City Ballet where he was a principal dancer under the direction of legendary Jerome Robbins and George Balanchine.
Under Tomasson’s direction, the Company has gained international stature, with hundreds of performances annually, touring both at home and abroad. While carrying on the Balanchine tradition, he encourages new works as well.
Congratulations are in order as Helgi recently was awarded his homeland Iceland’s highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Order of the Falcon.
The evening’s program opened with the US premiere of John Neumeier’s Yondering, to the nostalgic tunes of Stephen C. Foster, danced by young students from the San Francisco Ballet School. What a treat to watch the world’s future dancers.
Excerpts from Elite Syncopation followed danced by Rachel Viselli and Damian Smith to the ragtime of Scott Joplin. Of course, there were plenty of romantic pas de deux as well.
Hans van Manen’s Two Pieces for Het (For Rachel) danced by Anthony Spaulding and Sofiane Sylve (formerly of NY City Ballet and guest dancer) was very popular and sensuous. A new addition to the repertory was the modern The Energy Between Us, choreographed by 25-year-old Wade Robson of the TV series So You Think You Can Dance.
One audience member gushed to her husband, “They look really good in their tights, so muscular.” I hope she enjoyed the dancing too.
Fittingly, George Balanchine’s Finale from Diamonds, part of his 1967 full-length Jewels and set to the music of Tchaikovsky, rounded out the program. This classical piece was beautifully staged all in crème bejeweled tutus.
For a festive finale, white and silver confetti and balloons rained down from above as Helgi, conductor Martin West, and the dancers took their bows.
The three-hour performance, including two intermissions, finished at 11:20, leaving some guests heading directly to valet parking, foregoing the after-party. The more energetic supporters, along with the fun loving youthful set, headed back to City Hall that had been transformed into a series of swanky supper clubs complete with live music, dancing and a fabulous selection of food and drinks.
Some revelers made it a very late night, partying away past the party closing. At 2 am when they went to retrieve their cars, they found the garage had already closed. Oh, well, it was probably wiser they took a taxi home anyway!
But wait. It’s not over yet. This is just the beginning … of the season, that is. The centerpiece, New Works Festival, promises to be “the most ambitious commissioning project in the Company’s history.”
The Festival runs from April 22 until May 6 and will feature 10 world-premieres choreographed by 10 world-renowned choreographers. I don’t know about you, but I’m booking early.
Photographs by Drew Altizer, Chris Hardy, Erick Tomasson, and Jeanne Lawrence.