San Francisco Social Diary: 2017 San Francisco Ballet Gala

Thousands of guests attended the SF Ballet Opening Night Gala that included a magical performance by the dancers and musicians.


The San Francisco Ballet launched its 2017 season with the sold-out “Ever Magical”-themed Opening Night Gala. It raised a record-setting $2.9 million and drew a record setting-attendance of more than 1,300 guests for the Gala and more than 2,400 at the after-party.

What impressed me most this year was the number of attractive and beautifully dressed younger fans in the crowd. Charitable organizations are puzzling over how to entice the young people to be involved with the arts, and the SF Ballet seems to have found the way.

SF Ballet Auxiliary: Margaret Mitchell, Lori Harmon, Michelle Harris, Maria Hemphill, Brenda Leff, Rene Rodman, Claire Kostic, Blanca Aguirre, Ave Seltsam, Catherine Bergstrom, Monika Moscoso, Meg Ray, Debra Leylegian, Patricia Ferrin Loucks, Trecia Knapp, Rhonda Maehndroo, Jennie Golde.

DĂ©cor Chair Claire Kostic, Event Chair Ave Seltsam, and Dinner Chair Meg Ray.

Yurie Pascarella, in Marchesa, with Board of Trustees Chair Carl F. Pascarella.

The black-tie gala drew over 1,300 balletomanes from the Bay Area.


At the traditional City Hall kickoff, attendees in their exquisite gowns and baubles walked a colorful carpet—this year in the sponsor’s signature “Tiffany blue.” Many VIP’s wore Tiffany jewelry or fashions from fellow sponsor La Perla’s ready-to-wear collection.

Denise Littlefield Sobel, in Alexander McQueen, with Roman Gronkowski and Tiina Piirsoo.

Fashion designer Yuka Uehara, in her own brand, Patricia Dassios, and Teresa Concepcion, in a Yuka Uehara dress.

Barbara Brown with Phoebe Mireles, in La Perla.

Allison Speer, Komal Shah, in Monique Lhuillier, and Carolyn Chang.

Oliver Caldwell and designer Karen Caldwell, wearing her own brand.

Holly Peterson, Maria Ralph, Christine Varon, and Marie Hurabiell.

Newlyweds Samantha Duvall Bechtel and Darren Bechtel.

OJ Shansby, in an Elizabeth Kennedy gown, and Gary Shansby.

Jane Mudge, Kai Tan, and Daru Kawalkowski.

Jorge Maumer and Brenda Zarate, in a custom green sequined gown by Major Obsessions.

Pernella Sommerville, Mark Rhoades, Clara Shayevich, Joel Goodrich, Mary Gonsalves Kinney, and Deepa Pakianathan.

Kelsey and David Lamond.

Jarrod Baumann, Sukey Forbes, and Jennifer Raiser.

Christopher Collins, Pernella Sommerville, Patrick Bitter, Nicole Bitter, Margaret Mitchell, Freddy Clarke, and Pearl Clarke.

SF Opera Guild President Charlot Malin, in Oscar de la Renta, with Gregory Malin.


The glamorous evening began with a champagne cocktail hour at Beaux Arts City Hall on Van Ness, followed by a sit-down dinner, the stunning performance, and an energetic after-party.

Riccardo Benavides, of Ideas Event Styling, once again dazzled. City Hall looked ethereal, awash in pastels, roses, and mirrors, with actual SF Ballet costumes hung like chandeliers and silhouettes of dancers projected onto the rotunda dome.

The SF Ballet Opening Night dinner venues include the North and South Light Courts and the Rotunda of City Hall.

Event designer Riccardo Benavides, Patricia Kelly, wearing Mon Atelier by Ali Rahimi, and Gennadi Nedvigin.

Principal Dancer Yuan Yuan Tan, in Tiffany jewels, and Tiffany & Co. VP Tom Carroll.

Alison Suzukamo.

2014 Gala Dinner Chair Patricia Ferrin Loucks, with Roman Gronkowski.

Barbro and Bernard Osher, of the SF Ballet Endowment Foundation’s Osher New Work Fund.

Jim Marver and Stephanie Marver, in a Chanel headpiece.

Riccardo Benavides and Jeanne Lawrence.

Roelof Botha and Huifen Chan.

Warren Chase and Rick Mordesovich.

Norah Stone, in a custom Andrea Spiridonakos design, and Norman Stone.

Michael and Alison Mauze, with Nancy and Justin Gold.

Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang with his wife Akiko Yamazake.

Jack Calhoun, in an exploded houndstooth tuxedo jacket by DSquared, with Mary Beth Shimmon.

Jennifer Lynch, Sheila Nahi, Maryam Muduroglu, and SF Opera General Director Matthew Shilvock.

Christine Suppes, in a gown and tiara by Rodarte, with Bruce Schumm.

Dede Wilsey, in an Andrew Gn gown and Harry Winston jewels, with Bob Hill.

Former Secretary of State George Shultz, SF Protocol Chief Charlotte Shultz, and venture capitalist Tom Steyer.

Paula and Bandel Carano.

Trent Norris and Alan Malouf.

Suzy Kellems Dominik, Fred Gans, Shelby Gans, and Jennifer Benim.


Looking at the number of young people, the SF Ballet is obviously successful at drawing a younger crowd.

The ballet has developed two essential programs to attract a younger audience: “Encore!” offers unique behind-the-scenes access, networking parties, volunteer involvement, and discounted tickets to more than 300 Bay Area young professionals, and “The List” offers members aged 21–39 exclusive access to last-minute $25 tickets and special invitations to year-round insider events.

One of the biggest events for young people is the annual Sensorium, an evening of dance, art, and music in the Opera House, exclusively for Encore! and The List members. The 2017 Sensorium will feature interactive pop-ups, ballet performances, and a rollicking after-party, all for just $29.

The Encore! Board: Alex Christie, Lena Gikkas, Kelcie Lee, Elizabeth Sgarrella, Susan Lin, Angela Zhang, Jamie Lee Taylor, and Vanessa Jean-Baptiste.

Encore! Gala Chair Elizabeth Sgarrella and Vice Chair Kelcie Lee.

Champion Olympic figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi with Encore! Gala Vice Chair Kelcie Lee.

Encore! volunteers Amanda Katzenstein, Cindy Tsai, Jacqueline Barrett, and Jasmine Frazier.

Noah Hagey, Alison Hagey, Charles Roell, Cara Roell, Leigh Keith, and Daniel Ramirez.

Giselle Hale, Jane Burkhard, Brian Burkhard, and Alyson Blume.

Elgender and Ashley Hogsette.

Vanessa Jean Baptiste, fashion designer Vasily Vein, and Lina Gikkas.

Samantha Burns, Frederick Burns, Harben Porter, and Ryan Moses.

Angela Tsai, Alice Wen, Catherine Chou, and Danny Kha.

Kimberly Terta and Joshua Reynolds.

Mara Giarratana Young, Kristi Symon, Katherine Sakoda, Stephanie Sparling, and Ashley Kokesh.

Victoria Weatherford, Jordan Gardner, Megan Cesare, and Scott Loose.

Alex Silyn, Mariya Ruchka, Simone Derayeh, and Alex Nazari.

Alvin Ma, Rupal Patel, Jayson Johnson, and Andrew Blocky.

Farnoosh Seifoddini, Briana Jain, and Lori Blackburn.

Khurel Bud and Abraham Valentino.

Ryan Boe and Osha Atogwe.


This year’s season-opening program featured 11 classical and contemporary pieces, including two world premieres by choreographers Benjamin Millepied (actress Natalie Portman’s husband and choreographer for her film Black Swan) and multi-award-winning Trey McIntyre.

Balletomanes are excitedly looking forward this season’s North American premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Frankenstein, which London’s Royal Ballet transformed into a Gothic love story.

Marlene Tomasson, SF Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, and choreographer Benjamin Millepied.

The gala featured the world premieres of Benjamin Millepied’s The Chairman Dances and Trey McIntyre’s Presentce.

Yuan Yuan Tan and Aaron Robison in the pas de deux from La Cathedrale Engloutie.

San Francisco Ballet Corps in the finale from Balanchine’s Diamonds.

Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in the finale from Balanchine’s Diamonds.

Natasha Sheehan and Angelo Greco in Thatcher’s Foragers.

Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham in McIntyre’s Presentce.

Lorena Feijoo (who will retire from the SF Ballet after 17 years upon the close of the 2017 season) and Wei Wang in the pas de deux from Promenade Sentimentale.


In keeping the emphasis on looking forward, SF Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson announced a New Works Festival that will be the centerpiece of the 2018 repertory season, April 20 to May 6, 2018. It will feature a dozen new works by 12 international choreographers.

“SF Ballet has long been recognized for pushing the boundaries of dance, and we understand that our art form must continue to evolve in order to keep it vital and relevant,” Tomasson said.

Marlene Tomasson and SF Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson.


Demand for the gala after-party, sponsored by La Perla, was so great that additional tickets were added. More 2,400 guests turned up for what seems to be one of the most successful such events in the Bay Area.

I think the ballet’s hopes that the expanded after-party will attract new and young supporters is very well founded! Most of the big patrons might stop by briefly, but it’s the younger energy that keeps the party pulsing until 1am.

The rousing and crowded after-party featured DJ Chris Clouse, silent disco by Silent Storm, live music by Pop Rocks, and lively dancing.

After-party guests were treated to buffet tables filled with a bounty of nibbles and sweets, an ice cream cart, and an open bar, which everyone loved.

Party guests enjoyed a silent disco dance party by Silent Storm.

Kimberly Dutto, Marybeth Lamotte, Carolyn Chandler, Navid Armstrong, and Samantha Duvall Bechtle.

Maya Munsell, Samantha Lin, Ruth Goins, Emily Clark, and Sari Fish.

J.J. and Molly Kardwell.

Natalya and Marcos Mendizadal.

Dancing continued to the wee hours of the night.

The grand staircase beneath the rotunda at City Hall is a favorite gathering spot for partygoers.

Mark Rhoades, Pernela Sommerville, Angella Sprauve, and Bacca Da Silva.

Jeanne Lawrence and Claudia Ross.

Victoria Caniano and Jennifer Hodapp, both in La Perla.

Bay Area society photographer Drew Altizer, Director of Communications Jon Finck, and McCalls Catering President Lucas Shoemaker.

Shannon Blunden, Neiman Marcus GM Alan Morrell, and Theresa Spirz.

Kimberly Dutto, Marybeth Lamotte, Carolyn Chandler, Navid Armstrong, and Samantha Duvall Bechtle.

Luke Willis and Justin McBaine.

It’s important that the next generation of fans keep the SF Ballet alive. Founded in 1933, it is America’s oldest professional ballet company and boasts a long and rich tradition of artistic “firsts”—among them the first American performances of Swan Lake and Nutcracker and the first 20th-century American Coppélia. Today it presents more than 100 productions a year.


Photos by Drew Altizer, Irja Elisa courtesy Riccardo Benavides, and Erik Tomasson courtesy SF Ballet.

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