San Francisco Ballet Celebrates its 90th Anniversary

The 2023 San Francisco Ballet Opening Night Gala celebrated the Company’s 90th anniversary and the next@90 festival.

The Opening Night Gala of the San Francisco Ballet traditionally kicks off the winter social season. Founded in 1933, it is America’s oldest professional ballet company. In a nod to its nine-decade history, the theme of the evening was next@90…the future starts now.

The SF Ballet boasts a long and rich tradition of artistic “firsts”—among them the American debut performances of Swan Lake, Nutcracker, and Coppélia.

During the Champagne reception in the foyer, The War Memorial Opera House was packed wall to wall with balletomanes strolling among friends.


A NEW ERA BEGINS

A new era for the Company has begun. After a remarkable 37-year run, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson passed the baton to Tamara Rojo, a world-renowned Spanish ballerina, at the end of 2022.

Rojo, born in Spain and raised in Canada, joined London’s Royal Ballet as a principal dancer in 2000. In 2012, she moved to the English National Ballet company as a lead dancer and artistic director. “I’ve long admired SF Ballet as one of the most creative companies in North America,” she said.

The much-admired Tomasson developed the SF Ballet into a celebrated troupe second in size only to the New York City Ballet. Read his story in my column from last year here.

New Artistic Director Tamara Rojo spent 30 years as a professional dancer herself, winning awards such as Spain’s Gold Medal of Fine Arts, the Order of the British Empire, and the Kennedy Center Gold Medal for Fine Arts.

SF Ballet’s Danielle St.Germain, who arrived in 2018 and was appointed executive director in 2021, brings nearly 25 years of management, fundraising, and marketing experience from the non-profit arts.

Former Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson, pictured with his wife Marlene, collaborated with Artistic Director Rojo on the opening night gala program and the next@90 festival.


THE MAIN EVENTS AT THE BALLET GALA 

Long-time Ballet Gala attendees praised this year’s new format. Pre-performance, guests enjoyed the “Champagne Stroll” in the Opera House foyer, where caviar, drinks, and hors d’oeuvre were offered.

After the one-night-only gala ballet performance, which highlighted the versatility of the Company, a sit-down dinner in City Hall, followed by dancing and more bites and drinks. The night was a dazzling affair!

Gala Chair Betsy Linder and a fleet of valet parkers were on hand to welcome attendees in front of the War Memorial Opera House, which can seat up to 3,146 opera and ballet-goers.

Tanum Davis Bohen stood out in a spectacular dress.

Jan and Lauren Schutz.

Diedre Shaw and Robert Shaw, co-chair of the SF Ballet Board of Trustees.

Mark Calvano, Clara Shayevich, and Joel Goodrich.

Steven and Jennifer Walske.

Colin and Elizabeth Behring.

Betty Yu walking the “golden carpet.”

Merrill Randol and Regis Kelly.

Jazz and cabaret singer Paula West has performed at NYC’s Algonquin Hotel, Jazz at Lincoln Center, and Mezzrow; and SF’s Feinstein’s at The Nikko, SF JAZZ, and Yoshi’s.

Karen Caldwell in a dress of her own design.

Michael and Alison Mauzé.

Attendees were greeted by committee members Pam Preston, Claire Kostic, Jill McNay, Louisa Basarrate, Chair Betsy Linder, Ali Sievers, Elisabeth Smith, Holly Thier, Rochelle Lacey, Katie Colendich, Irina Matijas, and Courtney Dallaire.


ENCORE! THE YOUNG PATRONS CIRCLE

Encore! is for the younger set. Their evening included the Sparkling Stroll, performance seating in Dress Circle, a post-performance reception at City Hall, and the after-party dance in North Light Court.

The Encore! board welcomed members of the next generation of ballet fans—primarily young professionals—who are offered behind-the-scenes access and discounted tickets.


SEEN IN THE CROWD

Joshua Morgan and Daru Kawalkowski.

Stephanie Lawrence and Jeanne Lawrence.

Patricia Rock and John Fetzer.

Choreographer Val Caniparoli, whose work was featured in the night’s performances, with Joe Atkins.

Jack Calhoun, President-Elect of the San Francisco Opera Association, Dede Wilsey, Carl Pascarella, Yurie Pascarella, and Trent Norris.

Lisa Keith and Meaghan Gerhart pretty in pink.

Sheila Nahi and Maryam Muduroglu, newly appointed Chief of Protocol by Mayor London Breed, a position that the late Charlotte Mailliard Shultz held for 50 years.

Jeff Shen and Sally Yu.

Dylan Pierzina, Chloe Kinzler, and Paul Rebarn.

Holly Baxter, Russell Martinelli, Jason Gan, and Rosalyn Chen.

Roman Gronkowski and Barbara Brown.

Jascha and Rebecca Kaykas-Wolff.

Jayson Johnson, Christy Crystal, Nia Scovel, and Traci Schmitz.

Art consultant Heide Betz with Vincent Gotti, fashion and editorial photographer for GEV magazine.

Helen Christakos and Constantine Sapuntzakis.

Jacquelyn and Ryan Pio Roda.

Navid Armstrong and Tanya Powell.

Pernella Sommerville, Mark Calvano, Nazan Orr, Heide Betz, and Joel Goodrich.

David Lamond and Ballet board member Kelsey Lamond.

Michael Conley and Tony Bravo.

Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Paul Pelosi. Despite their busy bi-coastal life, split between SF and DC, they make a point to support both cities’ civic and cultural institutions.

Cecilia Herbert and Jim Herbert, Vice Chair of the Ballet Board and founder of First Republic Bank.

Terra Sollman, Brigitta Whiting, Dana Decker, Maria Hemphill, Julia Kniesche, Sarah Torbin, Kristin Sprincin, Emily Sheridan, and Katherine Harper.

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

Ellen Wise, Michael Hormel, and Elaine Mellis.

Mary Beth and David Shimmon.

Rosemary Baker and David Yocum.

Jane Mudge and Jorge Maumer.

Jacob Stensberg and Andy Wheeler.


OPENING CEREMONY

Balletomanes were seated by 6:30 p.m., ready for the evening performance. After a welcome from the Ballet’s board of trustees, they were treated to ten vignette performances that sampled the coming season and festival.

By tradition, the audience stands to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I recall last year’s performance was dedicated to the Ukrainian people, and a few of the corps are Ukranian.

The Grammy Award-winning San Francisco Ballet Orchestra performed under Music Director Martin West.

Bob Shaw and Sunnie Evers, co-chairs of SF Ballet’s Board of Trustees since 2019, welcomed the audience.


PERFORMANCES

The Gala served as the kickoff for the next@90 festival. Newly appointed Artistic Director Tamara Rojo collaborated with her predecessor, Helgi Tomasson, to develop the Gala program. The three-week festival featured world premieres by nine international choreographers who were commissioned to create new work for this world-class troupe.

Ballet fans enjoyed an enthralling 90-minute performance of ten excerpts from a mix of classic pieces and pieces from next@90. Showcasing the corps’ versatility and various styles, the new works were choreographed by Robert Garland, Helgi Tomasson, Yuri Possokhov, Danielle Rowe, Val Caniparoli, William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon, Nicolas Blanc, and Yuka Oishi.

Julia Rowe and Esteban Hernández in the third movement of Robert Garland’s Haffner Serenade.

Dores André and Isaac Hernández in the balcony pas de deux from Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet.

Aaron Robison performed in the world premiere of Yuri Possokhov’s Postscriptum.

Yuan Yuan Tan, the Company’s Richard C. Barker Principal Dancer, in Yuri Possokhov’s Postscriptum.

WanTing Zhao and Luke Ingham in Val Caniparoli’s Double Stop.

Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco in the Act II pas de deux from Helgi Tomasson’s Giselle.

An excerpt from Danielle Rowe’s MADCAP kept the audience laughing with the clownish performers.

Nikisha Fogo and Isaac Hernández in “The Color of Anything” pas de deux from William Forsythe’s Blake Works.

Sasha De Sola and Joseph Walsh in the Act II pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella.

An excerpt from Nicolas Blanc’s Gateway to the Sun.

Hansuke Yamamoto in BOLERO by Yuka Oishi, the first Japanese choreographer in the Company’s history.


FINAL CURTAIN CALL

St.Germain and Rojo took the stage at the final curtain call to thank the crowd and the dancers. “The future of ballet starts now, here, at San Francisco Ballet. We know that ballet has the power to transform our culture and change the world for the better,” Rojo proclaimed.

Music Director and Principal Conductor Martin West.

Danielle St.Germain joined the SF Ballet in 2018 as Chief Development Officer and was appointed Executive Director in 2021.

After a 30-year career as an award-winning ballerina, Tamara Rojo became Artistic Director for London’s English National Ballet before joining SF Ballet as Artistic Director.


POST-PERFORMANCE DINNER

Following the spectacular performance, the police directed traffic to allow nearly 800 guests to cross Van Ness Avenue and enter a transformed City Hall, where a delicious meal awaited.

Though the city had record rainfall and flooding a few weeks earlier, tonight’s Gala guests were lucky: the sky was clear.

Inside City Hall, guests enjoyed a sit-down dinner and an evening of laughter and dancing.

City Hall is where baseball legend Joe DiMaggio and actress Marilyn Monroe were married in January 1964, covered by a media scrum.

Bill and Jennifer Brandenburg.

Farah and Victor Makras.

Jewels Good, Robin Dekkers, and Lonnie Weeks.

Susanna Allen and Luis Alves.

Lynn Callander, Peter Callander, and Olivia Callander.

Guests queued at the entrance of City Hall.

Meredith Braun, Tara Carmichael, Andrew Hineck, Keith Wetmore, and Lori Chipps were welcomed to City Hall by strolling “dancers” in reflective tutus and masks.

Lareina Yee, Bert Galleno, Alexis Krivkovich, Tim Gallagher, Sasha Novich, and Raj Murthy.

June Lund, Debra Leylegian, Pernella Sommerville, and Teresa Rodriguez.


DAZZLING DÉCOR

City Hall was transformed with a sophisticated black and white theme under the direction of Event Designer J. Riccardo Benavides, working in collaboration with Gala Chair Betsy Linder, Décor Chair Courtney Dallaire, and Dinner Chair Michelle Curtis.

The stylish black and white staircase proved an irresistible photo op for many partygoers.

Congratulations to J. Riccardo Benavides, who was recently appointed to the San Francisco Arts Commission by Mayor London Breed; later, his swearing-in ceremony also took place in City Hall.

Guests were buzzing about the perfectly executed evening, and they toasted this grand celebration of the Ballet.


MATCHING THE BLACK AND WHITE DÉCOR

Patrons lined up to have their photos taken on the black and white carpeted steps and with the strolling “dancers” in glittering costumes and masks.

Most attendees were so busy socializing and catching up with friends that they barely had time to sit down!

Gala Chair Betsy Linder and DĂ©cor Chair Courtney Dallaire, who funded the striking black and white carpet.

Pam and Jack Preston.

With this season, Shanghai-born Yuan Yuan Tan celebrates 28 years with the Company, the longest reign of any principal dancer.

Carolyn Chang.

Josh Wen with a friend.

Shabson Ha and Natasha Batten.

Franco Masoma.

Stephanie Lawrence.


PARTY ON!

Amid all the socializing, attendees feasted on dinner from McCalls Catering & Events. The three-course meal of prawn salad, grilled beef, and a decadent poached pear with vanilla ice cream and chocolate. Of course, the meal was paired with California wines, from Rodney Strong.

Cheers to another successful season to come!

SF Ballet’s Danielle St.Germain and new Artistic Director Tamara Rojo.

Seth Dallaire and DĂ©cor Chair Courtney Dallaire.

Tanum Davis Bohen and a strolling dancer entertainer.

Past Ballet Board Chair Carl Pascarella, Dede Wilsey, Phoebe Campbell, and Thomas Campbell, Director and CEO of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Jon Finck and Lee Gregory.

Mia Kimura, Barbara Brown, Kiyoshi Kimura, and Krista Giovara.

Brett Waxdeck and Tom Horn, President of the San Francisco War Memorial and Performing Arts Center and Honorary Consul of Monaco.


THE DANCE CROWD

The post-dinner celebration featured live bands, a DJ, a silent disco, an open bar, and late-night bites. The last drinks call was at 11:30 p.m.—before the Cinderella hour arrived! Betsy Linder ditched her bejeweled heels for rhinestone “sneakers” for dancing.

From 10 p.m. to midnight, the bands played on! On the dance floor gyrating were many members of the SF Ballet corps.

The silent disco DJ kept the dance floor thumping (metaphorically).

Silent disco dancers grooved to the music in the South Light Court.

For the silent disco, you could choose your headphones to match your outfit!

At the end of the evening, Lisa Zabelle hoped for a ride home—but I don’t know if the SFPD motorcycle was what she had in mind!

 

Photos by Drew Altizer and San Francisco Ballet.