San Francisco Ballet

2017 SFB Program 06 Notes

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SF Ballet in Tomasson's Swan Lake // © Erik Tomasson In 1988, three years into his tenure as San Francisco Ballet's artistic director and principal choreographer, Helgi Tomasson produced Swan Lake, one of the most beloved and enduring of the classical ballets. "It's ballet at its most beautiful," Tomasson says. "I remember seeing films of it when I was very young, and to me it was the ultimate in ballet." It was also the ultimate next step in making a name for SF Ballet, which was more of a regional troupe then, before developing the international status it has now. "I was very proud of that production because we needed it at that time," Tomasson says. "Swan Lake catapulted us into a major company." Swan Lake's heritage goes back to 1877, when Julius Reisinger choreographed the first production at the Bolshoi Theatre. It was only moderately successful, and its composer, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, considered his first attempt at writing ballet music a failure. Eighteen years later (unfortunately after Tchaikovsky's death in 1893), the Swan Lake produced by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov was considered a masterpiece. SF Ballet premiered its first Swan Lake in 1940, choreographed by Willam Christensen, ballet master of what was then San Francisco Opera Ballet. In 1988 Tomasson created his own version, based on Petipa and Ivanov's landmark ballet. He retained much of the choreography and all of the spirit of the Petipa/Ivanov version while making changes that clarified the story. The 1988 production served the Company for 21 years, until Tomasson decided to revamp the ballet for the 2009 Season. "Swan Lake is the most well-known ballet of all the full-lengths, and probably the most universally loved," he says. "I didn't want it to become a museum piece." It was time, Tomasson decided, to approach Swan Lake from a new perspective — and to do that, he wanted to collaborate with a designer who was new to ballet. He brought in Jonathan Fensom, a Tony Award and Olivier Award nominee (for Journey's End, 2007, and Farinelli and the King, 2016) who has designed dozens of productions in London's West End and on Broadway. For Fensom, whose limited ballet viewing had included The Royal Ballet's Swan Lake, "the thought of doing a ballet was incredibly exciting — to respect what Swan Lake was as a classical piece of work but actually lift it," he says. "Times change; we move on. We get more sophisticated, and I think we need to push the boundaries a little farther." Working with Fensom, Tomasson created a visually fresh concept while retaining choreography that draws on the ballet's classical heritage. Though he liked the idea of pushing the visual boundaries to give new life to this venerable ballet, Tomasson's intent, as always, was to stay true to the original, both choreographically and at heart. "Particularly the second act — you don't really mess with that," he says. "But there are so many other things you can do, scenically and with costumes, and even choreographically to some extent, in the first act and third act, which I had already done. A lot of it I kept, but there have also been elements that I have changed; it has to do with rethinking the whole production." For example, in the 1988 production he replaced a waltz danced by the corps de ballet with a pas de deux for Odette and Prince Siegfried; he wanted Siegfried to approach Odette to convey his sorrow and ask for forgiveness. "For storytelling, I felt that I needed to make them connect in the end and explain why they both die," he says. He kept that pas de deux in the 2009 production but chose more dramatic music for it. SWAN LAKE PRODUCTION CREDITS Music: Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Swan Lake, Op. 20. Costume Design Associate, Yvonne Milnes. Design Assistant to Mr. Ward, Carole Hancock. Tutus constructed by Yoshi Terashima, London, England. Costumes constructed by Phil Reynolds, Sasha Keir, Jane Johnson, Charles Hanrahan, Robert Gordon, Sue Kay, Karen Shannon, Mark Wheeler, London, England. Additional costumes constructed by the San Francisco Opera Costume Shop, Danielle McCartan, Costume Director. Wigs and Feather Headdresses constructed and dressed by Christine Sterritt at the Wig Workshop of London. Further wig dressing by Melanie Birch and the Wig Boys, San Francisco, California. Boots by Pluma, Portland, Oregon. Specialty shoes by John Hiatt, Salt Lake City, Utah. Scenic Design Associate, Chad Owens, San Francisco, California. Scenic Design Assistants, Alasdair Oliver, Alistair Turner, Jason Southgate, London, England. Video Design Associate, S. Katy Tucker, New York, New York. Video Design Assistant, Peter Vincent Acken, New York, New York. Scenic construction and painting by San Francisco Ballet Carpentry and Scenic departments at the San Francisco Opera Scenic Studios. By Cheryl A. Ossola PROGRAM NOTES 2017 SEASON GUIDE SAN FRANCISCO BALLET 73

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