San Francisco Ballet

2017 SFB Program 06 Notes

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The most important change in the 2009 production was the addition of a Prologue. "Helgi said that though it's called Swan Lake, it was always Siegfried's story because he was the character you were introduced to first," says Fensom. "We wanted to make it Odette's story, and to do that we needed to introduce her first." Understanding how Von Rothbart brought Odette under his power, making her a swan by day and a woman by night, allows viewers to accept that Siegfried, searching for meaningful love, could find it in this glorious bird/woman. "Who is this swan that he falls in love with?" Tomasson says. "I needed to clarify that she is a real person that Rothbart has turned into a swan." Tomasson and Fensom worked together to present Swan Lake in a way that makes it accessible even first-time balletgoers who don't know the story. Together, the staging, environment, costumes, lighting, and projections make the story clear and compelling. "With this new setting, Swan Lake is different," Tomasson says. "So many people have said they felt it was more approachable, not as much of a fairy tale." Although the sets echo the ballet's centuries-old themes and emotions, they're sleek and streamlined. Fensom chose one dominant scenic element for each set — simple, striking, and symbolic — and borrowed from the historic architecture and decor he saw in San Francisco's City Hall and War Memorial Opera House and at the Louvre in Paris. The first-act set "represents the oppression that Siegfried feels. He's trapped," Fensom says. In Act 2, the lake is "raw and rough and wild," he says. And behind the elegant, abstract architecture of the third act, the reappearance of the moon reminds us of the lake — and the fact that Siegfried is now torn between two worlds. The starkness of the open stage emphasizes the scale of the set pieces as well as their sculptural nature. For Fensom, the latter is key. "We light dancers by the essence of them — they are sculptural forms in space," he says. "I wanted to treat the set in the same way." His costume designs, with the same elegance and simplicity as the sets, reflect this sensibility as well. "I wanted to treat [Swan Lake] like an opera chorus, where everyone is different," says the designer. "We create a world where they're all individuals who, at a wonderful moment, come together and dance. When you think of something like the early 19th century, older people would wear silhouettes that were from slightly earlier, say from the 1790s. Peasants would have a completely different silhouette because they're working class. So we've created a world that real characters inhabit." Creating that world involved artists and craftspeople in two countries, at the San Francisco Opera scenic and costume shops and seven individual costume makers in and around London. Fensom had the costumers use natural fabrics like silks and linens to add richness to the period costumes. The sets' massive scale and functionality required that they be built with plywood and aluminum, which are stronger than typical theatrical materials such as Styrofoam and flats (canvas-covered wooden frames). Making the job more complex were challenges like requirements for scene changes — for example, one gigantic piece has to roll onstage but can't appear to be on wheels. Of course, all of this world-building is done in service to the dancing. For many aspiring ballerinas, Swan Lake is 06 SWAN LAKE CONTINUED 74 SAN FRANCISCO BALLET 2017 SEASON GUIDE

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