Helgi Tomasson to retire as Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet

David Mead

Helgi Tomasson has announced that he is to step down as Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer of San Francisco Ballet by mid-2022, after nearly four decades at its helm.

SF Ballet’s Board of Trustees will be forming a committee to launch an international search for Tomasson’s successor in the coming months. The transition of leadership is anticipated to conclude by June 2022.

In the meantime, and as SF Ballet embarks on its first digital season, Tomasson will continue to actively lead the company and work with its board and ballet leadership to ensure a smooth transition to whoever is next appointed as artistic director.

Tomasson will begin programming the company’s 2022 season featuring highlights from his tenure as well as newly choreographed works. Over the coming months, he will also be prioritising the SF Ballet’s safe return to in-person performances and continue planning for the 2023 new works festival.

Helgi Tommason with Nikisha Fogo and Julian MacKay rehearsing Tomasson's new workPhoto Erik Tomasson
Helgi Tommason with Nikisha Fogo and Julian MacKay
rehearsing Tomasson’s new work
Photo Erik Tomasson

“The unprecedented challenges we faced as individuals and as a community during 2020 only served to reconfirm for me the power of dance as a form of artistic expression, connection, and humanity. Over the past ten months, we had to innovate and completely reconceive how to bring dance to our audiences, since they could not come to us. Looking to the 2022 season, my aim is to build on these achievements and to bring the Company back to the stage for live performances,” stated Tomasson. “Despite or perhaps because of the year we all lived through together, the company has never been stronger than it is today. As we look ahead into the new year, the timing felt right to begin a transition to a new artistic director, who will build on this legacy and lead the company into its next chapter.”

Elizabeth Powell as Clara in Helgi Tomasson's NutcrackerPhoto Erik Tomasson
Elizabeth Powell as Clara in Helgi Tomasson’s Nutcracker,
streamed late last year
Photo Erik Tomasson

Since becoming Artistic Director of SF Ballet in 1985, Tomasson has been heralded for balancing an embrace of classical ballet with a drive for innovation and artistic creativity. Tomasson has choreographed over fifty ballets, mounted and commissioned new work, and conceptualized several acclaimed festivals providing platforms for overlooked and emerging talent, including the heralded 2018 Unbound Festival.

Under his leadership, SF Ballet achieved recognition as one the most preeminent companies in the world and developed an internationally acclaimed school, cultivating the next generation of ballet dancers. London audiences will recall fondly several successful seasons, most recently that at Sadler’s Wells in Spring 2019.

A scene from the virtual bonus content for San Francisco Ballet's Nutcracker Photo San Francisco Ballet
A scene from the superb animated bonus content in
San Francisco Ballet’s 2020 streaming of Helgi Tommason’s Nutcracker
Photo San Francisco Ballet

Despite the pandemic and cancellation of live performances, under Tomasson’s direction, 2020 saw the creation of new work, including the premier of a six-minute outdoor film Dance of Dreams directed by Benjamin Millepied and choreographed by Justin Peck, Dwight Rhoden, Janie Taylor and Christopher Wheeldon.

Tomasson additionally led the reworking of the entire 2021 Season to meet the demand of a digital-only platform, with world premieres planned by Cathy Marston, Danielle Rowe, and Myles Thatcher conceived for film; three story ballets including George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which had only one performance before the city-wide shut down; Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet and Swan Lake, the latter with enhanced content; and Balanchine’s Jewels with a newly filmed version of Emeralds.

SF Ballet will celebrate the company’s achievements in its first virtual gala on January 14, 2021, including excerpts of these world premieres and from a new work that Tomasson is creating for 2022. Tomasson’s impact and legacy will be honored during the 2022 Gala.

Executive Director Kelly Tweeddale said, “San Francisco Ballet’s mission is to share a joy of dance with the widest possible audience, both locally and around the world, and to provide the highest caliber of dance training. I joined SF Ballet fifteen months ago with the opportunity to work with Helgi and the incredible legacy he has built. What became immediately clear was his reach throughout the international world of ballet and his connection with keeping the company in the creative mode. It is an honor to be able to continue to work with Helgi to steward the company forward and build upon his unparalleled artistic achievements.”