June 19, 2021
San Francisco Ballet have triumphed during the last eighteen months in providing comprehensive and innovative programmes, keeping their company and school thriving and providing audiences all over the word with unprecedented access.
Beautifully hosted by senior trainees Zoe Lucich and Teague Applegate, the San Francisco Ballet School Virtual Festival takes us to the roots of the company. Behind-the-scenes film shows how integrated school and company are, and how comprehensive the training, after which the senior students dance three works, two of them world premieres.
Students have missed out on opportunities to perform while the Opera House has been closed but have been supported in continuing as much work as possible in their own homes during quarantining and lockdowns. Act I of the Festival let us peek at some of the Zoom classes that were provided throughout, from the community programme up to level 8, the most senior class in the school.
We were also given an opportunity to hear how students at different levels had experienced the restrictions in short Zoom discussions. Comments about the limited space, not hearing the music at the correct time, lack of a mirror and so on will ring very familiar with many. Not surprisingly, those who have returned to the studio are relishing it, not only the space and being able to really move, but also simply being with dancers of their own age once more.
Teachers meanwhile talked about the challenges of not being able to physically correct students and how great it is to be hands on again, and also of the difficulty of getting much of a sense of individual student character online.
Back in the studio, we witnessed classes at all levels, including exam preparation classes and choreographed excerpts for the senior students.
The senior students excel in all three ballets performed. Filmed at ODC studios, Dana Genshaft’s Future Paper begins backstage, the theatre slowly coming to life. Set to newly commissioned music by Kamran Adib, there’s a similar sense of awakening in the choreography too. It has a thoughtful air combined with an airy lightness. The dancers swooping around each other, breaking off into smaller groups, before returning.
Viktor Plotnikov’s Graces is a divine as the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No.5. He says in his introduction that he “wanted to reflect on the inner beauty of us. It’s like a breath without the mask.” He does. It is. A ballet for three couples, it opens with the three men each laying on the floor, their feet in the air, and which rest the three women. What follows is elegant and serenely peaceful, and fits the near-elegiac score like a glove. The partnering is outstanding. It’s riveting and a ballet any school would be proud to have in its locker.
In contrast to the introspection of Future Paper and Graces, completing the festival on a bright note is the Pas de quatre from Ashton’s Swan Lake.
All concerned, and no doubt the audience too, look forward fervently to the ending of restrictions but, if there has been a silver lining to the very black cloud of Covid-19, it has been the unique opportunity to experience San Francisco Ballet from school to stage in a way that might never have been considered otherwise. The good news for those around the world is that streaming is to continue alongside live performance.
San Francisco Ballet School’s Virtual Festival is available to June 24, 2021. For details, visit www.sfballet.org.