Neoclassical ballet

A guide to the final season of Helgi Tomasson’s San Francisco Ballet

Joseph Walsh (left) and Sarah Van Patten at the premiere of ‘Mrs. Robinson. Photo: Lauren Finerman / San Francisco Ballet

February through May marks Helgi Tomasson’s final season as Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet, concluding 37 years of leadership. Here’s what to expect in each program.

Program one, February 1-12

The long-delayed world premiere of “Mrs. Robinson,” a new take on the classic 1967 film “The Graduate,” finally takes the stage. It’s a showcase for the extraordinary acting abilities of Sarah Van Patten and Joseph Walsh, although other actors will no doubt leave their mark on the roles.

Also on the program is “Trio,” Tomasson’s lush treatment of Tchaikovsky’s “Souvenir de Florence.” And perhaps the best reason to see this program is George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C”, a sparkling, grand and profound response to Bizet’s first symphony.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson’s “Trio” Photo: © Erik Tomasson / San Francisco Ballet

Second program, from February 3 to 14

This program offers two very different masters, side by side: the touching nostalgia of Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night”, with its contrasting couples dancing to Chopin; and the avant-garde ballet language of William Forsythe at the West Coast premiere of his “Blake Works I,” set to heart-pounding, current songs by Grammy-winning British artist James Blake. “Caprice” by Tomasson is an ensemble ballet overflowing with symphonic music by Saint-Saëns.

San Francisco Ballet in “Caprice” by Helgi Tomasson Photo: © Erik Tomasson / San Francisco Ballet

“Don Quixote”, from February 26 to March 6

This 19th-century ballet is a crowd favorite, and for good reason: it combines comedic twists (the story of two mischievous young lovers who must outsmart an overbearing father) with heart-pounding passages of brave dance.

The production by Tomasson and Yuri Possokhov preserves the classic elements of Marius Petipa’s choreography, while the sets and costumes by Martin Pakledinaz transport the audience to sunny Spain.

The performance of “Don Quixote” by the San Francisco Ballet. Photo: © Erik Tomasson / San Francisco Ballet 2019

“La Sylphide and the seasons”, from March 15 to 20

Ballet fans salivate over this one. The story of a magical sylph and the man who loses his mind chasing her, “La Sylphide”, originally created in 1832 by Filippo Taglioni for his daughter Marie, is a reflection of the romantic ballerina .

Tomasson’s production, staged in 1987 and not seen here for over two decades, gives audiences the choreography of August Bournonville and with it the vigor of Bournonville’s Danish style. Promisingly, this revival will be led by Danish-educated society member Ulrik Birkkjaer.

The program also includes the premiere in company of Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Seasons” in 2019, a co-commission with the American Ballet Theater whose local screening was delayed by the pandemic.

Program Five, April 2-16

This is the program that most fully celebrates the outgoing artistic director of the company, with the creation of the new “Harmonie” by Tomasson on baroque music by Jean-Philippe Rameau, and the revival of “La Cinquième Saison”, the one of his best works, with music by Karl Jenkins. The return of Yuri Possokhov’s hit “Magrittomania” brings humor and surreal surprises.

Program Six, April 6-15

Two internationally renowned choreographers unveil world premieres.

Finale Finale by Christopher Wheeldon will be set to music by one of the most germinative experimental composers of the 20th century, Darius Milhaud. After witnessing what Wheeldon created for Satie for Pacific Northwest Ballet last year, this match looks very promising.

2018 Unbound festival star Dwight Rhoden is also set to return with “The Promised Land,” in a mix of minimalist composers. Rhoden excels in bringing out new audacity in dancers.

Tomasson’s “Prism”, set to Beethoven’s first piano concerto, completes the evening with neoclassical refinement.

“Swan Lake”, from April 29 to May 8

Tomasson’s final season ends with the quintessence of classical ballet. His production of 2009’s “Swan Lake” keeps the story flowing while preserving the iconic choreography of Lev Ivanov (generally credited with the White Swan passages) and Marius Petipa (who choreographed the Black Swan pas de deux). Look for new principal Nikisha Fogo to make a highly anticipated debut as Odette/Odile.