SF Ballet School Spring Festival boasts premieres by young choreographers 

San Francisco Ballet dancer Pemberley Ann Olson choreographs a new work for San Francisco Ballet School’s 2024 Spring Festival. (Courtesy Lindsey Rallo/San Francisco Ballet)

The San Francisco Ballet School is dedicated to innovation.

At its annual Spring Festival this week in three performances at the Blue Shield of California Theater, about 175 students will dance classic and new works, both pieces they made, and one made under the company’s Creation House initiative.

“The way our society evolves really impacts what we need to be doing as creators and educators,” says San Francisco Ballet School Director Grace Holmes, a former San Francisco Ballet dancer who was named director in October 2023 after heading the Kansas City Ballet School since 2014.

“We are trying to keep our finger on the pulse of that evolution, to make sure what we are cultivating in our students is relevant to their lives in the healthiest way possible. … We recognize that tradition is important, but you don’t want to get stuck in things that are no longer relevant,” adds Holmes.

The school, America’s oldest professional ballet academy, has trained substantial numbers of San Francisco Ballet dancers: 73 percent of the company’s 2023-24 season dancers attended the school.

San Francisco Ballet Students perform a demonstration in the 2023 Spring Festival. (Courtesy Lindsay Thomas/San Francisco Ballet)

The school plays a key role in supporting the company’s culture, which Holmes says is one of excellence and openness, following artistic director Tamara Rojo’s goal to not only train the best dancers in the country, but to recognize how ballet is changing and evolving.

Yet tradition and innovation mark the Spring Festival’s program, which begins with Level 2-8 students in a short demonstration choreographed by faculty member Karen Gabay.

The final movement of George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C,” a repertory classic set to music by Georges Bizet, is on the program, as well as new pieces created in a choreography workshop by 16- to 19-year-old students. They are: “Becoming a Mountain” by Mia Schlosser, “Wake of Thunder” by Kenzie Andrews and “Eternal Echoes” by Tenley Connors and Nicholas Kosanovich-Ware.

“We were kind of astonished at how refined some of the choreography was,” Holmes says of eight pieces presented at an early showing this year. “We had another showing that was open to the public … and they had another six weeks to work on it, which gave us a chance to see the evolution, and at that point that’s when we chose which pieces were going to be on the festival program.”

San Francisco Ballet School Director Grace Holmes says young student choreographers are creating mature works. (Courtesy Brett Pruitt & East Market Studios) 

Holmes, who also attended the ballet school, is impressed by the maturity of the choreography.

“One of the works is choreographed by a 16-year-old and looks like something you would see on the company stage,” she says. “The pieces are thoughtful, entertaining, and really well-crafted, especially for a first piece. Each of these students has a really clear voice that is coming through in their choreography, so you can see their personality in what they are trying to say, which I think is stunning for that age.”

Company corps de ballet member Pemberley Ann Olson’s world premiere is on the program on May 23 and May 24. Level 7 and 8 students will dance the unnamed piece, which is set to music by Steve Reich and a product of the Creation House initiative, which provides mentorship and diverse career development.

Olson, who was chosen by the company to choreograph her opus for the school, has appeared in every San Francisco Ballet program this season, including both runs of “Swan Lake.”

“It’s been a super-busy season for Pemberley as a dancer; she had to work around the school schedule, and finding time to work with the students was challenging,” Holmes says. “Now that the company is finished for the season, we’re doubling down and having her at the studio every day so she can work with the dancers. She had already finished the piece, but there’s always more to fine-tune, fix and adapt.”

The Spring Festival also includes repertory standards “Flames of Paris” and “Paquita” and faculty member Dana Genshaft’s “Danse Sacrèe et Danse Profane.” The dance, set to music by Debussy, was unveiled in Sun Valley, Idaho last year and later presented in a memorable European performance.

“It’s technically difficult, artistically challenging, and the dancers can really find themselves in the piece and dance as a cohesive unit but also as individuals,” Holmes says. “The music is beautiful — it’s just a stunning piece — it’s so beautiful that when the school was invited to participate in a festival in Paris in March that’s what we decided to perform.”

The San Francisco Ballet School’s Spring Festival is at 6 p.m. May 22 and 7:30 p.m. May 23-24 at Blue Shield of California Theater, 700 Howard St., San Francisco. For tickets ($29-$75) call (415) 865-2000 or visit sfballet.org/springfestival. Proceeds from performances and a May 22 fundraiser support $1.5 million in scholarships, financial aid, education and community engagement programs.

The post SF Ballet School Spring Festival boasts premieres by young choreographers  appeared first on Local News Matters.

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