As San Francisco Ballet announces its 2024 season, there is a curious echo of transition difficulties from almost four decades ago.
The new season is the first planned by Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, 48, who succeeded Helgi Tomasson, 80, last year after his unprecedented tenure of 37 years. When Tomasson took the position in 1985 after the SF Ballet board dismissed longtime Co-Artistic Director Michael Smuin, there were changes in the administration and the company.
Perhaps not to that extent in 2023, but internal commotion is now apparent again in the resignation of Executive Director Danielle St.Germain after only a year on the job. Statements from her and the board are positive and complimentary, but she leaves without giving a reason or responding to interview requests. A change in a key position “means something,” especially when it comes a day after the April 20 season announcement and surprises the company.
A similar sudden resignation, which eventually placed St.Germain into the position, came just two years ago, when Executive Director Kelly Tweeddale resigned without explanation. St.Germain, then chief development officer, became executive director on an interim basis, the position later made permanent.
In another connection with company history, the appointment to replace St.Germain, at least temporarily, went to Arturo Jacobus, 83, who was the company’s executive director from 1993 to 2002.
Jacobus retired recently after leading Atlanta Ballet for 12 years. He had to deal there with the troubled switch of artistic directors from John McFall to Gennadi Nedvigin — two SF Ballet alumni separated by a generation.
Indicating the sudden nature of the changes, the SFB announcement says Jacobus is “interim executive director while SF Ballet undertakes an international search to fill the position. The board of trustees will be forming a committee to launch an international search for St.Germain’s successor in the coming months.”
SFB Company Operations Senior Manager Emma Logan’s departure from her position (to join the War Memorial and Performing Arts Center) and other personnel changes may be unrelated to St.Germain’s quitting. Among other vacant positions at the company are senior manager of marketing and communications, stage manager, school director, and development operations coordinator.
Plans for the Jan. 25 – May 5, 2024, season (following the Jan. 24 opening gala) are prefaced by Rojo:
The warm welcome I’ve received from the San Francisco community has been truly inspiring. For my first season as artistic director, I am inviting a cross-cultural group of exceptional artists to bring their creativity and visions to my new home city.
From engaging with technology in new and intriguing ways to offering exciting interpretations of two Latina heroines to the creation of new, contemporary scores, this season we will showcase the broad talents of our world-renowned company while expanding what the War Memorial Opera House, its audiences, and ballet itself can look like.”
Coming from a U.K. career of more than two decades — with Scottish Ballet, The Royal Ballet, and English National Ballet, which she headed from 2012 to 2022 — it’s not surprising that Rojo’s programming has many English connections.
Right at the beginning of the season (after the Dec. 13–30 Nutcracker run) and reflecting that experience are Floating Points and Aszure Barton’s Mere Mortals (Jan. 26 – Feb. 1, 2024) and “British Icons” (Feb. 9–15, 2024), which brings together Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth and Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand.
The January program is described as Rojo bringing together “a collective of boundary-pushing artists from around the world and across disciplines ... to recontextualize the classic parable of Pandora’s box for our modern world.”
As the first full-length work SF Ballet has commissioned from a female choreographer, Mere Mortals “will take on the possibilities and consequences brought on by artificial intelligence.” Barton choreographs, and the composer is Sam Shepherd, known as Floating Points, a U.K.-based composer, producer, and DJ. The “immersive sensory experience” is said to combine dance, electronic music, visual design, and technology.
A double bill of Latina chorographers is due April 4–14, 2024. The program features a world-premiere retelling of Carmen from Olivier Award-winning choreographer Arielle Smith and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings, an exploration of painter Frida Kahlo’s life, which was commissioned for English National Ballet, where it was a hit, with Rojo starring as Kahlo.
Three selections from the company’s “next@90” festival will be reprised April 2–13, 2024: Yuri Possokhov’s Violin Concerto, Nicolas Blanc’s Gateway to the Sun, and Danielle Rowe’s Madcap.
Classical and neoclassical works are on the schedule, too, including Swan Lake (Feb. 23 – March 3, 2024); George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (March 12–23, 2024), which was the first victim of the COVID shutdown in 2020; and an encore program, yet to be announced (April 18–24, 2024).
During the 2024 season, San Francisco Ballet will invite international guest artists Julio Bocca, Ed Watson, Sandy Jennings, and Patrick Armand (director of the SF Ballet School) to teach and work with the company.
The company will also launch a new professional development initiative, the SF Ballet ChoreoLab Series, to bring together visiting artists and emerging choreographers. The three female choreographers presenting work in the season — Barton, Lopez Ochoa, and Smith — will lead sessions that offer insight into their creative processes.
2023 season principal series subscriptions can be renewed now. Six program subscription packages, $132 to $2,514, go on sale later this summer. Individual tickets for the 2024 season, starting at $29, will be available in fall 2023. Ticket services, at (415) 865-2000, are available Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m, or visit SF Ballet’s website.