Primary tabs

A New Generation of Dancers and Choreographers Celebrate S.F. Ballet Spring Festival

May 13, 2019

The renowned San Francisco Ballet School has a long tradition of presenting the students in a pair of popular showcase concerts right after the company’s subscription season ends.

For 2019, the event is renamed Spring Festival, which on three evenings of different programs, May 22–24, will feature the works of Choreographic Fellows — student dancers supported as dancemakers. They are Maya Wheeler, MJ Edwards, and Pemberley Olson, whose new works are programmed in addition to dances by Jiri Kylián, Marc Brew, Davide Occhipinti, Karen Gabay, and S.F. Ballet Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson.

Tickets to the concerts, admission to a gala dinner on opening night, and interactive activities help raise funds used by SFB to support talented students each year with $1.5 million’s worth of scholarships and financial aid. To put that figure in context, SF Ballet's Fiscal Year 2019 operating budget is $52.8 million, the SF Ballet School's FY19 budget is $5.2 million, a company spokesperson told SFCV.

S.F. Ballet School Director Patrick Armand says “It is a great privilege and a wonderful opportunity for the SFB School students to perform excerpts from Sarabande and Falling Angels by Jirí Kylián, one of the greatest choreographers of today.”

“Poetry in motion is the way I describe it myself, and I hope audiences will be transported by the raw strength and musicality of this great artist.”

The festival also includes Marc Brew’s quicksilver, which premiered earlier this season during a student matinee performance, danced by S.F. Ballet School trainees.

Brew, whose work with AXIS Dance Company celebrates the movement of both disabled and non-disabled dancers, emphasized the significance of sharing his process of dancemaking with students: “This may be the first time they’ve worked with a disabled choreographer ... I really want them to explore a new range of possibilities of movement and how they can use their bodies and use their facility.”

Of the Choreographic Fellows, Pemberley Olson says her Forever With Me “is based on the life of my grandmother, who was born and raised in the Philippines. She didn’t have the luxuries that many families today have. I find her to be a powerful, strong woman.

“The piece is a pas de deux and I based it on her and her relationship with my grandfather, who passed away three years ago. My grandmother always put other people in front of her, what they wanted and their needs, and how she taught me how to be the woman I am today.”

MJ Edwards, who attributes his career to watching Michael Jackson: “Hearing and seeing him dance and sing on television, I mimicked his every move.” Edwards says his festival piece of Constant Search is “kind of like my diary and how I get through things ... it’s about me at a point in my life when I felt like I needed to refine myself. I was ‘constantly searching’ for something that I lost or never really had at that point in my life.

“The piece might have been inspired by my life and how I was feeling at that time in my life, but they [the audience] don’t necessarily have to feel that. It’s whatever comes to them.”

Maya Wheeler’s Don’t leave me is also autobiographical: “I was going through a breakup and found it therapeutic just to move my body. The actual choreography is less about ending things with someone, and more about the struggle that comes before that, when you’re trying to figure it all out — the internal fight that each of them is having, knowing what’s best for them on a cerebral level, but also knowing what their heart wants to do.”  

The Choreographic Fellowship Program supports selected S.F. Ballet School students through the cycle of creating a new piece, which is workshopped throughout the season with the SFB leadership, faculty, and their peers.

Each evening’s performance, May 22–24, is preceded by free demonstrations at the Howard Street theater entrance of YBCA by S.F. Ballet’s Dance for individuals with Parkinson’s Disease; pre-ballet students; and Level 1 and Community Scholarship boys (an extension of S.F. Ballet’s Dance in Schools and Communities program).

Each evening’s intermission includes interviews with S.F. Ballet School faculty members, the Choreographic Fellows, and additional guest artists. YBCA’s lobby will be fitted with educational pop-ups, offering guests the opportunity to learn more about the school’s history, tutus, pointe shoes, and more.

Highlights of the festival schedule:

Wednesday, May 22 | 6 p.m. — S.F. Ballet School ON STAGE

Student Demonstration (Gabay)
quicksilver (Brew)
Falling Angels (Kylián)
Sarabande (Kylián)
Ballet d’Isoline (Tomasson)

Intermission interview featuring Patrick Armand and Andi Yannone with Tina LeBlanc

Wednesday, May 22 | 7:30 p.m. — Festival Fundraising Dinner at Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco

Thursday, May 23 | 7:30 p.m. — S.F. Ballet School ON STAGE

Student Demonstration (Gabay)
quicksilver (Brew)
Falling Angels (Kylián)
Sarabande (Kylián)
Don’t leave me (Wheeler)
Forever With Me (Olson)
Amor Fati (Occhipinti)
Ballet d’Isoline (Tomasson)
Intermission interview featuring Pascal Molat with Fiona Lummis, Kylián répétiteur

Friday, May 24 | 7:30 p.m. — S.F. Ballet School ON STAGE

Student Demonstration (Gabay)
quicksilver (Brew)
Falling Angels (Kylián)
Sarabande (Kylián)
Constant Search (Edwards)
Concerto Grosso (Tomasson)
Ballet d’Isoline (Tomasson)
Intermission interview featuring Dana Genshaft with student choreographers MJ Edwards, Pemberley Olson, and Maya Wheeler

Janos Gereben appreciates news tips, corrections, and words of encouragement at [email protected].