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SF Ballet’s Off-Season Is Busy With Leaps and Bounds

July 2, 2019

Even during the summer offseason, San Francisco Ballet is a (dancing) beehive of activity. After the end of the subscription season, the Ballet School had its Spring Festival and the company took off for a 10-day run in London’s Sadler’s Wells, to great critical acclaim.

Back home, the Ballet announced promotions and the company roster for the 2020 season. Dancers are now preparing for performances at Sun Valley, July 5 and 7, and in Stern Grove on July 28. And then comes the month-long Nutcracker run and the 2020 subscription season.

The Ballet has been awarded a $40,000 Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, to support new works to be presented during the 2020 Repertory Season. And, the SFB Board of Trustees have new co-chairs as of July 1.

In London, Stuart Sweeney’s extensive review in hailed the “great treat having San Francisco Ballet back in London with no less than twelve commissioned works, all from the past decade.”

Sweeney wrote that David Dawson’s Anima Animus “is a kinetic work with costumes in black and white mirror imaged for the two genders. The women have a romp with animus, roaring onto the stage throughout with arms stretched upwards and dominating the virtuoso lifts and spins.”

In Ratmansky’s Shostakovich Trilogy, the review singled out “Wei Wang is electrifying as a maverick figure, jumping and spinning.” In Liam Scarlett’s Hummingbird, Sweeney’s favorite, he called Yuan Yuan Tan “a technical and expressive marvel.”

Lyndsey Winship’s review in The Guardian called the SFB dancers “brilliant,” and had “shout-outs for Sasha De Sola, who transformed from the prim perfection of a pageant queen in Bespoke to earnest, lyrical dancer of Hummingbird in the time it took to change costumes; to Angelo Greco, who landed a double tour with such flawless style it made me laugh out loud; and the infectiously joyful jumping of Wei Wang.”

The announcement of promotions and the company roster for 2020 had the following highlights:

Soloists WanTing Zhao, Benjamin Freemantle, and Esteban Hernandez have been promoted to principal dancer, and corps de ballet members Madison Keesler and Cavan Conley have been promoted to soloist.

SF Ballet apprentices Leili Rackow, Estéban Cuadrado, Max Föllmer, Joshua Jack Price, and Jacob Seltzer have been promoted to the corps de ballet, following Jasmine Jimison’s earlier promotion to the corps, which was announced in March.

Zhao told SFCV: “I’m humbled to have been promoted and dance alongside the artists who have inspired me from the beginning, when I joined the company in 2011. I look forward to challenging myself, tackling new choreography, and broadening my repertoire in the upcoming season.”

Some of the new roles for Zhao could include Titania in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Cinderella in Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella, and Juliet in Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet. (Zhao danced Rosaline in the Tomasson R&J  in the inaugural Lincoln Center at the Movies: Great American Dance film).

Zhao is originally from Anshan, China, and she trained at Beijing Dance Academy, the Rock School for Dance Education, and SF Ballet School before joining the company as a member of the corps de ballet in 2011. She was promoted to soloist in 2016, and her promotion to principal dancer came shortly after her debut performance, in April, as the Mermaid in John Neumeier’s The Little Mermaid.

Born in British Columbia, the new principal dancer Benjamin Freemantle was a trainee at SF Ballet School before being named an apprentice in 2014 and a member of the corps de ballet in 2015. In the 2019 season, Freemantle reprised his principal role in Trey McIntyre’s Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem, and performed featured roles in Don Quixote (Toreador), The Sleeping Beauty (Cavalier in Acts I & III), and Yuri Possokhov’s ... two united in a single soul ...

Esteban Hernandez trained at the Rock School for Dance Education and the Royal Ballet School before joining SF Ballet as a member of the corps de ballet in 2013; he was promoted to soloist in 2017. A native of Guadalajara, Mexico, Hernandez danced memorable roles in the 2019 season, including the principal solo in the world premiere of Liam Scarlett’s Die Toteninsel, Bluebird in The Sleeping Beauty, and other principal roles.

Misa Kuranaga, who joined SF Ballet as an apprentice in 2001 before transitioning to Boston Ballet, returns to the company as a principal dancer in the 2020 season. A native of Japan, Kuranaga began her training at Jinushi Kaoru Ballet School and School of American Ballet before she was offered a corps de ballet position at Boston Ballet in 2003.

She was promoted to soloist in 2007, and principal dancer in 2009. Kuranaga is the recipient of numerous awards and honors and in 2017 was nominated for a Benois de la Dance award for her portrayal of Tatiana in John Cranko’s Onegin and Medora in Ivan Liska’s Le Corsaire.

New to SF Ballet are Dutch National Ballet principal Sasha Mukhamedov, appointed as soloist in San Francisco, and Bianca Teixeira, of São Paulo, Brazil, trained at the Munich Bavarian State Ballet Junior Company, who joins the corps de ballet.

The Ballet’s Board of Trustees has elected Sunnie Evers and Robert G. Shaw as the organization’s co-chairs of the board, effective July 1.

Evers, an art historian specializing in Italian Renaissance art, has a doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley. A member of SF Ballet Board of Trustees since 1990, Evers was Chair of the development committee from 2003­–2007 and chair of the school committee from 2012–2019.

Shaw is the managing director in the banking, capital markets and advisory group at Citi, and has been on the SF Ballet Board of Trustees since 2016, co-chairing the finance committee.

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