I wrote about artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s transformation of the San Francisco Ballet for today’s New York Times:
” “SAN FRANCISCO BALLET is the best ballet company in North America,? Mark Morris, the choreographer, declared last year in a video presentation celebrating Helgi Tomasson?s 20th season as the troupe?s artistic director.
Mr. Tomasson himself would never make such a claim. A mild-mannered native of Iceland, he seemed dispassionate as he sat in his office here one afternoon in May, looking out on the stately War Memorial Opera House.
?It?s been a great season this year,? he said, as if remarking on the weather. But asked to think back to the start of his tenure, he furrowed his brow. ?I just knew that I wanted this company to be better,? he said. ?A lot better.?
Not even Mr. Tomasson could have imagined what better might mean when he took over this country?s oldest professional ballet company in 1985. In recent seasons the San Francisco troupe has won glowing appraisals for its international roster of star dancers and choreographers at tour stops from Los Angeles to London. Even balletomanes who might differ with Mr. Morris?s enthusiasm expect to see a major company on Tuesday, when the San Francisco Ballet opens a run at the New York State Theater as part of the Lincoln Center Festival.
Over its 73-year history the company has enjoyed bursts of recognition as a sunny, admirable regional company and suffered pans for the slick spectacles choreographed by its former co-director, Michael Smuin. In 1978 The New York Times greeted an East Coast appearance, then rare, with the headline ?San Francisco Ballet Conquers New York.? Yet when Mr. Tomasson, still green, prepared to unveil a full-evening ?Swan Lake? for the company a decade later, many fretted that the dancers might not be up to the challenge.
?I rolled up my sleeves and went to work,? he said of his overhaul, which included instituting soloist and principal ranks in the previously unranked company, teaching every day and insisting that women wear toe shoes in class. ?There was talent here. But most of all I felt there was such great support from the board, from the community. When I was hired, I was asked to take this company to another level, and that?s what I planned to do.? ”
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