I’m in Santa Barbara taking a much-needed mini-vacation with my husband, walking along the cliffs above the beaches, and checking out from email and this website and professional life in general until Monday. But I am in the Chronicle today with a story about retired San Francisco Ballet principal Joanna Berman returning to the stage for ODC/Dance’s upcoming home season:
“A love story is playing out in a first-floor studio of the ODC Dance Commons, where two dancers push and pull and fretfully embrace as the strains of Mozart’s clarinet concerto waft through the room. The man walks toward the studio mirror and lies on his back, bent legs in the air; the woman climbs atop them and curls up like a cat. Then she stands again and, never taking her eyes off the man’s, takes slow, tender, regretful steps away.
“That was perfect at the end,” ODC/Dance Artistic Director Brenda Way says, clasping her hands with pleasure. “But don’t walk back like this.” She bows her legs like a duck and waddles, an unmistakable parody of the ballet dancer’s customary turnout.
“Really?” Joanna Berman says teasingly. “I was going to ask if I could finish like this.” She rises high on her toes, arms forming a halo around her face, and takes tiny nibbling steps, bourreeing like a perfect toy dancer in a jewelry box.
It’s an image many dance fans would pay dearly to see: Berman, one of the most beloved ballerinas in San Francisco Ballet history, looking like “The Sleeping Beauty’s” Aurora reawakened by a kiss. Or perhaps the role her gently tilted torso and enormous, kind eyes most vividly evoke at this moment is Giselle, which is fitting. She danced “Giselle” for the final performance of her 18-year career at the Ballet, gliding like a benevolent spirit across the Opera House stage in 2002.
She was 36 then — young to retire, even by ballet’s unmerciful standards. But she wanted to have a family with her husband, violinist Rene Mandel. “I just knew the days of full-length ballets and pointe shoes and all that pressure were over,” she says after rehearsal, her soft voice a breathy whisper. “I was a little fatigued and didn’t want to deal with it anymore.”
But she never said she wouldn’t dance again. And so here she is four years and twin sons later, having traded a tutu for jazz shoes, dancing the central duet in Brenda Way’s “Part of a Longer Story” for ODC/Dance’s 35th anniversary season. ”
Too bad the Chronicle photo department seems to have a hard time ID’ing their photos these days. The dancer in this shot, which ran with the story, appears to be Tina LeBlanc. Thanks to David Hicks, Diablo Ballet marketing manager and longtime Joanna Berman watcher, who gave me the heads-up even before I knew the story had run.
See you back in San Francisco.