The Opening Night Gala of the San Francisco Ballettraditionally kicks off the winter social season. Founded in 1933, it is America’s oldest professional ballet company. In a nod to its nine-decade history, the theme of the evening was next@90…the future starts now.
The SF Ballet boasts a long and rich tradition of artistic “firsts”—among them the American debut performances of Swan Lake, Nutcracker, and Coppélia.
A NEW ERA BEGINS
A new era for the Company has begun. After a remarkable 37-year run, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson passed the baton to Tamara Rojo, a world-renowned Spanish ballerina, at the end of 2022.
Rojo, born in Spain and raised in Canada, joined London’s Royal Ballet as a principal dancer in 2000. In 2012, she moved to the English National Ballet company as a lead dancer and artistic director. “I’ve long admired SF Ballet as one of the most creative companies in North America,” she said.
The much-admired Tomasson developed the SF Ballet into a celebrated troupe second in size only to the New York City Ballet. Read his story in my column from last year here.
THE MAIN EVENTS AT THE BALLET GALA
Long-time Ballet Gala attendees praised this year’s new format. Pre-performance, guests enjoyed the “Champagne Stroll” in the Opera House foyer, where caviar, drinks, and hors d’oeuvres were offered.
After the one-night-only gala ballet performance, which highlighted the versatility of the Company, a sit-down dinner in City Hall, followed by dancing and more bites and drinks. The night was a dazzling affair!
ENCORE! THE YOUNG PATRONS CIRCLE
Encore! is for the younger set. Their evening included the Sparkling Stroll, performance seating in Dress Circle, a post-performance reception at City Hall, and the after-party dance in North Light Court.
SEEN IN THE CROWD
Balletomanes were seated by 6:30 p.m., ready for the evening performance. After a welcome from the Ballet’s board of trustees, they were treated to ten vignette performances that sampled the coming season and festival.
By tradition, the audience stands to sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” I recall last year’s performance was dedicated to the Ukrainian people, and a few of the corps are Ukranian.
The Gala served as the kickoff for the next@90 festival. Newly appointed Artistic Director Tamara Rojo collaborated with her predecessor, Helgi Tomasson, to develop the Gala program. The three-week festival featured world premieres by nine international choreographers who were commissioned to create new work for this world-class troupe.
Ballet fans enjoyed an enthralling 90-minute performance of ten excerpts from a mix of classic pieces and pieces from next@90. Showcasing the corps’ versatility and various styles, the new works were choreographed by Robert Garland, Helgi Tomasson, Yuri Possokhov, Danielle Rowe, Val Caniparoli, William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon, Nicolas Blanc, and Yuka Oishi.
FINAL CURTAIN CALL
St.Germain and Rojo took the stage at the final curtain call to thank the crowd and the dancers. “The future of ballet starts now, here, at San Francisco Ballet. We know that ballet has the power to transform our culture and change the world for the better,” Rojo proclaimed.
Following the spectacular performance, the police directed traffic to allow nearly 800 guests to cross Van Ness Avenue and enter a transformed City Hall, where a delicious meal awaited.
Though the city had record rainfall and flooding a few weeks earlier, tonight’s Gala guests were lucky: the sky was clear.
Meredith Braun, Tara Carmichael, Andrew Hineck, Keith Wetmore, and Lori Chipps were welcomed to City Hall by strolling “dancers” in reflective tutus and masks.
City Hall was transformed with a sophisticated black and white theme under the direction of Event Designer J. Riccardo Benavides, working in collaboration with Gala Chair Betsy Linder, Décor Chair Courtney Dallaire, and Dinner Chair Michelle Curtis.
MATCHING THE BLACK AND WHITE DÉCOR
Patrons lined up to have their photos taken on the black and white carpeted steps and with the strolling “dancers” in glittering costumes and masks.
Amid all the socializing, attendees feasted on dinner from McCalls Catering & Events. The three-course meal of prawn salad, grilled beef, and a decadent poached pear with vanilla ice cream and chocolate. Of course, the meal was paired with California wines, from Rodney Strong.
THE DANCE CROWD
The post-dinner celebration featured live bands, a DJ, a silent disco, an open bar, and late-night bites. The last drinks call was at 11:30 p.m.—before the Cinderella hour arrived! Betsy Linder ditched her bejeweled heels for rhinestone “sneakers” for dancing.