San Francisco Ballet’s 2020 Opening Night Gala

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The San Francisco Ballet’s Opening Night Gala was a magical evening of brilliant performances plus socializing, dining, and dancing.

The theme of the San Francisco Ballet’s 2020 Opening Night Gala and performance was “Spellbound” — inspired by the magical, fairy tale-like elements of its 87th season program, which includes A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Cinderella.

The gala celebrated Helgi Tomasson’s record-breaking 35th year as artistic director and principal choreographer. The company also welcomed new Executive Director Kelly Tweeddale and principal dancer Vitor Luiz made his final appearance.

The “Spellbound” theme was reflected in City Hall’s glittering décor.


Event Designer J. Riccardo Benavides, together with Event Chair Patricia Roberts and Décor Chair Heather Cassidy Martin, transformed City Hall into an elegant and mysterious place, combining fantasy and fairytale.

“’Spellbound’ can suggest so many different things,” said Benavides, “but what spoke to us all was a magical evening walking through an enchanted forest, staring up under a blanket of stars.” 

City Hall sparkled thanks to netted lights (designed by Frits van Diermen and specially made in The Netherlands) cascading from the ceiling and twinkling like starlight.
Stunning ballet costumes were highlighted in stylized gilded cages.


One of the city’s most fashionable and extravagant nights of the year, the SF Ballet opening gala kicks off the winter social season with a multi-part event: a cocktail party, dinner, the ballet performance, and a lively after-party.

This year’s theme prompted the ladies to don fairy-tale frocks — voluminous Cinderella gowns, sparkling mermaid silhouettes, and dreamy woodland-inspired dresses.

L. to r.: Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson and his wife Marlene Tomasson; Yurie Pascarella and Ballet Board President Carl Pascarella with principal dancer Yuan Yuan Tan (center).
Ballet chairs: Patricia Dale Roberts, Freddi Wilkinson, Event Designer J. Riccardo Benavides, Ballet Auxiliary President Ann Baer, and Heather Cassidy Martin.
ENCORE! members Susan Lin, Daniel Cassell, Jamie Lee Taylor, Maggie Winterfeldt Clark, Jacqueline Barrett, Brittany Witmer, Alana Naber, ENCORE! Chair Gary Williams Jr., Angela Zhang, Elizabeth Schmidt, and Jeannie Gill.
L. to r.: Komal Shah and Dr. Carolyn Chang; Ball Board Vice Chair Dede Wilsey and Bob Hill.
L. to r.: Tanum Davis Bohen; First Republic Bank founder Jim Herbert and Cecilia Herbert.
Paul Pelosi, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, jazz and cabaret singer Paula West, and philanthropist Michael Nguyen-Hormel.
L. to r.: SF Protocol Chief and Ballet Trustee Charlotte Shultz and former Secretary of State George Shultz; Andrew and Coral Chung.
L. to r.: New Yorker Hal J. Witt and Parisian Marina de Brantes, founder of the annual Paris dance festival Les Etés de la Danse, were in town to promote the event; Christine Suppes and New Yorker Denise Littlefield Sobel, who, the day after the gala, hosted an event for participants of the annual Les Etés de la Danse patron trip in July.
L. to r.: Gregory Malin and Elena Zorn; Gary and OJ Shansby.
L. to r.: Mary Beth Shimmon and chef Mourad Lahlou; Lisa Zabelle and Claudia Ross.
L. to r.: Valerie Cooper, who flew in from La Jolla, and Allison Speer; Tanya Powell and Karen Caldwell.
L. to r.: Barbara Brown, Federico Sandino, and Anna Yuan; Ballet Trustee Kelsey Lamond and David Lamond.
Fredric Roberts, Patricia Roberts, Claire Kostic, and Mark Kostic.
L. to r.: Michael Mauze and Ballet Trustee Alison Mauze; Christopher Lawrie, Clara Shayevich, and Jarrod Baumann.
L. to r.: Ivy Getty and Tobias Engel; Heide Betz and Mark Calvano.
L. to r.: Phil Pemberton, Deepa Pakianathan, and David Stull; Carolyne Zinko and Jorge Maumer.
Joe Tobin, interior designer Suzanne Tucker, and Michael Nguyen-Hormel.
L. to r.: Nicole Lacob, Ayesha Thapar, Julia Milner, and Shannon Getty; Janet Reilly.
L. to r.: Mark Rhoades, Navid Armstrong, and Chip Zecher; Jieyin Wu, Ying Fu, and Chaomei Chen.
L. to r.: Tom and Kate Klein; Ballet Trustee Beth Grossman, Ballet Board Treasurer Nancy Kukacka, and Scotty Young.
L. to r.: Barbara Ravizza and Ballet Trustee John Osterweis; Ballet Board Vice Chair Jim Marver and Shirin Kaufman.
L. to r.: Coral Chung, Ballet Trustee Richard Barker, and Wendy Wen; Patti Rock and John Fetzer.
L. to r.: Douglas and Mariana Wall; Judy and Rich Guggenhime.
Greg Matner, Susan Marsch, Rocelyn Chen, Paula Elmore, Stewart Brady, Patrice Lovado, and Isaac Hall.
L. to r.: Wendy Armstrong, Pam Preston, and Alston Calabrese; Debra Bernard, Ballet Executive Director Kelly Tweeddale, Sunnie Evers, and Ballet Trustee Tom Horn.


More than 3,000 guests attended the opening night performance. The program of eight separate pieces included three world premieres by choreographers Val Caniparoli, Yuri Possokhov, and Myles Thatcher, along with the SF Ballet premiere of David Dawson’s Swan Lake pas de deux.

L. to r.: Principal dancers Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz in the pas de deux from Possokhov’s Bells; Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco in the pas de deux from Petipa’s Le Corsaire.
Caniparoli’s Foreshadow.
Sasha De Sola and Benjamin Freemantle in Thatcher’s 05:49.
Mathilde Froustey and Joseph Walsh in the balcony pas de deux from Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet.
Wona Park and Wei Wang in Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique.
Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno in the white swan pas de deux from Dawson’s Swan Lake.
The “Men’s Regiment” from Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes.


Backstage, the dancers greeted fans, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime supporter of the arts who was in from Washington.

The after-party celebration, with live music by Pop Rocks and students from SF Conservatory of Music, tunes by DJ Chris Clouse, a photo booth by MirMir Photo, and an open bar and late-night bites by McCalls Catering, continued until 1 a.m.

Kudos to this year’s chairs for another fabulous evening: Gala Chair Patricia Dale Roberts, Dinner Chair Freddi Wilkinson, Décor Chair Heather Cassady Martin, and ENCORE! (for the younger set) Chair Gary S. Williams, Jr.

Paul Pelosi, Nancy Pelosi, and principal dancer Yuan Yuan Tan.
L. to r.: Jennifer and Steven Walske; Jack Calhoun and Kathy Huber.
L. to r.: Lynn Callander and Dr. Peter Callander of the CA Pacific Medical Center; Dancers Sasha De Sola and Mathilde Froustey.
L. to r.: Dancers Lucas Erni and Tyla Steinbach; Newlyweds Mathilde Froustey, principal dancer, and Mourad Lahlou, the Moroccan-born chef of SF Michelin-starred restaurant Mourad.
L. to r.: Dancers Madison Keesler and Benjamin Freemantle added to the mood with their costumes; Dancers Carmela Mayo, Yuan Yuan Tan, and Swane Messaoudi.

Photography by Drew Altizer.

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