Tours en l'air organizes ballet-themed escorted holidays to see the best companies perform great ballets in beautiful places. You can join a trip from anywhere. A highly knowledgeable balletomane who has enjoyed 100s of performances in over 20 cities around the world,I speak English, French, and German, and am a Travel Industry Council of Ontario certified Travel Counsellor. I also teach ballet appreciation courses.
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Monday, April 15, 2013

Sun and Sissonnes in San Francisco

Sweat flew. Breath came in gasps.  Muscles flexed and bulged.
The dancers of Smuin Ballet were giving their all in a rehearsal of Helen Pickett's Petal at their San Francisco studios, in preparation for their upcoming Spring season in the Bay Area. 
We could have reached out and touched them.
But we didn't.
The Tours en l'air group had been given the great privilege of witnessing at the closest quarters imaginable the effort that goes into a great ballet performance. Our thanks to Smuin's Artistic Director Celia Fushille for the invitation and for welcoming us so graciously. Here's a clip of the piece (performed by Atlanta Ballet, music by Philip Glass):

Unfortunately we didn't get to see Smuin in performance (next year?), but we did see San Francisco Ballet in two mixed programs at the imposing War Memorial Opera House.

The Opera House lobby

The diversity of the programs, which highlighted the company's renowned versatility, ranged from the very classical Raymonda Act III, with Canadian SFB Principal Frances Chung starring in the lead role, through the very dramatic Francesca da Rimini by Yuri Possokhov

and the beautiful Symphonic Dances  by Edwaard Liang.

The company is very strong, especially in neo-classical pieces.
We were thrilled when Frances Chung dropped by to say hello as we were having dinner at the Opera House Cafe before the show.

We enjoyed  a backstage tour at the War Memorial Opera House, given by SFB's Technical Director Christopher Dennis and Chad Owens.

It gave us the opportunity to see up close the fabric floorcloth on which the dancers must perform in Rudolf Nureyev's Raymonda Act III (as if there weren't already enough hazards facing dancers!). It's always eye-opening to see the amount of technical work that goes into putting a ballet performance on stage.

We also got a sneak peek at the sets for Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella, which opens next month, lying in wait at the back of the huge stage space. Also tucked away behind the stage we spied a couple of ballet barres installed over the radiators. Chad explained that these are put there only during the ballet season: "Dancers are like cats, you know, they like to keep warm, and they love stretching over the radiators!". We then proceeded to the orchestra pit, passing underneath the stage (where I caught sight of this witty sign):

Our first evening saw us at the palatial "Green Room" of the Veterans Building of the War Memorial complex for an interview with Val Caniparoli about his ballet Ibsen's House.

Although SFB is currently experiencing some technical difficulties with their podcasts, you will eventually be able to hear this interview online here.

The Green Room in the Veterans Building  

 Our timing was fortuitous, as this was the last event to be held in the Green Room (which is called that for its beautiful celadon green colour, not because it is the "green room" for the theatre) before the Veterans Building closes for a "seismic upgrade".

Girl with a Pearl Earring

We took a little time off from ballet for a private guided tour of the "Girl with a Pearl Earring" exhibition of 17th-century Dutch art at the de Young Museum in beautiful Golden Gate Park, before the museum opened to the public. It is quite a feeling to be one of a group of only 8 people, alone with Rembrandt, Vermeer, Ruisdael, and other great artists, instead of having to battle the crowds to get a look at the paintings, and the museum's docent really enriched our understanding of the era, the artists, and their masterworks.

Afterwards, many of us took advantage of the spectacular sunny weather, with which we were favoured for all four days, to visit the park and in particular the exquisite Japanese garden.

We were very fortunate to be staying at the lovely Inn at the Opera, right next door to the San Francisco Ballet and Ballet School building:

and approximately 90 seconds walk to the door of the Opera House. This magnificent view of San Francisco's spectacular City Hall met us every time we left the hotel:

Interior of City Hall

San Francisco is a beautiful city and a great ballet destination. I'm already looking at a return Tours en l'air trip to San Francisco in early May 2014, when SFB will be performing two fantastic mixed programs:
1) World premiere by Liam Scarlett, The Fifth Season by Helgi Tomasson, and Serge Lifar's spectacular classical showcase Suite en Blanc
2) Balanchine's Agon and Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet and Robbins' energizing Glass Pieces.
Hopefully we may catch Smuin Ballet in season too.
If you think you might like a ballet trip to San Francisco, please get in touch so as to keep updated about the program.

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