While Nutcrackers across America are debuting, and leading principals take the stage as the Sugar Plum Fairy, dozens of young hopeful students showcased their budding talent at the San Francisco Ballet School’s Midterm Showcase. San Francisco Ballet School is arguably one, if not the best, classical ballet school in the United States. With their dazzling alumni that fill the ranks of numerous companies across the world, this past Wednesday (December 4), the school once again showcased their power, presence, and dedication to their students.
Held on level four of the San Francisco Ballet Building, eager parents, proud teachers and younger students huddled together to watch the show. You are going to have to excuse this review as they didn’t provide programs or names, and I didn’t want to type on my phone while Patrick was giving his talk prior to the show. So, I am going to try to do it justice, but I want to preface something before I go into the dancing:
My partner, Latino, and I Asian, were probably two of maybe 9 people of color in the room. It was quite sad, and while he has attended numerous performances with me, he was shocked that everyone was so white. I explained to him that ballet is trying to change, and those who are ethnic are probably foreigners so their parents couldn’t come. Meanwhile, the white privilege in the room was at an all-time high and the snarky comments from parents about the politics of the school and ongoings were at an all-time high. He who doesn’t know anything about ballet couldn’t help himself but laughing, saying that it is worse than watching Dance Moms. But let’s not distract from why we flew in… to watch the next generation of hopeful dancers take flight.
The evening opened with a trainee piece featuring seven of the trainees. It was sort of a comedy tutu ballet. It involved a romantic pas de deux, a pas de trois of boys being boys with a girl who was starving for attention, and a very bravura pas de deux that included Prix Candidate Yu Wakizuka who served some impressive jumps, turns and everything bravura. He definitely was the most entertaining to watch, technically. Meanwhile, from the pas de trois, Gregory Myles was beyond charming. And from the pas de deux, the super tall Anicet Marandel, a Paris Opera Ballet School graduate was tall and nice looking, while the girl he partnered was clean. Overall, the theme was cheesy, and was set to a very Character/Hungarian sounding piece of music. I probably should know the music piece, but I don’t.
The next piece was the Grand Pas De Deux (Pas de Dix) from the third act of Raymonda for the Level 8 students. This piece was clean and refined, the pas de deux skills shown by these students were refined and wonderful. Unfortunately, the lead couple really didn’t do anything for me or my partner. He leaned over and asked, “How did they pick her for the lead?” And truthfully, I didn’t know because the standout of that piece was Juliana Bellissimo, I even hunted her down to find her name. This wonderful dancer, formerly of the Paris Opera Ballet School, stepped out like a million dollars. Her long and scoopy legs had me at her tendu, her face and elegance were breathtaking. In this piece, there was a super tall Filipino boy, like SUUPER tall with amazing feet who was wonderful as well.
The next piece was level 7 girls, in La Bayadere’s ACT II Waltz from Kingdom of the Shades. This piece was blossoming in talent and refinement and had numerously beautiful dancers to watch. It shows how much talent SFBS is cultivating. Then the boys from Level 7 (Giselle Peasant Pas De Deux Variation) and 8 (Raymonda Variation) did their pieces, which were super strong and impressive because watching that many young men dancing at that level were impressive. Their skills were great, and they are definitely refining their artistry and technique. It was quite impressive. Plus it was nice to see A Ballet Education/The Ballet Clinic’s Harrison Pickering dancing. He has improved so much! Harold Mendez, another Lausanne finalist excelled. The girls also did a variation from shades (third shade). Whoever did the staging for these variations deserves a huge shoutout because they were so well done and broken up. The fact that they turned a variation in a corps piece and made it look like an actual piece was impressive. Level 7 girls had a wonderful go about their Christmas Spectacular en pointe as well showcasing numerous Lausanne finalists including Basia Rhoden.
From Level 7 and 8 female pieces, the big standouts were two Asian females. The first is level 7’s Matoi Kawamoto, if the name sounds familiar, she was a part of the top 12 Pre-Comp NYC Finals from 2016. If you don’t remember that year, the top 12 was filled with Madison Penney, Kaylee Quinn, Isabella Kulmer, Avery Gay, Mao Yakushiji, and Reina Stamm. She was the shortest girl in the level but was so impressive. The second girl who is going to be a superstar in ballet was Lausanne finalist JiHyun Choi from Korea. With technique out the wazoo and an alien creature body, she was breathtakingly brilliant. Her body lines reminded me of YuanYuan while Miss Choi’s artistry and depth reminded me of Misa Kuranaga.
I will say, I was happy to see a variety of body types and a variety of ethnicities in level 7 and 8. All of the girls were wonderful and strong, all are progressing and working hard. Some of the girls could be stretched, and they all could turn out in a la seconde more, but other than that. There wasn’t really much to complain about.
The evening concluded with the trainees performing a piece created for them by Dana Geneshaft. This piece was eloquently done and provided a large array of human emotions. The piece included six trainees. Three girls and three boys. Greg from the first piece was a repeat standout and very charming in this piece as well. Alexis Martinez also excelled in his main role. Of the three females, Olivia Brothers stood out as charming and authentic. Her dancing set her apart from the other two female soloists. Again, sorry with the names, or maybe better not to mention names, but the first female soloist in blue was rather boring and her performance fell flat. The purple female soloist was this wonderfully proportioned girl of color, but she lacked any interest, and also lacked turnout. My partner didn’t care about the turnout but found her to be a little flat as well. Meanwhile, Olivia, the soloist in Burgundy really excelled in both technique and artistry.
As the evening concluded I could only ask myself some strange questions. With the amount of talent in the school, the company is over the next few years is going to drastically change and shift with these wonderfully powerful students on the up and coming. But they all can’t join the company, so that is scary, and I started to wonder, “Where will all these dancers go? Some of these girls who are 16 and 17 look company ready… how are they not trainees? How were the blue girl soloist and the pas de trois girl from the first piece trainees compared to these girls? Some of the level 7 and 8 boys were technically out-dancing the boys from the trainee program, so how does that work? It made me just wonder what the politics of the school were, and how it functioned… Like any school, there is always going to be drama… but how does one decide the fate and futures of such talented dancers.”
This led me to be so inspired the rest of the night: Such wonderful young dancers being nurtured by such a great faculty, minus one. And how lucky they are to have been chosen to be at such an elite institution.
Check out SFB’s Nutcracker where many of these students will be dancing with the company in the corps!
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