San Francisco Ballet’s Student Midterm Showcase 2019

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. 

Instagram @SFBALLETSCHOOL: San Francisco Ballet School Trainees // ©️ Chris Hardy

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.

View this post on Instagram

You know what day it is…. #worldballetday

A post shared by Juliana 🌻 (@juliana_bellissimo) on

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!

If you would like A Ballet Education to review your show, shoot us an e-mail or a press release here.


San Francisco Ballet’s The Little Mermaid

San Francisco Ballet’s

The Little Mermaid

APRIL 19, 2019
Tamara Sparkles

Watching Yuan Yuan Tan perform “The Little Mermaid” is something that I will remember for a long time. She exudes the vibrant mystique that you want to believe in when it comes to the dark sorted tale of unrequited love that is Hans Christian Andersen’s original fable.

Ms. Tan’s port de bras simply surpass any visual expectation. They are surreal. She is lifted and tossed by her men of the ocean, and you honestly believe that she IS the ethereal underwater creature that she is portraying. With a flawless, undulating wave and a supple back, she truly transforms into the naive, beautiful mermaid we are all sympathizing with as she visits the Sea Witch to exchange her tail, and her voice for a love that can never exist. There are moments where Ms. Tan makes the romantic tragedy so real you can feel it in your bones; this is both through the beautiful choreography of John Neumeier and her stellar exploration of this character. Yuan Yuan Tan is unmatched in this ballet. It truly belongs to her.

Aaron Robinson was perfectly playful to the beautiful Mermaid with his gorgeous romantic movement and festive innocent flirtations. His lines and communications of the love of both the Princess (the stunning Sasha DeSola) and The Little Mermaid were clear and thoughtful. Also, his jumps are solidly clean and delicious.

Sasha DeSola is the consummate Princess. She is effortless. Her technique is clear and precise, and her sense of royalty seems inherent. When she appears on deck in her hot pink jumpsuit, so flirtatious, so young and in love…She is everything. You are watching only her. It is easy to feel sympathy for the Little Mermaid up against such a formidable romantic rival.

My favorite moments of John Neumeier’s beautifully epic ballet lie with the Poet (Ulrik Birkkjaer) and the Sea Witch (Wei Wang). The Poet, Ulrik Birkkjaer leads us through this story with beauty and grace dancing seamlessly under the water, on the ship, and in the heavens. He knows what is happening, what is about to happen and our heart breaks with his as the story unfolds. Ulrik is strong and filled with depth. He blends in as the Poet and yet cannot be ignored when on stage. He is a storyteller.
Wei Wang, as the Sea Witch is incredible. You want to see him as the villain, but it’s nearly impossible because his dancing is so extraordinary. He embodies the regal eel-like creature that strikes a deal with The Little Mermaid that eventually turns so dark.

There is a moment at the end, where the Little Mermaid and The Poet are lifted into the night sky on a platform of stars, it is worthy of all of our tears for all of our loves that were never returned. Congratulations to everyone at San Francisco Ballet on a beautiful run of this majestic ballet.

The Little Mermaid: Yuan Yuan Tan
Prince / Edvard: Aaron Robison
Poet / Hans Christian Andersen: Ulrik Birkkjaer
Princess / Henriette: Sasha De Sola
Sea Witch: Wei Wang
Photos courtesy of San Francisco Ballet, ©Erik Tomasson

Tamara Sparkles

Contributor | San Francisco

Tamara is a California native with a passion and understanding for dance education that stems from 30 years of teaching experience. She is available for private coaching in the Bay the area.

Ballet Review: Ballet West’s Swan Lake

By Melanie Durham

Usually seeing a superb rendition of Swan Lake to Tchaikovsky’s beloved score is hard to find and ridiculously long, but Ballet West in Utah did it in three hours with grace and beauty. Overall it was a grand performance and celebrated this monumental classic.

Ballet West Swan Lake Beckanne

Included in this memorable piece was the Prologue in the chamber of Princess Odette, Acts I & II, Act III and Act IV. And thank goodness because the two intermissions definitely added time that made for a long evening. Fortunately, we still got that gorgeous, melodic music from the amazing orchestra (Ballet West Orchestra) that carried us into a land far away. The backgrounds were setting the scenes with daring detail, the costumes were delicate and the dancers performed like they were genuinely happy to be onstage.

Ballet West Melanie Durham

The choreography was reflective of each Act it was portraying, although the walkways that our dear Prince Siegfried (Chase O’Connell) was given seemed rather repetitive and less textured compared to the other characters. For example, the choreographic patterns of many duos and trios made a difference in how the characters were received by the audience. When the Prince would walk to a place then gesture, the purpose in his walk wasn’t as commanding as one would think it should be coming from royalty. The comic relief that The Queen provided was welcome and needed, but the energy from Baron von Rothbart was lacking to portray actual evil or coldness.

The divine roles of Odette/Odile (Beckanne Sisk) in this evening performance were spot on. My eyes were immediately drawn to her feet as they presented themselves with dignity and lightness. My heart sank for her as her balance wasn’t quite there for a penche while trying to hold the Prince’s crossbow, however, once she found her moment, it was beautiful; a true mark of a professional. The character change from white swan to black swan was thrilling to wait for. The eye connection to the audience and smirk as Odile was exactly what we needed.

Applause to all of the younger performers in the cast. What professional faces and acting they portrayed in each moment they had. The technical ability and energy from them brought a rekindling of childhood performances, but to perform on such a beautiful stage such as the Capital Theatre, is quite a sight. The details were not forgotten with them in costuming or in timing of steps. It’s always a treat to watch these budding performers and wonder who the next demi-soloist or principle artist could be in the years to come.

I appreciated the true athleticism of the males in this rendition of Swan Lake, but was disappointed in the lack of precision when it came to epaulement and head angles. The crispness of the down beat compared to the motion during Act I left more to be desired when the men took the stage. Height was achieved and space was commanded fantastically, yet the sharpness of the upper body, including arm lines, could’ve been cleaner. This doesn’t mean the women were supreme in the same, but the softness they portrayed was more of unified focus in comparison. To be frank, the arms need to be so swan-like and so relaxed in Act II and oh so uniformed. The angles and break in some wrists were perfectly elegant in shape, while some forgot to keep their upper arm away from their head ever so slightly more to mimic the shape of the person ahead of them. The beautiful white costumes made it pleasant to watch, but my eye couldn’t help but squint at those lost wrists.

Above all, this Swan Lake satisfied my need to watch Ballet West in action as my local ballet company. It’s a recognized score and costuming, which is sure to appeal to all ages. It’s always an honor to watch a cast of fine dancers, from tiny through veteran, who graciously welcome us into this world of ballet, to ultimately leave us to exit with happiness in our hearts.

A Night at the Ballet….


Saturday, February 20th at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, Los Angeles Ballet world premiered Coleen Neary’s and Thordal Christensen’s Don Quixote. While the entire world seems to be doing Don Q this month, Los Angeles Ballet tackled this three-act ballet for their 10th season. The audience was filled, and there were very few seats left open in the house. Not that it was important but wearing Dolce never hurt anyone either. Which makes up for the 91 freeway being closed and because of traffic it took almost 3 hours to get there… But anyways…. Let us talk about a night at the ballet.

don q

Don Quixote is no easy ballet to take on; especially for a smaller company like Los Angeles Ballet. Usually, Don Q require a ridiculously large cast…. Which brings me to my first comment of the evening… Some of the corps de ballet dancers looked overworked, but with that being said the corps de ballet held the ballet together. The amount of dancing they had to do was insane. Of the corps de ballet members, Jasmine Perry looked spectacular. She definitely has grown up a lot since graduating from SAB two years ago. Other than that corps member who did show a lot of promise last season is no longer with Los Angeles Ballet… (i.e.,: Chloe Sherman left for Silicon Valley Ballet, who premiered tonight in Diane and Acteon PDD. ) The corps felt very young, mature, but young.

Of the soloists, I was disappointed not to see Alexander Castillo…. more to come on this… Bianca Bulle was paired with Kate Highstrete as Kitri’s friends in ACT 1. The two were a stellar couple and seasoned LA BALLET members. Bianca then took on Queen of the Dryads in ACT 2. Gorgeous technique and musicality with flares of Balanchine port de bras here and there. Kate Highstrete took on the bridesmaid variation in ACT 3 with gorgeous jumps. Her ferociously long legs ate up the stage. Even with a small slip, she kept her cool and took all of her roles on ferociously. She also danced a principal dryad in ACT 2.

Principal Allyssa Bross was cast as Mercedes…. ehh nothing too exciting to report here or there. Did not dig her side ponytail…. I get they were trying to make her vampy… but it did not work. It just looked like some little girl hair style for ballet class. Her technique was flawless though, and she moved through the steps with ease. Definitely could up the sexy factor.

Dustin True was a great Gypsy solo man in the windmill scene. He brought flamboyancy and vigor to the role. Usually, this is the time I fall asleep in Don Q, but he was quite entertaining. Unfortunately principal dancer Zheng Hua Li was cast as the character role of Gamache so he didn’t dance the entire ballet…

Basilio was played by Kenta Shimizu who is now in his seventh season… He literally can do no wrong. All the bravura that is needed to do Basilio backed with strong technique and a calm approach to the role. But hands down the evening goes to Miss Julia Cinquemani… First I just want to say, normally I haven’t been a fan of her dancing, but it seems that Kitri/Dulcinea is the role she was born for and has created a new artistic maturity that is impossible to take your eyes off of. Her entrances in the first act were great, and the castanet variation was firey… The ACT 3 variation was clean and easy… But what was most impressive was her variation as Dulcinea was flawless…. It was so breathtaking. Every roll down was dream-like and suspended. It is everything that this variation should be. Her lines are still ridiculously high, but more refined now. Her attack is there, but now it is controlled. Her acting skills have improved and in ACT 3, her acting skills stole the show. It was funny and charming, sincere and realistic. Something that ballet should be.

Now time for the bad….. There were a lot of casting choices that I have no freaking clue why they were made…. Okay yes, I do. The artistic directors’ son, corps member Erik Thordal-Christensen was cast in Espada… It was sloppy, unrefined, immature and did I mention sloppy. The rest of the corps technique was flawless, turned out, stretched… and then there was him. This tall, elongated, uncontrolled blonde mess is running around the stage… I don’t know if because he is the son of the directors extra choreography was made around him but he danced probably just as much as Basilio…. And it wasn’t good. His costuming was better than Basilio’s as well…. But regardless… He was a mess. I’m sorry, but he has no business doing this role on the world premier night…Literally… they didn’t use Zheng Hua Li (a principal) or Alexander Castillo (soloist)…. seriously…. ballet faux pas…. don’t hire your kid…. #balletpolitics

Then in Amour/Cupid… 2nd-year corps member SarahAnne Perel was cast…. Which should not have happened… I get that Cupid always given to a short girl, but she is like tiny status. She looked like a little girl next to everyone else in the dream scene….. She was cute enough, but looked straight out of SAB….

The casting should have looked like:
Kitri: Julia Cinquemani
Basilio: Kenta Shimizu
Espada: Alexander Castillo (umm he’s Latin/Spanish boohoo Ummm hello….)
Mercedes: Allyssa Bross
Queen of the Dryads: Bianca Bulle
Amor/Cupid: Jasmine Perry
Bridesmaid: Kate Highstrete

Another issue with the ballet is that in the 3rd act tavern scene… they didn’t have the right size drops for the stage so you could see the hangers and the set behind the “tavern.” In the prologue where Don Q starts his dream… the set looked like some awful high school play. And the windmill looked like it came from a regional production of the Wizard of Oz.

Overall the performance was amazing, entertaining and shortened from the full version. Despite lacking live orchestra, the sound quality was great, and the dancing from the majority of the company was killer. The female corps de ballet at LA Ballet is by nature young and fresh (mostly out of SAB) but clean, controlled, turned out, and concise. The men in the corps de ballet have a lot of personality, but their body lines could be cleaned up. Which is probably hard to do this season as Los Angeles Ballet has hired all Balanchine dancers, but currently taking on the romantic classics this season. As Don Q is a technical showstopper, especially for Basilio, Mr. Shimizu put on a fantastic show. For this particular performance, hands down it goes to Julia Cinquemani for an almost near perfect rendition of Kitri. I just wish in the first act she wasn’t so refined and was more free spirited in her acting like in her ACT 3 version of the role. Act 1 could have been more playful in character, but she was absolutely a principal ballerina. Kate Highstrete, Bianca Bulle, and Allyssa Bross all were stunning and captivating in each of their roles. Chelsea Paige Johnston could definitely up her game as soloist in the company. She took on the Fandango role in Act 3 and as charming as it was… It came off as bad jazz/flamenco. Her partner Zachary Guthier was handsome and very regal in his approach. The acting roles of Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, Gamache all could have been cast as actual actors… Because they all needed to up their game as well…The ballet was overall amazing… Except the sour taste of the ADs’ son being cast in a principal/soloist role… It really did turn me off. You can catch Don Q over the next two weekends. Click here to buy tickets. And get ready for Romeo and Juliet. Hopefully, the casting will be better…. haha.