Right after the end of the San Francisco Ballet’s season at the Opera each May, its eponymous school presents a student performance that serves as something of a tantalizing harbinger of SFB’s future glories. Part of the deal with any ballet company is that a handful of beloved dancers will leave at the end of each season, so it’s a bit of a balm to get a feel for the new talent soon to enter its ranks. . From what I saw at a 2022 San Francisco Ballet School Spring Festival performance at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts last week, I’d say the years ahead look pretty darn promising.
The evening began with a huge “Demonstration” choreographed by Karen Gabay which gave most of the school dancers a moment or two to shine. I was struck by how well trained and stage ready even the youngest dancers were. It wasn’t one of those dance recitals where adorable moppets accidentally spoil on purpose as the audience coos. And the more mature students and trainees showed a consistent level of skill and sophistication that suggested many of them would go on to successful careers in ballet. It was also a pleasure to see a more equal mix of ethnicities and a wider range of body types than what we normally see in professional ballet companies.
Another Spring Festival bonus is the chance to see new work by emerging choreographers within the company. Davide Occhipinti, member of the SFB ballet corps, showed great promise with his “Sunhead”, a percussive romp that is both a little retro and very contemporary. I particularly liked his use of a trio of two identically dressed boys and a girl (Benjamin Davidoff, Jasper True Stanford and Angela Watson – all terrific) who borrowed a Fosse-esque “Steam Heat” concept from the 1950s and updated it for our current times of more fluid genre expression. I would be intrigued to see what Occhipinti could achieve if he had the opportunity to work with all the resources of the SFB company.
The program ended with a comprehensive presentation by Helgi Tomasson Haffner Symphony, on Mozart for a group of 14 dancers. It’s a neat neoclassical piece that gives the dancers nowhere to hide, and everyone on stage dances with seductive lightness and precision. The central couple of Jihyun Choi and Joe Percilio da Silva danced beautifully together and executed quite complex partnerships with a level of technique not common among dancers so young. It turns out that Da Silva has already been accepted into the SFB corps de ballet for next season, and Choi is one of six new apprentices. They were just two of many dancers at the festival who showed immense promise, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for them. I could easily see them fitting in perfectly with any major ballet company in the country.