"Helgi Tomasson: A Celebration" Lauds Achievements of 37 Years as Artistic Director
April 25, 2022—How do you say goodbye to a cherished institution? Last night friends of Helgi Tomasson, his colleagues, and former and present members of the San Francisco Ballet company praised Tomasson's accomplishments and vision as he ended his 37 years as the Company's artistic director. The one-night-only celebration began with in-person laudatory remarks from Ashley Wheater, Artistic Director of The Joffrey Ballet and a former SFB Ballet Master, and from John Neumeier, Director and Chief Choreographer of Hamburg Ballet, who recounted Tomasson's esteemed career.
A native of Iceland, Tomasson danced with Harkness Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet before joining the New York City Ballet in 1970. It was at the Joffrey Ballet where Tomasson met his future wife Marlene, a fellow dancer. When Tomasson retired from NYCB as a principal dancer in 1985, Lew Christensen, Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet, invited Tomasson to succeed him in the position. Tomasson went on to choreograph more than fifty works and transition the San Francisco Ballet from a well-known regional company to a highly-regarded, world-class ballet company.
Last night's live presentations were followed by a film by MacKay Productions featuring colleagues and former members of the SFB company, such as Julia Adam and Tina LeBlanc, commemorating Tomasson's career. The film included brief clips, from Words On Dance, of Tomasson's impressive dancing in 1969 while a member of The Joffrey Ballet. Following the video, the audience was treated to performances from six of Tomasson's handpicked choreographed works. All but one, Concerto Grosso, were modern romantic pieces.
Chaconne for Piano and Two Dancers was danced by Frances Chung and Wei Wang accompanied by Roy Bogas performing Handel's score on piano. In this elegant pas de deux, Chung had never looked more lithe, graceful, and beautiful to watch.
In Concerto Grosso, to a score by Corelli, dancers Lucas Erni, Lonnie Weeks, Mingxuan Wang, Diego Cruz, and John-Paul Simoens boldly leaped, turned mid-air, and supported each other to cheers and whoops from the audience.
Two Bits, a dynamic pas de deux danced by Isabella DeVivo and Esteban Hernandez, displayed DeVivo's impressive style, with bold movements such as penché and Hernandez lifting her into what I can only describe as an inverted fish dive. Performed to a score by Aaron Jay Kernos played by David Tanenbaum on guitar, this was a forceful and memorable work.
Sasha De Sola and Joseph Walsh gave a beautiful and memorable performance of Excerpts from Blue Rose, with Britton Day on piano and Codula Merks on violin performing the score by Elena Kats-Chernin. De Sola, as always, was mesmerizing in her graceful and soaring Grand Jeté.
The romantic pas de deux from The Fifth Season featured Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets to the music of Karl Jenkins. Tan and Helimets are often partnered, and the artistic chemistry between them makes it easy to see why.
One of the more moving and impressive presentations was the final work, Harmony, danced by Wona Park and Max Cauthorn with Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco. The dynamic solos by Park and Kuranaga were definite crowd-pleasers.
Following the performances, principal dancer Yuan Yuan Tan accompanied Tomasson on stage to join a crowd of dancers and other Company members and supporters. In summing up his feelings about moving on after 37 years, he urged the Company to take chances and thanked those who supported his vision for believing in him. He singled out his wife Marline as his greatest supporter, embracing her with a large bouquet. The program concluded with a thunderous standing ovation and confetti popped onto bowing Tomasson. The celebration continued with a dinner and cocktail reception for select ticket holders.
Tomasson's farewell celebration will continue with an event in New York City next month. Tomasson is being succeeded as Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet by Tamara Rojo beginning in the 2022-2023 season.