Sasha De Sola Gives Moving Performance in San Francisco Ballet's Powerful Swan Lake


February 28, 2024—The Memorial Opera House had a nearly full house last night, which might seem surprising on a weeknight four days after opening night. Judging from the thunderous applause and cheers when Sasha De Sola took the stage, the crowd came to see her. So had I. She didn't disappoint us.

Currently SF Ballet's most elegant dancer, De Sola's artistic transition from demure, tragic Odette to evil, dynamic Odile and back again was impressive and, at times, very moving. Since she joined SF Ballet at age 17, De Sola has risen to be one of the Company's top stars. Performances like last night's clearly show why. De Sola has danced nearly every role in this production, and so is familiar with the interdependence of the dancers. Technically, she dispatched difficult movements with poise, from chain pirouettes to Swan Lake's famous 32 fouettés, both greeted with great applause.

Sasha De Sola and Isaac Hernandez in the Black Swan pas de deux from Tomasson's Swan Lake © Chris Hardy
Sasha De Sola and Isaac Hernandez in the Black Swan pas de deux from Tomasson's Swan Lake © Chris Hardy

Helgi Tomasson's production of Swan Lake premiered in 2009, the year Sasha De Sola joined SF Ballet. A Prologue was added to reveal the origin of Odette's curse. As Odette runs behind the curtain to flee the advances of the evil sorcerer Rothbart, he casts his spell upon her. In a clever use of silhouette and Jennifer Tipton's lighting, we see Odette's silhouette transform gradually from woman to swan. It's effective staging and clarifies the story in a few short minutes. The sumptuous scenery and costumes by Olivier and Tony Award-winning Jonathan Fensom make for a lavish eyeful. It's hard to believe that Swan Lake was Fensom's first ballet design.

Isaac Hernandez as Prince Siegfried wowed the audience with his usual pizzazzy turns. A nice surprise was Alexander Reneff-Olson as Rothbart. One might not expect such a forceful presence from a dancer in the corps de ballet, but his sharp movements and strong, angular features made his seething Rothbart exquisitely evil.

The Dance of the Cygnets, one of the most famous, and spoofed, scenes in all ballet, was last night danced by soloists Katherine Barkman, Norika Matsuyama, and Julia Rowe, and by corps de ballet dancer Carmela Mayo. They carried out the sixteen pas de chat (steps of the cat) perfectly and impressively.

San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Swan Lake © Lindsay Thomas
San Francisco Ballet in Tomasson's Swan Lake © Lindsay Thomas

The other star of the show was, of course, the 24 Swans. It can't be easy moving in sync with the dancer in front and behind, waving arms in bird-like port de bras, or immobilized with legs stretched out on the floor and both hands on the toe of one shoe. They are the beauty of Swan Lake, why audiences keep coming back. They are always an unforgettably beautiful and moving sight. I thought they were very well in synch last night, but I heard someone else say otherwise. Maybe it depends on your point of view.

Although this production has been around for a number of years (fifteen to be exact), it remains one of the most powerful Swan Lakes I've seen, by American or European companies—the Bolshoi, Czech National, etc. In the final Lakeside scene in Act IV the vengeful Rothbart tries to pursue Odette and Siegfried to the cliff, but he is blocked by rows of Swans en pointe, their backs to the audience, arms waving in graceful birdlike movements. It's a powerful scene that gave me chills.

San Francisco Ballet's Swan Lake run through March 3rd at the Memorial Opera House. For more information, see

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