With many theaters shut down for the foreseeable future, it is a blessing to be able to watch online dance showcases from companies around the world. The San Francisco Ballet released a recording of their 2020 gala, called SPELLBOUND, as part of their SF Ballet @ Home program. Recorded January 16, 2020 by Rapt Productions, the San Francisco Ballet 2020 gala lasts approximately one hour and 40 minutes without intermissions and includes snippets from a diverse range of works – such as Stars and Stripes by George Balanchine, the Jockey Dance by August Bournonville and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by Justin Peck (Resident Choreographer and Artistic Director of New York City Ballet). Read our SPELLBOUND review for more detail.

Do these choreographers sound familiar? George Balanchine choreographed many famous pieces, such as NYCB’s Nutcracker, and August Bournonville choreographed La Sylphide.

San Francisco Ballet dancers perform the men’s regiment from Stars & Stripes, choreographed by George Balanchine.
Photo Credit: Erik Tomasson

SF Ballet Gala 2020 Review

Act I

A cadre of regimented cadets kick off the gala with a segment from George Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes ballet. The male dancers impress with lofty leaps and other large jumps with dancer Lucas Erni at the helm, who finishes his single tours with a toe touch in a la seconde. It’s a rousing piece – and especially fun to watch over the Fourth of July weekend.

Although this segment stands well on its own, the audience is abruptly dropped into the emotionally-fraught Foreshadow trio by Val Caniparoli, which has some lovely ballet and modern dance sequences, but lazily fuses the two at some points with balletic legs and expressive arm gestures. It wouldn’t look out of place on So You Think You Can Dance.

Heading back to time-tested ballet favorites, Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno perform the ‘white swan’ pas de deux from David Dawson’s Swan Lake. But watching a bare-legged Odette sans tutu makes the dance feel fresh. The pair dance beautifully together with strong partnering and a connection even when moving separately, accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s mellifluous score.

Sofiane Sylve and Carlo Di Lanno perform the white swan pas de deux from David Dawson’s Swan Lake.
Photo credit: Erik Tomasson

The energy ramps up when a pair of jockeys jockey for the audience’s attention in August Bournonville’s lighthearted Jockey Dance duet, which premiered with the Royal Danish Ballet in 1876. The two men one-up each other with fast footwork and  jumps, which elicit loud whoops from the audience at its conclusion.

The gripping For Pixie piece that follows is an entirely different sort of duet, choreographed by Danielle Row and set to Nina Simone’s music. Dores André and Joseph Walsh bear their souls to each other and negotiate intricate lifts and counter balances, the woman’s legs tracing the floor like an Argentine tango dancer.

A large pas de deux section from Marius Petipa’s Le Corsaire closes the first half. Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco pair well, but watching them dance solo is more thrilling. Greco soars even higher after his leg sweeps through the air in his switch leaps, and he smoothly transitions into the kneeling landing positions. Meanwhile, Kuranaga is a diaphanous performer, smiling and delicately flicking her wrists to complement her quick pointe work. The triumphant conclusion begs the question: what can top this after intermission?

Misa Kuranaga and Angelo Greco dance the pas de deux from Marius Petipa’s Le Corsaire‘ Photo credit: Erik Tomasson


While theater intermissions are primarily for bathroom breaks and snack refills, the online gala includes an ‘intermission presentation’ called Dedicated to…, filmed by Erik Tomasson. Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov and edited by Hidetoshi Oneda, the screendance features ballerina Yuan Yuan Tan and her mother Su Zhang, who remains seated in a chair. The piece contrasts Tan’s ability to dance and whirl around with Zhang’s mostly stationary role. But despite limited movements, Zhang’s guiding presence resonates, especially when Tan channels her energy. The Mother and daughter share their strengths with each other.

If you’re a fan of screendance, you’ll likely enjoy Ballet Hispánico’s digital Noche Unidos program, which was filmed completely during lockdown.

Act II

Mathilde Froustey and Joseph Walsh reprise Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet balcony pas de deux. And it’s swoon-worthy. Danced to Sergei Prokofiev’s sweet score, the two star-crossed lovers embody young romance. Walsh rockets around the stage with joy and Froustey shyly accepts his advances, her excitement mixed with reticence.

If you love the Romeo & Juliet ballet, you have to see the BalletBoyz’ Beyond Words film, a screendance version of Verona’s beloved couple.

Mathilde Froustey and Joseph Walsh dance the balcony pas de deux from Helgi Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet.
Photo credit: Erik Tomasson

Myles Thatcher’s contemplative 5:29 leaves heady passion behind in favor of a vast abstract space, where a droning sound distorts time, even as the clock counts down in the background. Sasha De Sola relives old dreams with Benjamin Freemantle – but, all too soon, he silently departs.

Grand Pas Classique by Victor Gsovsky possesses all of the pomp you could want in a ballet. Both with a grounded quality, Wona Park and Wei Wang are well-matched and on good form. Wang’s performance falters at the beginning of his solo, but he consistently engages after a few short phrases, matching the energy of Park.

The more casual pas de deux from Justin Peck’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is less showy, but completely fascinating. Sarah Van Patten and Henry Sidford loop around each other, freely riding eddies with a sort of self-sufficient, defiant attitude, informed by M83’s music, whose track gives off a Snow Patrol Chasing Cars kind of feeling.

Sarah Van Patten and Henry Sidford in Peck’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming // © Erik Tomasson

Bells, choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, feels more complex and weighty. Yuan Yuan Tan and Vitor Luiz complete intricate choreography with elegant circus-type tricks, but there are imperfect moments, too. Tan brokenly folds her limbs into her body and they both silence the other, pressing their hand over their partner’s mouth, before closing with a kiss.

The regal finale from Balanchine’s Diamonds, staged by Sandra Jennings, closes the show. The enormous cast of 30+ dancers fills the stage, creating geometric patterns like crystalline forms. The symmetry and sweeping rounds of choreography are immensely pleasing – a wonderful way to close an evening celebration of dance.

Star Rating:

The SF Ballet gala evening 2020 marvelously showcases the talent and versatility of their dancers. They’re technically impressive in a range of classic and contemporary ballet, and they demonstrate their openness to embrace change with their foray into screendance during the intermission. Even for digital viewers, the San Francisco Ballet gala night is an absolute treat.

'SPELLBOUND' San Francisco Ballet Pinterest Pin
'SPELLBOUND' San Francisco Ballet Gala 2020 Pinterest Pin
'SPELLBOUND' San Francisco Ballet Gala 2020 Pinterest Pin

Did you see San Francisco Ballet’s SPELLBOUND gala evening in person or via the SF Ballet @ Home online screening? If so, which were your favorite pieces from the show? Let us know in the comments!

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