The Future of Dance on Pointe at SF Ballet

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Lonnie Weeks and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira dance in SF Ballet's Unbound Festival. (Erik Tomasson/SF Ballet)

In a normal season, the San Francisco Ballet might stage four or five world premieres, plus a few West Coast debuts by promising and veteran choreographers. But from April 20 through May 6, SF Ballet presents an orgy of new work by 12 dancemakers from around the world as part of Unbound, a dance festival with a slightly kinky name. This is Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s baby, in the planning for more than two years; he says he wants the festival to answer the question: Where is ballet headed in our time?

"I just wanted to see what today’s young sought-after choreographers were doing, and where they were heading." Tomasson told me, in his cooly dispassionate way, during an interview in his SF Ballet office. "And is that going to give us a definitive answer where ballet is going? I don’t know. But I thought it was worth asking the question. It has to evolve."

Christopher Wheeldon (An American in Paris), Justin Peck (In the Countenance of Kings), and Myles Thatcher (a member of SF Ballet) are among the more familiar names in the lineup. But the festival is also presenting two women choreographers, often a rarity in the ballet world. Annabelle Lopez Ocha’s new work Guernica is inspired by her passion for the work of Picasso, and British choreographer Cathy Marston's new work is a version of the doomed love triangle in the novel Ethan Frome.


Also as part of the festival, San Francisco dancemaker Alonzo King makes his debut with SF Ballet — about time. He's celebrating 35 years of his own Lines Ballet April 6-15 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.

SF Ballet has put a big effort into videotaping interviews with the choreographers, and offering previews of their dances. (I learned that Arthur Pita was inspired to dance by John Travolta's performance in Grease.) It's a  great guide for dance lovers in deciding what to attend if they can't go to every show.

Unbound kicks off Friday, April 20, and runs through May 6 at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. Details here.