At the end of every school year the San Francisco Ballet School students have the opportunity to bring their hard work to the stage in the annual Student Showcase. Students from all the levels will present class demonstrations, culminating with performances by the SF Ballet Trainee Program. We sat down with trainees Natasha Sheehan and Francisco Sebastião to discuss their experience as trainees and their anticipation of Student Showcase. Student Showcase takes place next week on May 20, 21, and 22 and will include works by Kenneth MacMillan, Helgi Tomasson, James Sofranko, Benjamin Freemantle, and more.
Natasha Sheehan (© Erik Tomasson)
Q. When did you start dancing? When did you know you wanted to be a professional ballet dancer?
Natasha Sheehan: I was born in San Francisco, and grew up in Walnut Creek. I started taking ballet and jazz classes as little kid, but I hated ballet! It wasn’t until I started watching YouTube videos and got inspired by them and started to fall in love with ballet and wanted to pursue it in a more serious way. Since I grew up in the Bay Area, I’ve been lucky enough to see SF Ballet’s Nutcracker since I was little. I have been training at SF Ballet School since I was 10. This is my first year as a trainee.
Francisco Sebastião: I am from Portugal. I always loved the arts and dance, and didn’t realize how seriously I wanted to train until I went to a competition in China. I saw so many talented dancers and realized how much work it takes to pursue ballet at a professional level. I trained at the National Conservatory in Portugal for 9 years. I competed at the Prix de Lausanne and won a scholarship to come to San Francisco and train here. This is my second year in the Trainee Program. Read More
Fight Director, Martino Pistone, has taught at American Conservatory Theater, California Institute of the Arts, The Juilliard School, New York University, and the Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute. His choreography credits include regional theaters across the country, SF Opera, The Public Theatre in New York, and many television shows and feature films.
How long have you been a part of SF Ballet’s Romeo & Juliet?
In 1994, Helgi Tomasson brought me on to choreograph and block the fight scenes in the ballet. I have worked on Romeo & Juliet every year it has returned to the stage. Although it is the same ballet from year to year, I make changes here and there to fit the dancers’ abilities.
What do you focus on when staging the fight choreography?
The music holds the emotional value of the fight, so one of the utmost important aspects of my job as fight choreographer is to fit it all perfectly to the music. Just like Helgi does as a choreographer, what you see onstage are my interpretations of the music in movement. But unlike Helgi’s choreography, the fight scenes need to be intense and aggressive, sharply contrasting the love story that his choreography is telling.
The fight choreography is based on acting: an objective, a want, and a relationship that has to be conveyed to the audience so the story is clear. The performers have to develop a relationship with their own characters, as well as their relationship to one another. How they respond and interact with one another allows them to be totally in the moment so they know what’s going on around them so nobody gets hurt. All of this gives the quality of danger without actually being dangerous. That’s how we make the audience suck air!
Jeremy Rucker and Sean Orza in Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet.
(© Erik Tomasson)
Composer, violinist, violist, and program annotator, Matt Naughtin
, has been the Music Librarian at San Francisco Ballet since 1997. He is also the author of Ballet Music: A Handbook
, which describes the daily routine of a modern ballet company, outlines the respective roles of the conductor, company pianist and music librarian, and examines the complete process of putting a dance performance on stage.
Someone recently told me that Romeo & Juliet‘s music tells the story of Shakespeare’s play so clearly that they hardly needed to see the performers on stage. So how did Prokofiev bring the complex action and emotions of the play so vividly to life? First, he did it without resorting to what stage and motion picture producers call ‘Mickey Mousing’—the tight synchronization of music to visual action. There are a few instances when the dancers have to ‘hit a beat’ in the music, such as when Tybalt fatally stabs Mercutio, but for the most part the music runs seamlessly and fluidly under the action on stage, forcing it forward in a relentless dramatic flow. Prokofiev achieves this musical momentum by the subtle and brilliant stitching together of several key melodic motives that return again and again to not only accompany the action on stage, but add depth to it by illuminating the character and emotions of the performers.
Prokofiev used several primary melodic elements as building blocks for his score, combining them in subtle ways to create a strong psychological underpinning for the action on stage. The first themes we hear in the Prelude as the ballet begins return many times in various scenes, and I think of them as the ‘Young Love’ motives, showing us the two teen-aged protagonists in all their naïve, open-hearted freshness.
Many of the characters in the story have their own musical signature themes. Juliet’s long-suffering nurse and Friar Laurence, whose well-intentioned meddling results in tragedy both have their own music, as does Romeo. Juliet’s music is gay and playful. She’s 13 years old and wistfully dreaming of someday meeting her true love. Here is her musical portrait.
What composer worth his salt wouldn’t jump at the chance to write a ballet score based on the most popular love story of all time, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet? Well…Sergei Prokofiev for one. The play had already been used in 14 operas, Berlioz had made a dramatic symphony of it and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture was a familiar staple of concert programs. So who needed another Romeo score—particularly a ballet?
Prokofiev couldn’t envision how the complex psychology of the drama could be conveyed through fouettes, jetés and arabesques. Sergei Radlov, director of the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Ballet, sat down with the composer and outlined a scenario. Prokofiev warmed to the idea, took copious notes on the details of the plot and the interaction between stage and orchestra, and went to work. The audacious, groundbreaking score he wrote was unlike anything Russian choreographers had ever encountered, and they rejected it, pronouncing it ‘unsuitable for dancing.’ One of the objections was the fact that the composer changed the story, substituting a happy ending for the familiar tragic denouement. Prokofiev’s rationale for having Romeo and Juliet survive and live happily ever after: ‘living people can dance, but the dying can hardly be expected to.’
San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. (Photo: Erik Tomasson)