This month, America’s first Snow Queen, Jocelyn Vollmar, turns 90 years old. SF Ballet celebrated her birthday and recognized her devotion to the art form with a performance by the SF Ballet School Trainees, followed by a post-performance celebration surrounded by Company dancers, former students, and colleagues. Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson toasted her dedication and presented her with a signed photo from the Company. Executive Director Glenn McCoy presented an official proclamation naming her birthday “Jocelyn Vollmar Day” from the San Francisco mayor’s office.
As a child, Vollmar trained at SF Ballet School under the direction of Willam Christensen. She remembers, “We had very good training from the three Christensens. I had a tremendous passion for dance…”* At age 17, she graduated from Lowell High School and joined SF Ballet when the Company was just five years old. In 1944, at age 19, she was cast as the Snow Queen in America’s first Nutcracker, choreographed by Willam Christensen. She remembers, “Back then we didn’t know we were making history, but we were…So many people think that ballet started in New York, but it didn’t. It started here in 1933.”* Read More
SF Ballet School Trainees with Houston Ballet II students. © Chris Hardy
At the SF Ballet School, upper-level students spend countless hours together, developing close friendships and creating a sense of familiarity that helps them partner and communicate with one another effectively, especially during rehearsals. So it’s no surprise that one of the biggest challenges for students joining a professional company is having to dance with a whole new group of dancers from all over the world. In response to this challenge, SF Ballet School Trainees and students from Houston Ballet II forged a special collaboration that has proven to be a crucial part of the student’s training.
School Associate Director Patrick Armand explains, “As pre-professionals on the verge of joining the world’s most renowned ballet companies, our students must learn how to work with a diverse group of dancers in a short period of time.” In professional ballet companies such as SF Ballet, dancers are asked to learn full-length works within a matter of weeks. On top of that, they are frequently paired with fellow Company members who do not share the same background or sometimes, language. The Trainees’ collaboration with Houston Ballet II last week imitated this process to make the students’ transition to professional dancer seamless. Armand adds that the unique partnership was “an opportunity for growth” for all the participating students.
Kimberly Braylock-Olivier, a Manhattan native, trained with Charla Genn, Studio Maestro, Ballet Hispanico, and SF Ballet School (including one year in the Trainee Program). She joined the Company as an apprentice in 2009 and was named a corps de ballet member a year later.
1. How did you start dancing, and what role did your parents play in your decision to start training?
My mother enrolled me in dance classes as a toddler after she read an article that claimed dance was good for kids. She recognized my inclination for movement while I was in her womb! My father supported this decision.
2. How did you decide to audition for SF Ballet School?
Once I was old enough to leave my parents for a ballet summer intensive, I auditioned for all the major ballet schools located in New York City, as well as the schools that hold auditions in Manhattan, including SF Ballet School. I was thrilled to be accepted after my second year of auditioning for the School. I was then motivated to accept the School’s invitation to the summer intensive by Michelle Burkhart, a knowledgable dance educator from California, who had recently begun working at my dance school at the time—Ballet Hispanico. She said that SF Ballet was an amazing Company and that it was very difficult to be accepted into the School. She advised that I take this rare opportunity, especially as a female dancer of color. Read More
The second week of the Company’s tour to China was spent in Shanghai, performing at the Shanghai International Arts Festival. It was a homecoming for Shanghai native, Yuan Yuan Tan, who was featured in a gala evening that celebrated her 20 years to date with SF Ballet. Here she tells us about the highlights of the final week of the tour.
Monday, October 26
One of the fun things I did in Shanghai was give a lecture at Fudan University’s Center for American Studies. I think it’s so great that most people who attended were students who didn’t know a lot about ballet or dance.
I talked a bit about how most people don’t notice the challenges associated with dancing because ballet seems so effortless. But despite the obstacles, it’s been worth it for me to follow my heart. I encouraged everyone to fight for their passion.
Yuan Yuan Tan giving her lecture at Fudan University
Wednesday, October 28
Somehow I managed to squeeze in a press conference between rehearsals and classes! The theater invited [SF Ballet Artistic Director] Helgi Tomasson, [Executive Director] Glenn McCoy, and me to talk about what the Company’s performances in Shanghai and how I felt about coming back to my hometown. I was so excited to see so many major TV stations in attendance–that means more and more Chinese people are interested in ballet. Read More