SF Ballet Takes Iceland

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San Francisco Ballet is no stranger to international tours. From 1957-59, we famously embarked on a series of high profile, US State Department-sponsored tours–traveling to Far East Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In the ensuing years, we’ve danced on stages in Shanghai, Beijing, London, Moscow, and New York City, to name just a few locations and in 2014, we enjoyed a four-week run at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris. This May, we traveled to the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik, Iceland, the homeland of  our Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson.

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The Company with Helgi Tomasson at the Harpa Concert Hall (© Erik Tomasson)

When packing for a tour, we have to include everything we needed for the studio and the stage, plus all the other essentials you might require for a trip abroad (like adaptors!). Because we knew it would be wet and cold in Reykjavik for the majority of our engagement, we packed warm hats, jackets, and boots (in addition to our pointe shoes of course)! Hydration is  also key when going on tour and Corps de Ballet dancer Rebecca Rhodes shared, “The long flights are hard on your body, so I try to make sure I pack smartly and bring lots of water and healthy snacks on the plane. The hardest part about going on tour is adjusting to the new time zone while still maintaining the ability to perform at your highest level, so keeping my mind and body strong is key.”

A peek into Ellen Rose Hummel's suitcase

A peek into Corps de Ballet Dancer Ellen Rose Hummel’s suitcase

This was Julia Rowe’s first tour to Iceland and her debut as a soloist and she noted, “The first thing that struck me was the incredibly clean, crisp air. On the drive from the airport to the hotel, I marveled at the pristine volcanic landscape.” Reykjavik is surrounded by natural wonders, with sweepings views of mountain ranges and the North Atlantic Ocean. Perhaps the most surreal experience for us all was the “endless summer” nights. With nearly 24 hours of daylight, getting acclimated to the time change was quite a challenge!

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Downtown Reykjavik

The Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre, home of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and  the Icelandic Opera, is one of Iceland’s most striking and distinguished landmarks. Designed by Danish-Icelandic artist Olauf Eliasson in collaboration with Henning Larsen Architects, the building is a stunning both inside and out. Winner of a number of design awards, including the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture, the venue design has been described as “capturing and reflecting the light of the city, ocean, and sky to thrilling effect.”

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The Harpa Reykjavik Concert Hall and Conference Centre

The theater itself was intended to be a concert venue for music festivals, so our production team essentially transformed it into a stage for dance, with the help of special lighting, temporary wings, and an unbelievable Icelandic crew. Company Manager Lauren Chadwick remarked, “Harpa is simply magical. The staff and crew were wonderful, professional, and helped us create something they’d never done before.”

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon's Within The Golden Hour©. (© Erik Tomasson)

San Francisco Ballet in Wheeldon’s Within The Golden Hour©.
(© Erik Tomasson)

The audiences in Iceland got a sneak peek at our 2017 Repertory Season, which featured both Tomasson’s Trio and Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour©. The reception from the audiences was very responsive and Julia commented, “It was incredibly gratifying to be able to share our art form with such an appreciative audience.” Nearly two percent of the population of Iceland attended our four performances and one show was broadcast on Iceland’s public television nationwide.

Gennadi Nedvigin and Frances Chung in Tomasson's Trio. (© Erik Tomasson)

Gennadi Nedvigin and Frances Chung in Tomasson’s Trio.
(© Erik Tomasson)

We were also invited to the President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson’s residence where Helgi was awarded the prestigious Export Award for his significant cultural achievement. (Fun fact: The only other individual who has been honored with this award is the Icelandic musician Bjork.)  There, the President spoke about Helgi’s significant achievements and noted that he should serve as an example and inspiration for all children, to dream big.

The Company with the President of Iceland (Photo © Erik Tomasson)

The Company with the President of Iceland (Photo © Erik Tomasson)

The tour marked both exciting beginnings and emotional endings for us. Some of our recently promoted dancers were featured prominently on the Iceland tour, including newly appointed Principal Dancer, Carlo Di Lanno, along with recently promoted Soloists Julia Rowe, WanTing Zhao, Francisco Mungamba, and Wei Wang. We also bid an emotional farewell to retiring Principal Dancers Joan Boada and Gennadi Nedvigin, who took their final bow onstage with the Company alongside Helgi, closing out a combined tenure of almost 40 years, dancing with us.

Gennadi Nedvigin and Joan Boada take their final bow with SF Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

Gennadi Nedvigin and Joan Boada take their final bow with SF Ballet. (© Erik Tomasson)

This tour to Iceland was an especially memorable homecoming for Helgi. Said Chadwick, “The audiences were incredibly receptive to the performances as a whole. But when Helgi took the stage to bow, the audience would leap their feet!”

Following the Iceland tour, we are excited to share a wonderful season of dance with our San Francisco audiences in 2017. If the response from the Icelandic audiences is any indication, our 2016-17 Season is off to an extraordinary start.

Helgi Tomasson taking a final bow in Iceland (© Erik Tomasson)

Helgi Tomasson taking a final bow in Iceland (© Erik Tomasson)

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