Blake Johnston Choreographs Effervescence

The SF Ballet dancer’s second work for SF Ballet School premieres at the 2018 Student Showcase

Blake Johnston // © Erik Tomasson

Blake Johnston, whose Effervescence premieres at the SF Ballet School 2018 Student Showcase, has had a whirlwind year. She recently wrapped up her first season as a dancer with SF Ballet, performing in ballets ranging in style from the classic Nutcracker to the cutting-edge new works for the Unbound festival. Her dual career as a dancer and choreographer is progressing apace: Effervescence is the second work she’s choreographed for SF Ballet School. A year ago, when she still was a SF Ballet School Trainee, Johnston’s choreographic debut, Filamentous, premiered at Student Showcase. It was the culmination of a year spent as the School’s first choreographic trainee, a program Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson started after noticing Johnston’s emerging talent. We caught up with Johnston to chat about her dual focus on performing and choreographing.

SF Ballet: Last year at this time you were dancing in the Student Showcase and premiering your first work as a choreographer. Has your approach to choreography changed over the course of this year?

Johnston: This year has been an adjustment. I spent time learning what kind of artist I want to become in my dancing, and how I can try to translate that into my choreography. I've observed and been inspired by the dancers at SF Ballet, and that has encouraged me to ask the students to take their dancing to the next level. 

San Francisco Ballet School students in Blake Johnston's 2017 Filamentous // © Erik Tomasson

Can you describe the work you are creating for this year’s SF Ballet School Student Showcase?

Johnston: The title of the work is Effervescence. The ballet is bubbly, youthful, and enthusiastic. I wanted to create something the students could feel free dancing, while still challenging their technique. 

How did being a part of the Unbound festival impact you as a choreographer?

Johnston: Up until two years ago I never thought I had the capability to be a choreographer. When I first started choreographing, I was overwhelmed and confused with how to approach the process of creating a work. The Unbound festival really helped me figure that out. I was able to witness how 12 different choreographers create their ballets, and I took away lessons from each of them.

Have you found it challenging to balance dancing and choreography?

Johnston: It can be challenging to balance the two. I find both dancing and choreographing very rewarding, and in a way they feed each other. I am determined to do both.

There’s been a lot of talk in the dance world recently about encouraging new artistic voices in ballet choreography, particularly female choreographers. How has your experience been as a young choreographer?

Johnston: I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I've had thus far as a young choreographer. I think it's great that there's an emphasis on developing female choreographers—and at the same time I think the work needs to speak for itself. Both the Company and the School have been supportive of me. In particular, Myles Thatcher has been an inspiration, role model, and mentor. I continuously go to him for advice. Most of all, I have to thank Helgi Tomasson and Patrick Armand for opening the door to choreography for me. 

An Invitation to Dance: San Francisco Ballet 2018 Student Showcase takes place May 23–25 at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Theater, 700 Howard Street in San Francisco.

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