Helgi Tomasson Discusses Unbound: A Festival of New Works

SF Ballet Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson // © Erik Tomasson

What was your inspiration for the upcoming Unbound: A Festival of New Works?

Whenever I travel, I always make it a point to see a range of dance by choreographers from all over. A few years ago, I started to think about how wonderful it would be to bring some of them together, to give audiences a snapshot of what’s happening with the art form. It’s important that a company like ours perform classical works like Swan Lake, but we also need to provide opportunities for the choreographic voices of the next generation to be heard. This is what will keep ballet vital moving forward.

Helgi Tomasson and Alonzo King watching rehearsal for King's The Collective Agreement // © Erik Tomasson

Why is new work so important to you?

I spent my early years in America with The Joffrey Ballet. Robert Joffrey was not only creating his own inventive work, but also presenting modern and contemporary works to ballet audiences, by choreographers like Alvin Ailey. I have fond memories of dancing these new works at the estate of [philanthropist] Rebekah Harkness, in Watch Hill, Rhode Island.

Later, at [New York] City Ballet where I danced for George Balanchine, it was also a hotbed of creativity—there were many great showcases for new work, including the Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky festivals. The excitement of being exposed to so much creativity and experimentation has never left me, and new work has always been a priority for me in planning the Company programming each year.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa rehearsing Lopez Ochoa's Guernica // © Erik Tomasson

What are your goals for the Unbound Festival?

I hope that this festival will show audiences what dance is now and what it can be. We need to take risks in our art form and create space for diverse voices and points of view; part of what SF Ballet is known for is innovation.

During the rehearsal period for the festival last summer, many of the choreographers commented on how nice it was to work alongside their peers. In the end, this is an experiment, in the spirit of collaboration—just bringing it to fruition feels like an achievement.

San Francisco Ballet rehearsing McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem // © Erik Tomasson