Impact and Inspiration
SF Ballet Celebrated Arts Education in April
It was a crisp morning in late April when 150 students wound their way through SFMOMA’s atrium. Dodging the relics of the museum’s Soapbox Derby held the week prior, the children—joining from SFUSD Bessie Carmichael School and Rosa Parks Elementary School—headed into the museum’s Phyllis Wattis Theater. As they settled into their seats, they prepared for a field trip they are unlikely to forget: a one-time screening of Myles Thatcher’s ballet film COLORFORMS, filmed at SFMOMA during the shelter-in-place mandate, and marking a historic collaboration between the museum and SF Ballet.
The field trip topped a busy month at SF Ballet. In April alone, the Company opened three programs—including three world premieres—and hosted a Gala for Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson. Offstage, in the bustling second floor of SF Ballet School and the administrative offices, SF Ballet planned an equally robust month of arts, culture, and educational offerings.
April 25: A Field trip to Remember
“If there’s one thing to take away from COLORFORMS, I hope it inspires you to dance anywhere.”
—Choreographer Myles Thatcher
When SF Ballet premiered Myles Thatcher’s COLORFORMS as part of the 2021 Digital Season, it was viewed in the comfort of homes across the globe. In April, the SF Ballet’s Education & Training Department partnered with SFMOMA to present the first-ever theatrical screening of the ballet film at the museum’s Phyllis Wattis Theater.
In the morning of April 25, by the time Genoa Sperske had taken the stage of the theater and minutes before the screening of COLORFORMS, the students’ relative stillness had risen to a murmur. Sperske has spent the past five years as an SF Ballet Dance in Schools and Communities (DISC) Teaching Artist at Rosa Parks Elementary School, and her former students recognized her on sight. Standing tall and welcoming a chorus of giggles, she taught an excerpt of choreography (“throw, throw, scoop, arms up!”), modeling how one throws a paper airplane, a notable motif in COLORFORMS.
In a video interview shown before the film, themes of vulnerability, risk-taking, and bravery emerge. Choreographer Myles Thatcher describes choreography as “a great way to tell stories.” He introduces a dancer, Soloist Jasmine Jimison, as the main character of the film and prompts students to take note of her appearance. In the live Q&A session following the film, one student asked, “Why is the main character the main character?” Thatcher explained, “It was my intention to surprise. I wanted to tell the story of her first time in the museum.”
Like COLORFORMS’ protagonist, about half of the children in the audience were visiting the museum for the first time. Following the screening, the students enjoyed wandering the exhibits of SFMOMA, viewing firsthand the artworks by Alexander Calder, Julie Mehretu, Ellsworth Kelly, and Ursula Von Rydingsvard featured in the film.
Leading with Generosity: Educators’ Appreciation Day and Principals’ Night
“. . .Please join me in applauding the educators who are in the audience today, as well as all of the teachers who have impacted your own life and the lives of others”
The week before the screening at SFMOMA, hundreds of educators joined SF Ballet for its first-ever celebration of Educators’ Appreciation Day. Teachers, administrators, faculty and staff, university dance educators, and teaching artists from schools across the Bay Area gathered in the Opera House for a matinee performance of Program 5, featuring Helgi Tomasson’s Harmony—a new work by the Company’s Artistic Director. The pre-curtain announcement commemorated the impact educators have had on past, present, and future students.
Similarly, on April 6, SF Ballet welcomed around 100 principals from SFUSD schools to a performance of Program 6, offering an opportunity to unwind and relax with a program featuring two world premieres by Dwight Rhoden and Christopher Wheeldon.
Student Matinees Adapt to a Digital World
In a typical year, SF Ballet welcomes thousands of students to the War Memorial Opera House for Student Matinees, featuring an abbreviated performance of a story ballet accompanied by interactive activities and hosted by a Company member.
Student Matinees of 2022 have taken on a different shape. While the screening of Thatcher’s COLORFORMS on April 25 was a one-time event, throughout April, SF Ballet streamed the ballet to educators across the Bay Area, accessed remotely by more than 50 Bay Area schools and more than 5,000 K–12th grade students. The Digital Student Matinee landing page linked to activities including multilingual video lessons, post-viewing reflection activities, and additional educational resources provided by SFMOMA, designed to help students and teachers engage more deeply with the dance film. To complement the streaming, on April 13, SF Ballet and SFMOMA hosted a free, virtual professional development workshop for educators around COLORFORMS. The topics included questions that connect the two disciplines: How do the dancers relate to the art, and vice versa? How does movement present itself in both dance and art?
April marked historic firsts for SF Ballet, including the continuation of a tremendous partnership between the Company and SFMOMA.
To Thatcher, COLORFORMS presents the opportunity “to not only bring people in, but step outside of ourselves and approach the community in a different way.” April offered just this chance—for SF Ballet to reach students, educators, and administrators on stage and off, from the comfort of their classrooms, and in venues new and historic.
Header Image: SFUSD students attend SF Ballet’s Digital Student Matinee screening of COLORFORMS at SFMOMA // © Alexander Reneff-Olson