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Instant Expert: The Seasons

Instant Expert: The Seasons

The Seasons Highlights Ballet Through the Generations

Ratmansky’s The Seasons is part of SF Ballet’s 2022 Season. It will be performed in Program 4 from March 15–20, 2022.

Ballet is an art form without words, and yet it’s usually passed down through an “oral tradition.” Unlike theater or music, which has scripts and scores, ballet rarely uses a written language to convey information. That said, various notational systems have existed since ballet’s very beginnings—Laban and Benesh notation being the most popular today—and recently choreographers and scholars have become very interested in reconstructing ballets from these scores.

In particular, choreographer Alexei Ratmansky has been deeply invested in reconstructing ballets from late-19th century and early 20th-century notation: specifically, ballets which have changed significantly since their first performance, like Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty.

San Francisco Ballet rehearsing Ratmansky’s The Seasons // © Erik Tomasson

In the case of The Seasons, however, the original ballet is completely lost and there’s minimal documentation of what it looked like. The Seasons was choreographed by Marius Petipa in 1900 and last performed in 1927. So Ratmansky started (almost) from scratch, using the original libretto, but creating entirely new choreography. (To add another wrinkle: The Seasons was created on American Ballet Theatre’s dancers in the spring of 2019, meaning that a repetiteur, Nancy Raffa, had to come teach the ballet to our dancers here at San Francisco Ballet.)

This aspect of ballet—the way it is passed down generation to generation and the way it is constantly changing in its transmission—is part of what makes the art form so dynamic and so alive.

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Header Image: Sean Bennett rehearsing Ratmansky’s The Seasons // © Erik Tomasson