Instant Expert: Present Perspectives

Instant Expert: Present Perspectives

Program 06 Highlights Ballet Through the Generations

Ballet is an art form without words, and yet it’s passed down through an “oral tradition.” Unlike theater or music, which has scripts and scores, ballet rarely uses a written language to convey information. Although notational forms exist—Laban and Benesh notation being the most popular—mostly teachers, ballet masters, and repetiteurs pass along what they know directly to the next generation.

Program 06: Present Perspectives highlights two aspects of this oral tradition. In Classical Symphony, Yuri Possokhov celebrates the classical form as it was taught to him by his teacher Peter Pestov at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Through Pestov, you can trace Possokhov’s ballet lineage all the way back to the earliest origins of ballet in the court of King Louis XIV. It’s that continuous thread that this ballet valorizes.

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

Alexei Ratmansky—also trained by Pestov at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy—takes on the other side of ballet’s oral tradition in The Seasons: the ability for details to be lost over time. For the last several years, Ratmansky has been deeply invested in reconstructing ballets from notation: specifically, ballets which have dramatically changed since their first performance. In the case of The Seasons, the original ballet is completely lost. 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.

Header Image: San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov’s Classical Symphony // © Erik Tomasson