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San Francisco Ballet's 'Tempest': a promise inventively fulfilled

By Renee Renouf / June 9, 1980



One of the oldest ballet institutions in the United States is finally in a position to realize its promise. Across the street from the Louise K. Davies Symphony Hall construction, San Francisco Ballet once had offices a school. Now with the Opera House Annex, completed last summer as part of the $35 million construction of the Performing Arts Center, San Francisco Ballet once again has quarters in the Civic Center area of San Francisco.

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When the symphony formally vacates the space in the Opera House it has shared with the opera since 1932, the potential suggested in the recent premiere of Michael Smuin's interpretation of Shakespeare's "The Tempest" should be fulfilled.

While the company mouned the first United States performance of "Nutcracker" and built it on a comparative shoestring in the Bay Area, this will be the first time the company has created a full-length work, music upward, here in San Francisco. The only innovation remaining is to work with an original San Francisco-bred libretto, as well as music.

For the moment, however, with the prospect of a January 1981 live television broadcast of "The Tempest" with the aid of local educational broadcast of "The Tempest" with the aid of local education station KQED, Michael Smuin appears quite gratified by this current achievement. "For years we didn't even have a telephone in the Opera House," Smuin remarked. "Now we have a production office , a rehearsal office and studio space, an Opera/Ballet Box Office and the costume shop for this production."

Dr. Richard Le Blond, president of the San Francisco Ballet, said last spring that the business involvement San Francisco has with its ballet company generates an income of $8 million a year in direct and affiliated revenues. Le Blond, a sociologist, was wooed away from Pennsylvania Ballet by the prospect of administering the company after the Save Our Ballet campaign. He and his associate, Philip Semark, the company's general manager, made it their community duty to turn around the company's reputation for noninvolvement with other members of the local dance community.

Now hardly a dance-related event worth mentioning in the area or statewide laks some representative of the company in its achievement. Among the spectacular, less-heralded credits is Semark's creation of a Dance-in-Schools outreach program which introduces movement and dance to public-school children. It culminates in attendance at a performance and this spring, ballet instruction in the children's own school. Ruth Bossieux, the program's director, has carried the program to public libraries and Head Start programs, and recently sparked a jointly financed program in one of the schools in her native Berkeley.

"The Tempest" production testifies to what San Francisco Ballet's technical staff can proudly achieve with the aid of the Opera Shop's scenery staff, headed by Pierre Cayard. Two local costume studios and Patricia Bibbins of the San Francisco costume staff assisted Willa Kim with her costume designs. John Meares and Sally Ann Parsons came from Ray dibbins costume shop in New York to create special costume effects. Paul Chihara expanded themes from Henry Purcell. Chihara, like Kim, hd worked with the company before on the scores for "Shinju" and "Mistletoe Bride." Set designer Tony Walton hd created "Harp Concerto" and "Mother Blues" sets for Smuin.

Theatrical invention and magical costume effects combine in "The Tempest" with some sheer razzmatazz show business dancing en pointem and a feeling which leans heavily toward Las Vegas spectaculars. The music starts with the fanfare and linear clarity of Purcell and begins to pick up recognizable snippets from Tchaikovsky and in the Masque a good slice of pop tunes. Sprinkled here and there are some passages of charm and insight, particularly for Prospero and Ariel, for Caliban and the comics.

A curtain drops, revealing the ship, and becomes the sea. It turns stormy tossed by nyads dressed in small-scale stomachers, diaphanous skirts over stretchable, washable tights, topped by neck ruffs and Elizabethan pearl headdresses. The ship disgorges its passengers of men and becomes the island and Prospero's cave. In the Masque it becomes an exaggerated moon or horn of plenty.

Prospero and Ariel, danced by Attila Ficzere and David McNaughton, provide enough of the senex-puer, alchemist-Mercurial quality to convey the transformative qualities of that distant island which was Shakespeare's final theme. The lovers Ferdinand and Miranda (Tomm Ruud and Evelyn Cisneros) are given some charming moments in their pas de deux, but the resemblance to Smuin's "Romeo and Juliet" is a distinct one. Passages for the corps de ballet in the beginning adopt some "Swan Lake" port de bras and there is a diagonal movement straight out of Act II of "Giselle. While the costume and character of Caliban (Horacio Cifuentes) is one of the production's best realized moments, Smuin's "The Tempest" is bound to dazzle audiences for some time to come."