Ballet Lovers, Prepare to be Spellbound

By Katie Sweeney

Dores André and Carlo Di Lanno in in Wheeldon’s ‘Cinderella.’ (Erik Tomasson)

Fans of the San Francisco Ballet have much to celebrate in the coming weeks. First up: It’s the 75th anniversary of The Nutcracker; then, the official 2020 season kicks off January 21 with the fairy tale Cinderella. It’s a milestone year for two of SF Ballet’s most prominent figures: Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson and Principal Dancer Yuan Yuan Tan, who commemorate their respective 35th and 25th seasons with the institution. Tomasson is the world’s longest-serving sole creative director of a major ballet company. Tan will portray Titania — a role she’s never danced before — in Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which runs March 6 to 15. But before most of these touchstones can be achieved, the ballet will host its annual opening night gala on Thursday, January 16. And it’s destined to be one for the books.

“It’s the most incredible party of the year,” Patricia Roberts, the event’s chair, enthuses. “It’s a delicious dinner. The decor is mind-blowing. Then you go across the street and see a performance. Plus, the after-party is so much fun. Where else can you go to a party with a live band in one room, a DJ in another room, and another form of entertainment somewhere else?

Roberts is correct: The opening night of the ballet is one of the most talked-about and enjoyable society festivities. A native of Mississippi, Roberts brings a touch of Southern charm to the festivities. She’s planning the evening, dubbed “Spellbound,” with the San Francisco Ballet Auxiliary and designer Riccardo Benavides. It includes a reception and dinner at City Hall, the show and the after-party. (Tickets are on sale at

Sonoma-based interior designer Patricia Roberts is chairing the San Francisco Ballet’s January gala. (Devlin Shand)

“The first thing I needed to work on was the gala theme,” Roberts explains. “I was told, ‘You’ve got to present it to marketing. Then it goes to Helgi for approval.’ So I studied the upcoming season. I had a few other ideas at first, but I came upon the word ‘spellbound’ and I thought, ‘Oh my god, that’s it.’”

The backdrop for “Spellbound” is an enchanted forest, so expect City Hall to transform into a lush green natural extravaganza. Proceeds benefit a wide range of artistic initiatives, from new works and scholarships to community outreach.

“San Francisco Ballet has many education programs, and they expose kids to the ballet,” says Roberts. “It’s so important to help the ballet educate and provide the experience to the underprivileged. It’s such a beautiful art form. It’s so inspirational and magical.

On January 16, the San Francisco Ballet hosts its annual opening night gala at San Francisco City Hall and the War Memorial Opera House. The theme, “Spellbound,” captures the joie de vivre of the company’s 2020 season, which includes Cinderella, among other ballets. Festivities kick off at 5 p.m. See for tickets.

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