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Parties: En Pointe

By Catherine Bigelow with photography by Drew Altizer

The opulent San Francisco Ballet gala roared back to life on March 24 — after a two-year absence and being COVID-postponed from its previously scheduled January date. Aptly titled La Grand Fête, it was as much a social scene reunion as it was a joyful 89th season opener for our world-class dance company.

The heartfelt evening also welcomed Danielle St.Germain, the newly appointed SF Ballet executive director, and paid homage to beloved artistic director and principal choreographer Helgi Tomasson. After 37 years of extraordinary creativity, he retires this month following the season’s finale, his 2009 production of Swan Lake.

This year’s gala yielded the fundraiser’s highest-ever take: $3.3 million to support SF Ballet’s artistic productions and free education programs, as well as assist student dancers with the City’s notoriously costly housing.

The traditional format of the gala, led by chair René Rodman Diamond, was slightly tweaked. “I’m the longeststanding gala chair-in-waiting in this event’s history,” joked Diamond, glam in an Oscar de la Renta gown. Diamond, who was tapped in 2020 to chair the canceled 2021 gala, continued,“This year, we had to forgo our traditional, post-gala dance party, but patrons of all the performing arts have been incredibly generous during this difficult time.”

A peacock’s parade of gala patrons arrived (amid a full house of 3,000 COVID-tested balletomanes), with many decked out in elegant trains, poofy peplums and elaborate ensembles. Cocktails and canapés were served outdoors in the War Memorial’s Passage of Remembrance garden and in the grand marble foyer of the San Francisco Opera House.

Then it was showtime, as dancers executed an exquisite showcase of pieces, including world premieres, from the SF Ballet’s repertory season. After the rousing performance, 1,500 deeppocketed patrons and Encore supporters dashed through a gate across Van Ness Avenue to City Hall for a delectable McCalls dinner, paired with primo vino from the JCB Collection, sponsored by vintner Jean-Charles Boisset.

Inside City Hall, J. Riccardo Benavides designed an elegant decor scheme, inspired by one of Tomasson’s favorite ballets, Don Quixote. “I love that ballet, too,” explained Benavides. “So we created three, 30-foot drapes hanging in the Rotunda, each covered in 5,000 red roses, which echoed the ballet’s Quixote costumes.”

The evening also recognized current world conflicts — the brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine, from where Tomasson noted two SF Ballet teachers as well as two lead company choreographers, Yuri Possokhov and Alexei Ratmansky (Russian-born but grew up in Kyiv, Ukraine), all hail. Rising for our traditional national anthem, guests continued standing in solidarity as the SF Ballet Orchestra conducted the Ukrainian anthem with that country’s blue-andyellow flag boldly emblazoned onscreen.

“Sadly, these corps members all have family living there, amid the war zone,” announced Tomasson from a podium on the stage. “As we celebrate dance tonight, I am dedicating this evening’s performance to all the people in Ukraine.”

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