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San Francisco Ballet on Tour

Interview with Corps de Ballet Dancer Nicole Ciapponi

by Heather Desaulniers

June 2012

Fresh from a brilliant Stern Grove performance as the ‘scotch girl’ in George Balanchine’s “Scotch Symphony”, San Francisco corps de ballet member Nicole Ciapponi sat down with criticaldance to give a behind-the-scenes look at the San Francisco Ballet’s June tour to Hamburg and Moscow.

Nicole, you recently returned from your second major international tour with San Francisco Ballet. Break down the logistics of the tour for us. What cities did you visit and perform in? What repertory did the company bring and in what different types of programs did you participate?

Nicole Ciapponi: First stop was one week in Hamburg, Germany where we did two nights of the same mixed rep program: Helgi Tomasson’s “7 for Eight”, Yuri Possokhov’s “RAkU” and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Within the Golden Hour”. Then we were onto Moscow for a short stay where the company was part of two gala performances. For the first show, we performed a few pas de deux excerpts and the 3rd/4th movements from Tomasson’s “Trio” and the second night featured “7 for Eight” and the balcony pas de deux from “Romeo & Juliet”. I danced in both Hamburg shows and in the first of the two gala performances in Moscow.

How quickly were you able to adjust to the different time zones, class spaces, and stages? Was there any serious jet lag going on in the SFB family?

Luckily, I was able to adjust to the first time change (in Hamburg) pretty well. The Hamburg facility is very similar to ours in San Francisco, with lots studios and a huge stage. The stage was a bit louder than what we are used to, so we had to be sure to bang out our shoes a little more than usual. When we went onto Moscow, we arrived at around 5:00pm and then had to be at work around 8:00pm for class, followed by our stage rehearsal. So, that was a long day, but again, I seemed to do ok with minimal jet lag.

Who in the company is the most fun to travel with? Who is the most seasoned traveler?

Lonnie Weeks (also a corps de ballet dancer) and I joined the company at the same time and we are very good friends, so traveling on tour with him was fantastic. We had an amazing time! It’s hard to say who the most seasoned travelers in our group are because there are so many dancers who fit that description. I think Yuan Yuan (Tan) is the most used to adapting to international travel because she has toured for many years with SFB and also does quite a bit of guesting with different companies around the world.

Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s repertory choices for this tour definitely reflect the company commitment to breadth of style, choreographic variety, as well as formal and structural difference. Do you have a favorite amongst this set of works – why or why not?

I enjoy all these pieces, though my favorites are probably “Within the Golden Hour”, “RAkU” and “7 for Eight”. I had learned “Within the Golden Hour” a while back and now that I have performed it, I find that it’s a ballet that feels good to dance on stage. “RAkU’s” storyline is super compelling and the story truly draws you in. And I have a soft spot when it comes to “7 for Eight”. Not only do I love the choreography but it was one of the first ballets I learned when I joined the company.

Were you able to get a sense of how the rep was received by the international audiences? Could you tell whether there were particular favorites, and if so, why?

The feedback in both cities was positive and supportive to all of the repertory. In Hamburg, the audience gave us very long curtain calls, which was so nice. And then in Moscow, there was a real interest in how our company mixes contemporary works with traditional ballets and how that influences the way our dancers dance. We felt so welcome and appreciated.

Although SFB has a traditional rank system (principal, character, soloist, corps), the company often ventures outside that structure, providing generous performance opportunities for all its dancers, in terms of the delineation and casting of roles. Did you find that still the case on tour and if so, in what ways was that reflected?

I think it’s wonderful that dancers at all different ranks in our company get opportunities to dance so many varied roles. With only thirty dancers on tour in Hamburg and twenty who continued onto Moscow, that was definitely still the case. But at the same time, when you are on tour, the company wants the international audiences to see the Principal Dancers in the lead roles, so that definitely played into casting.

You also got a chance to work with some different companies on the tour. Can you tell us what that experience was like? What did you notice about how each company works?

Both companies were great to be around. I found that Hamburg was very similar to SFB in a lot of ways, including their facilities and schedules. Hamburg’s rep also has similarities to us though I think it might be a bit more contemporary overall. Moscow’s system did feel different to me. Not only are they a huge company, but their daily schedule varies from what is typical for us at San Francisco Ballet.

With such a packed class, rehearsal and performance schedule, was there any downtime built in where you could be a tourist and go sight seeing?

Yes, even with the combination of busy schedules and the short stays in each city, I did get some time to be a tourist. Because I only danced one of the two shows in Moscow, I had a whole day there to hang out with some of the other dancers who were also off. We spent that day walking around the big sights.

How do you feel now that you are back working in the Bay Area? Did this recent tour change you or shape you? How so?

Though I had a great time on tour, I am glad to be back in San Francisco, prepping for the coming home season and another tour next month, when the entire company heads to London. I do find that touring gives me a special perspective on what’s happening in ballet right now and always increases my respect for the artform.

Share with us the one experience (personal or professional) that stood out from the trip.

Seeing Alina Cojocaru dance “The Lady of the Camellias” was something that I will never forget. I have been watching online videos of her since I was eight-years-old and never imagined that one day I would see her live onstage. Though she is small, she manages to dance so big yet still maintaining a light, dainty and delicate quality. It was such a special experience.

Bio: Nicole Ciapponi accepted a Corps de Ballet position with the San Francisco Ballet at the age of 16, coming directly from the San Francisco Ballet School’s trainee program. Nicole began dancing as a five-year-old in British Columbia, and at 15, was accepted into the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Professional Division (2008). She was then accepted into the San Francisco Ballet Trainee Program in the fall of 2009 and in January 2010, was offered a position in the Company. Nicole attended The Royal Winnipeg Ballet, The Pacific Northwest Ballet and the San Francisco Ballet summer schools on full scholarships and was also a two time B.C. Provincial Ballet winner, a two time winner of the Evelyn Hart Scholarship. At the Adeline Genee International Ballet Competition, she was awarded the silver medal as well as the Sandra Fair and Ivan Fecan Award for Theatricality. In the spring of 2009, she placed in the top twelve at the Youth America Grand Prix Finals in New York and was also one of the few selected to perform at the Miami International Ballet Festival Gala in the fall of 2009. Since joining the company, Nicole has been featured in leading roles in ballets such as: Scotch Symphony, Divertimento No.15, Symphony in C, Coppelia by George Balanchine, 7 for Eight, The Nutcracker, Giselle by Helgi Tomasson, The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude by William Forsythe and Others.

Photo courtesy Nicole Ciapponi

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