Helgi Tomasson Awarded 2021 San Francisco Arts Medallion

10/22/2021

Departing SF Ballet Artistic Director Lauded for 37 Years of Outstanding Leadership

October 22, 2021—Approaching his final season with San Francisco Ballet, Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson was honored with the San Francisco Arts Medallion by the Museum of Performance + Design. At a reception last night at Saint Joseph's Arts Society in San Francisco, Tomasson was lauded for his leadership and development of the Company during his 37 years at the helm.

Helgi Tomasson. PHOTO - Natalie Schrik of DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY
Helgi Tomasson. PHOTO - Natalie Schrik of DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY

The Museum of Performance + Design has a long connection with San Francisco Ballet. The non-profit organization was founded in 1947 by Russell Hartley, a dancer and designer with San Francisco Ballet, to create a record of the history of the performing arts in the Bay Area. 

The award ceremony was hosted by Saint Joseph's Arts Society and held in the Society's venue, a large and elaborate former Catholic church that is home to several unconventional and imaginative art creations. In addition to supporters of the Museum, the Arts Society, and San Francisco Ballet, several former and present SFB dancers were in attendance, including Yuan Yuan Tan, Katita Waldo, Frances Chung, Wanting Zhao, Benjamin Freemantle, Madison Keesler, Misa Kuranaga, Jennifer Stahl, Esteban Hernandez, Nikisha Fogo, Wei Wang, and others.

Helgi Tomasson (center) with dancers (left to right) Wei Wang, Nikisha Fogo, Frances Chung, Esteban Hernandez, and Wan Ting Zhao. PHOTO - Natalie Schrik of DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY
Helgi Tomasson (center) with dancers (left to right) Wei Wang, Nikisha Fogo, Frances Chung, Esteban Hernandez, and Wan Ting Zhao. PHOTO - Natalie Schrik of DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY

Pattie Lawton, President of the Museum's Board of Trustees and event co-chair, lauded Tomasson's leadership for, "The excellence of the repertory, devotion to classical ballet, commitment to innovation, and the cultivation of young and new technology...What an amazing company. What an amazing organization. What an amazing man."

Opening remarks were followed by members of the Company performing three of Tomasson's choreographic works. Yuan Yuan Tan and Tiit Helimets danced the pas de deux from 7 for Eight. Sarah Van Patten and Luke Ingham performed the pas de deux from The Fifth Season, and Concerto Grosso was danced by Esteban Hernandez, Cavan Conley, Diego Cruz, Benjamin Freemantle, and Wei Wang. They were accompanied by a dozen members of the SF Ballet Orchestra conducted by Martin West.

The tribute to Tomasson was made by James Herbert, Founder, Chairman, and Co-CEO of First Republic Bank. Herbert described Tomasson as a "true gift to San Francisco," and his achievements as "incredible, truly remarkable" in joining a "financially challenged" organization and turning it "completely around," making it "positioned for long-term success." He went on to praise Tomasson's achievements, including the Unbound Festival, and influencing traditional programming by interspersing different kinds of ballets in single programs as well as throughout seasons, a model which has been copied by many other ballet companies, he said. The audience responded to Herbert's introduction of Tomasson with enthusiastic applause. 

Helgi Tomasson and Anita Paciotti. PHOTO - Natalie Schrik of DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY
Helgi Tomasson and Anita Paciotti. PHOTO - Natalie Schrik of DREW ALTIZER PHOTOGRAPHY

Tomasson was bestowed the Medallion by Anita Paciotti, Ballet Master and former dancer who joined the Company in 1968. In his acceptance remarks, Tomasson expressed his appreciation for the support of the Company's Board, who "bought into" his artistic vision from the beginning. His greatest joy has been working with the dancers, he said, "The dancers are something that I truly love. To see talent blossom, from the School, getting better and better, understanding what their art is about...That, to me, is my reward." He said he couldn't wait for the Nutcracker to open again, and for the whole season to begin. "It would be an absolute joy," he said, to witness again the enthusiasm and love the dancers have for their art form.

Tomasson recalled that while on tour he is often asked why his dancers have so much joy in their dancing. He said he replies that it is because dancing is a joyful art form, a beautiful art form that he has dedicated his life to. He reflected on his career with Joffrey and New York City Ballet and the talents he was exposed to prior to coming to San Francisco Ballet. And while we must respect the classic ballets, he said, he also urged the audience to look forward to new works that might one day become classics. "But most of all, don't stand still," he encouraged, "You have to move forward." He expressed his appreciation for the San Francisco Bay Area as a community that respects and supports the arts, and the need to keep up with the innovations of the other Bay Area arts, professional sports, and technologies of Silicon Valley. He concluded by praising the Company. "You have a gem," he told the audience and asked for their continued support of San Francisco Ballet.