Ballet

SF Ballet’s Helgi Tomasson addresses his 2022 departure, future

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SF Ballet Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson. Courtesy: Erik Tomasson/SF Ballet.

The San Francisco Ballet earlier this month announced the 2022 departure of Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, after more than four decades with the company. Tomasson, who’s currently overseeing SF Ballet’s “Digital Season,” which kicked off this week with “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” will continue to steer the ship into the summer of next year, as well as plan the company’s 2023 New Works Festival. And while he’s happy to offer his services to the forthcoming committee that will be responsible for finding his replacement, he said it would be inappropriate for him to actively take part in that search.

In an email interview, Helgi Tomasson answered questions about what’s next for him, for SF Ballet, and what his departure means for iconic productions such as his version of the San-Francisco-set “Nutcracker.”

RIFF: Where are you going, and what are you doing next?

Helgi Tomasson: We’ve just completed our first virtual Gala and the 88th Season Opening Gala Performance last week and are now working on completing the filming and launch of our 2021 season with audiences worldwide through our digital platform. Beyond that, I remain strongly committed to getting the Company and audiences safely back to live performances, and I will be continuing to work on the 2022 season and a New Works Festival in 2023, which I am currently planning, and which will place a spotlight on innovation and diversity from a range of creative voices. I also will continue to be involved in the staging of my works. Finally, I’m eager to have more time with my family and grandchildren.

Are you staying in the Bay Area or moving home to Iceland?

Helgi Tomasson: The reason we announced this [the exit] 18 months in advance is to allow me to focus on getting the dancers safely back onstage, plan, and support a seamless transition. This has been my home for the last 36 years, and I’ve not made any decisions yet on this.

What does your departure from SF Ballet mean for the staging of your beloved version of “Nutcracker,” as well as your other works, at SF Ballet?

Helgi Tomasson: This was the very beginning phase of transition planning; the first step in an 18-month transition is my focus on immediate goals and seamless transition. Just as I had when I began here at SF Ballet, my successor will need to have the leeway to have creative freedom.

Why did you wait until now to make such an announcement? Why not wait until after you can do a full season in-person?

Helgi Tomasson: This timeline was constructed so that I can continue to work on getting the Company back on stage for in-person performances and plan the 2022 season and the 2023 festival. It also provides the organization with time for ensuring a thorough search for, and seamless transition to, my successor.

The decision has been something I’ve been thinking about for a while, even before the pandemic. It has always been my goal to make a transition when the dancers and organization were at their strongest. While we’ve been very focused for the last nine months on ensuring the health and safety of the Company and also finding a way to create and film new works, the pause from in-person performances and the day-to-day routine has allowed me time to reflect and plan my transition, which I have set in motion with support from the board and [Executive Director] Kelly Tweeddale.

Do you have any recommendations for someone to step in for you?

Helgi Tomasson: I have been asked by the board to share the attributes that have defined SF Ballet during my tenure. I will be available to the search committee, once it has been formed—if needed—but it would not be appropriate for me to be a part of the search.

What will you miss the most about SF Ballet?

Helgi Tomasson: I will miss being in the studio with my dancers every day, coaching them and seeing them grow, and also choreographing and creating new works on them. I will also deeply miss connecting in the theater with our local audiences and dance lovers who have been so supportive of the company throughout the decades.

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

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