It took eight years for Frances Chung to rise from corps to principal at San Francisco Ballet. The Canadian dancer’s ascent was accompanied by admiration for her sunny disposition and utterly committed performing style. Still, until last month, in traditional story ballets, Chung, 27, had always been the bridesmaid (or ghostly version thereof), rather than the bride. That changed when artistic director Helgi Tomasson cast her as Swanilda in SFB’s premiere of Balanchine and Danilova’s Coppélia, first staged in 1974. Chung spoke with Pointe about learning the Act III pas de deux and other aspects of the role.
Frances Chung: “Balanchine is difficult; the hardest part is that it doesn’t look difficult. There are those backwards pas de bourrée on the diagonal. In the Act III solo, you must control your upper body, the port de bras must be fluid, but your lower legs must make it seem like you’re having fun. Meanwhile, your leg is cramping and you’re dying. But, then, it’s six pirouettes to the right, six pirouettes to the left, repeated three times, followed by a manège. However, you’re Swanilda and you’re meant to be playful. It’s not impossible, but you need to have your technique down pat.
I have a wonderful partner in Vitor Luiz—it’s important that you connect with your Franz. And Judith Fugate, who is staging Coppélia for the Balanchine Trust, has been incredible. She danced Swanilda many times and knows the whole ballet really well—the steps, the musicality and what Mr. Balanchine’s intentions were. She’s very helpful in stressing the specifics of character, while being careful not to neglect balance and technique.
This is a comic ballet, which plays to my strengths. I like the emphasis on pointework and the speed. Swanilda’s a charmer with lots of friends, but she has curiosity, shrewdness and mischievousness. When the girls get into trouble, you can’t be too mad at them; they mean no harm. She’s really very young; I try to play up her youth.”