On the Road

Inside Tiit Heliments & Co.'s summer tour to Estonia
Published in the December 2011/January 2012 issue.


Photos by Quinn Wharton


During summer layoff, dancers escape the day-to-day routine of company life. Some use the free time to embark on their own ballet adventures. In June, Tiit Helimets, a principal with San Francisco Ballet, gathered a group of colleagues and took them on tour to his home country of Estonia. “I’d never done anything like this,” Helimets says. “It felt as if I’d suddenly become a father to 15 people.” The dancers, from San Francisco Ballet, Ballet San Jose and Milwaukee Ballet, had just two weeks to rehearse in San Francisco before boarding the plane to Tallinn, Estonia’s capital. The program included George Balanchine’s Apollo and Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House, plus a handful of pas de deux from ballets like Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella and Marius Petipa’s Le Corsaire. “I wanted to show Estonian audiences the power of American dancers,” Helimets says. The exuberant applause in the Estonian National Opera House made it clear he succeeded. “They were clapping and stomping in unison,” says dancer Sarah Van Patten. “Apparently, it’s their ultimate response.”

Tiit Helimets, Frances Chung, Nicole Ciapponi, James Sofranko, Sarah Van Patten, Sasha De Sola, stage manager Jane Green, choreographer Val Caniparoli, ballet master Katita Waldo, Joshua Reynolds and Julianne Kepley take to the streets of Tallinn. “Tiit gave us a private tour of the old town, including the ballet school where he trained,” says Van Patten. “The entire city was so well-kept!”

Boarding the plane to Estonia

Inside Frances Chung’s suitcase: “I always pack my foot roller and this little stuffed dog that makes a perfect neck pillow for the plane. I’m also known as ‘The Snack Queen’—that old Freed bag is filled with gummies, chocolates, crackers and cookies. We all love that stuff, no matter how much they tell us it’s bad for us.”

Frances Chung and Joshua Reynolds rehearse Val Caniparoli’s Ibsen’s House in the Estonian National Opera House studios. “Val came on tour with us, and it was such a privilege to get his coaching, hear his intentions, then be able to add my own bits of personality,” says Chung.

Frances Chung, Tiit Helimets, Katita Waldo and Sarah Van Patten at dinner. The company ate together almost every night at an Italian restaurant across the street from the theater.

Onstage at the Estonian National Opera House

Sarah Van Patten and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira perform Val Caniparoli’s "Ibsen’s House"

Alexsandra Meijer and Tiit Helimets in "Apollo"