Have Pointe Shoes, Will Travel

January 25, 2010

The streets of Beijing’s Forbidden City witnessed some impromptu tendus when San Francisco Ballet’s dancers went sightseeing during their November tour to China. The com­pany’s first visit to the People’s Republic, arranged by private donors to coincide with the government’s 60th anniversary, gave dancers the opportunity to perform for audiences that rarely see a Western troupe. The tour also marked a homecoming for prima ballerina and Shanghai native Yuan Yuan Tan. Critics and audiences alike greeted her Swan Lake with special enthusiasm.

The excitement of encountering a new and very different culture outweighed some of the two-week tour’s rigors. “We have never toured to a non-Western country before,” says corps member Dana Genshaft. “China’s architecture looks futuristic, but you can turn a corner and women are washing their clothes in a basin on the street. It’s a place of extremes.”

“The students wanted to get everything just right and they were so impressed by their visitors. Their mouths were like little ‘O’s.” —Yuan Yuan Tan

The audiences loved that Yuan Yuan had come home to dance. When we did the Black Swan pas, I was thinking, ‘Just don’t mess up YY’s stuff!’ ”—Tiit Helimets