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San Francisco Ballet Turns 75


America's oldest professional dance company turns 75 this year. The San Francisco Ballet is marking the milestone by sharing the joy of dance with its community and beyond.

"We start our basic day from 10 o'clock to 6:30 or 7:30 at nighttime," says Anthony Spaulding.He and the other dancers of the San Francisco Ballet (SFB) have been busy over the past year, rehearsing for the New Works Festival, a celebration of the company's big anniversary that will begin touring in September.

"These are all new works being created by someone like Mark Morris, Christopher Wheeldon, Paul Taylor, names that are very well known, James Kudelka, Val Caniparoli," says artistic director Helgi Tomasson . "I wanted to mix it up and see what all these different approaches will do for a ballet company and it has been wonderful to see the results."

Executive Director Glenn McCoy says the upcoming tour is an approriate way to celebrate 75 years. "As America's oldest professional ballet company, we felt that it was important to take the company out to America," he says.

The tour will take the company to Chicago, New York, Southern California and the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Artistic Director Tomasson says the company has many foreign dancers. And that has contributed to its success, turning the San Francisco Ballet, over the past two decades, into a melting pot, just like the United States.

"The tendency for the American dancers was to go to New York to have a career," he explains. "So, it was basically accidental that foreign dancers auditioned for me here or sent videotapes. I needed dancers, so I hired them. What they bring is part of their heritage."

Bangkok-born Nutnaree Pipit-Suksun, or Ommi, is one of the company's new soloists. Tomasson says he discovered her dancing in Europe in a school performance. "I thought she had a beautiful quality on stage, beautifully trained."

As for Ommi, she says the San Francisco Ballet is "amazing and unique." "Everybody has their own style. They offer different things." She says if everybody were the same that would be "boring to watch, I feel."

By signing up dancers from around the world and exploring classic and contemporary works, America's oldest ballet hopes to attract younger audiences. And so far, it is succeeding.

Executive Director Glenn McCoy says the New Works Festival has been a success in its home city.

"We've been very pleased with how it's been received," he says. "It's generated just the kind of debate we looked forward to in terms of presenting new works."

The nationwide tour opens September 16 in Chicago.

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