The S.O.B. Tale

10 Aug

Ness, Anton, S.O. B. Save Our Ballet: A Story of Hope During a Recession
Charleston, S.C., 2012 104 pp., illustrated.    Pbk, $21.95, e-book: $14.99
ISBN: 9781-478-156-118

This slender paperback tells the background  and the dancers’ fight to rescue San Francisco Ballet from bankruptcy and almost certain dissolution in 1974.  Anton Ness, its author, was a member of the company at the time after studying in San Francisco and attending the North Carolina School of the Arts.

Writing of the company’s early history, Ness recounts the company’s start under Adolph Bolm, Sergei Diaghilev’s great character dancer, when he accepted the post of ballet master of the San Francisco Opera in 1932.  As an historic side note  it remains remarkable that this provincial city, fostered by its strategic position during the brief gold and silver strikes in the Sierra Nevada, should have financed and opened an opera house in the midst of  The Great Depression.

The Christensen era is reviewed and includes Lew Christensen’s background with George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein, complete with a George Platt Lyne’s image of Lew as Apollo in the iconic Balanchine ballet.  Ness recounts briefly the American Ballet Caravan Company as the ensemble was called when touring South America in 1941, but does not touch on Dance Players, the short-lived ensemble   Lew organized while waiting to be drafted and  his choreographing the haunting circus ballet Jinx. Lew’s service in the U.S. Army effectively finished his dancing career. Ness does explain the rationale leading Lew to decide to move to San Francisco, joining Willam and Harold with their San Francisco Ballet enterprise.

Ness leaves further detail to authors Sally Bailey, Debra Sowell  and Cobbett Steinberg for aspects of San Francisco Ballet’s history, concerning himself with his immediate experience and the summer months of the S.O.B. campaign.  Arthur Blum’s brief career as manager is illuminating, along with the singular contribution of the “angels” who sparked the S.O.B. campaign: Maureen Broderick, Nancy Dickson and additionally Damara Bennett,  Roberta Pfeil and Elizabeth Tienken.

I was then San Francisco correspondent for Dance News. Though not intimately involved, I remember the period well.  The can-do spirit of the dancers was simply incomparable, the confidence  spilling over in subsequent years. In a Dance Magazine article, Michael Smuin, then co-directing the company with Lew Christensen, stated he could  not take credit for the results, that it was wholly a dancer-driven campaign to which he gave further support and organization.

A number of the dancers were still dancing in the company in 1985 when Helgi Tomasson was invited to become San Francisco Ballet’s artistic director.  Two dancers, Betsy Erickson and Anita Paciotti,, currently serve the company ably as ballet mistresses.

Ness’ first-hand knowledge and obvious affection for the company makes the account enjoyable and touching.  What adds to the flavor from a long-time viewer’s perspective is the inclusion of several figures whose contributions to the company’s development  do not currently receive much recognition.  Ness is to be thanked for helping to rectify this error.

S.O.B. Save Our Ballet is available through Amazon.Com, Barnes and Noble and independent book stores.

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One Response to “The S.O.B. Tale”

  1. woollywesterneye August 12, 2012 at 2:55 am #

    Tony, your comments was posted on the Suhalia review, not on this review of The S.O.B.
    Tale. I don’t know whether you can repost or not. Thanks for presenting it.

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