I haven’t had much news to report about the San Francisco Ballet Summer Intensive because, like last year when Julian attended the School of American Ballet summer intensive, he has been there on his own. But I did ask him some questions about it two weeks ago for the purpose of writing this post, and I was at the school on Friday to observe one class. So I feel I can report a bit about the program for those interested. Here goes.
Although Julian came to SFB summer intensive on the “watch list” for a spot in the trainee program, the step before becoming an apprentice at SFB, when the time came to put his name on the list of those actually interested in being considered for such a position, he did not do so. Why? He’d already signed his contract with Semperoper Ballett in Dresden, Germany. If you recall, he flew to San Francisco to try and get a decision from SFB prior to the summer program, but he was seen by Helgi Tomasson, artistic director and principal choreographer for the company and school director, not by Patrick Armand, trainee program principal, who had just been put into the position and was really the one to make the decision. So…no decision was made. Thus, Julian had to make one…and did. Getting on the list of possible trainees was accomplished at his NYC audition, which was also when he was given his scholarship–everything paid (except food).
Dancers who attend SFB summer intensive stay in dorms that are about an hour away by subway. The possible trainees, however, stay in Jackson House, an actual house used by the trainees during the year and provided free of charge by SFB School. It has 30 rooms or so; there are 12 trainees, I believe. Some other SFB summer intensive students stay there as well, and during the year more dancers stay in the facility as well. The facility is very nice. The kids stay two or three to a room (some with a private bathroom) and have a common room where they can watch television and a large kitchen where they cook their own meals. Everyone is given room in the refrigerator and freezer (baskets for their own food) and a locker for dry goods. The house also has a back patio with a grill. Not too shabby really. They can walk or take a bus to two grocery stores (Trader Joe’s and Safeway), but they are on their own when it comes to food; no meal plan as in the dorms. Jackson House is just 15 minutes by bus to SFB School.
As for classes, according to Julian, in comparison to American Ballet Theatre and the School of American Ballet summer intensives:
- SAB had less classes overall and a shorter day (2-3 classes per day); ABT and SFB had 4-5 classes per day; SAB had no Saturday classes.
- ABT was the hardest because it had the most classes and it had partnering 5 days per week.
- SAB was the most challenging because of the style; he had never done Balanchine before, Balanchine was difficult to learn and to do, and it was all Balanchine. No other styles or genres were offered.
- ABT was all classical ballet, plus all genres of dance jazz, contemporary, modern, even a little hip hop.
- SFB was classical, with contemporary classes as well; a little Balanchine was thrown in because of the training of some teachers.
As with most intensives, some teachers were better than others, but overall, Julian was pretty happy, especially with Armand. The day we went to watch he was taught by Felipe E Diaz Gomez, ballet master of the Dutch National Ballet, who I thought was quite good as well. (He corrected Julian a lot!)
All the schools tend to be quite strict about coming into the building and studios. At ABT, however, I recall just coming upstairs and going to the correct studio without much fanfare. At SAB, you always go to the 5th floor and check in. At SFB, you checked in in the lobby and had to wait to be escorted to the right floor and studio. It felt a bit more formal, more careful.
Julian did enjoy his time at SFB. He made a really good friend from Australia. The feel, I think, for both of us was different after him living in NYC for a year. First, he knows San Francisco; he attended City Ballet School in San Francisco and has friends there, so he knows his way around a bit and knows how to use the mass transit system. I know the city, too; of course, I know NYC as well. But San Francisco feels so much smaller compared to New York. I really wasn’t too worried about him. He was free to go where he liked and do what he wanted, but Jackson house, like the dorms, had a 10 p.m. curfew. He didn’t like it, especially since he turned 18 in July. I didn’t hear from him much while he was there. He was busy, having fun and just doing his thing. I was not very involved. I did know that he was in the building by 10 p.m., so that helped from my end.
I will mention that he had taken a few weeks off before he started the SFB intensive, something we do not recommend normally for anyone. He really needed it after SAB’s intensive schedule prior to Workshop. His body was a mess and needed a rest. That meant, though, that he had a week and a half or so of being really sore when the program started.
While at the SFB summer intensive Julian worked hard, but he did sit out when he felt his body needed a break. He was keeping his upcoming job in Dresden in mind and basically saw the summer program as a way to stay in shape rather than to land a spot at SFB school, which is what the trainee spot gets the boys. Other boys who already had jobs did the same, some even taking full days off. This made the whole feeling of the intensive a bit different for Julian, I think, as well. He told me he felt a bit weird when the other boys started getting spots in the level program in the school or being given trainee spots. The part of him that still wanted to land that trainee position rose to the top; but he knew had a real job, something a trainee spot is not–it’s not even a guarantee of a real job with SFB.
Living in Jackson House and having a curfew was difficult for him. He didn’t participate in the community meetings, which was a problem; he wasn’t a good “community member.” But he enjoyed the house and the people and his roommate. As usual, the social aspects of living in community were a big draw.
As for the level program and the trainee program at SFB, I can only relay what I have heard. Julian has a friend who went there. He met her at SAB last summer. He says she improved tremendously in a year in the level 8 program. We know other people who love the school and have succeed there. It’s the way in to SFB, of course. We know others who we have been told have not improved there or have actually declined in technique (but this was said by their former teachers). They supposedly languished there. I do know that they are given little help at the end of the level program if they don’t get a trainee position. And at the end of the trainee program, if they don’t land an apprentice spot in the company, they are also on their own. SFB does not seem to be quite as nurturing or supportive when it comes to helping their kids get a job outside of SFB. Julian’s former teachers encourage kids to get into the trainee program, not the level program; I guess, you’d have to do this by auditioning for the summer program and getting a promise of being “watched” for a trainee spot. Then move into the trainee program and hope for an apprentice spot after a year. You have two years to land one. The trainee program is quite good from what I know; you perform (as a group and to some extent with the company), travel and get good training. We know someone who was in the program for a full two years, much to the dismay of his teachers who thought it was a mistake; he had a job offer prior to going into the program. In the end, he was asked to become a SFB apprentice, so it worked for him.
Last note: weather. San Francisco offers the nice cool summer weather you will not get in New York. It can be quite cold, actually (60-75 degrees on average). With the exception of the almost daily fog, which of course makes the air humid, California is dry. You won’t get the 95 degree 100 percent humidity of the East Coast that makes dancing there so difficult. That said, Julian claims the studios were not air conditioned–and it can get warm in San Francisco. The boys were, of course, sweating in class.
Overall, the SFB summer intensive seems to be a good choice with nice opportunities for those interested in the company (or not). Julian says he would definitely audition for SFB at some later date, and he would love living in San Francisco. That was a surprise to me, since he has always claimed NYC was the only place he wanted to live. Right now, though, he is hoping to spend the next 3-5 years in Dresden. Let’s hope the first year goes well, and he makes that happen.
I’d like to end this post with a request for submissions from other parents/sons on their impressions of other summer dance intensives I have not covered in my The Summer Dance Intensive Handbook: How to Choose the Best Program for Your Child and Help Your Dancer Get the Most Out of the Experience. I will try to update the handbook before December, and I will include short descriptions and pros and cons of whatever programs you send along. I have discussed ABT in depth. I have also mentioned regional programs and Complexions Contemporary Dance summer intensive. I will be adding SAB and SFB. However, I’m happy to include your experiences of those programs Julian has attended if different from our experience or if you have something to add.
Please send me no more than 500 words describing the program and offering the pros and cons and any tips or advice for preparing for it or information on what boys are best suited for the program. The program does not have to be a ballet program, but I am not interested in small regional program, only larger summer intensives like the ballet schools, those offered by conventions or by large dance schools like Broadway Dance Center in NYC. Thanks!
For those of you who don’t have the Handbook, here’s a special discount coupon to make purchase more affordable so you can see what I’ve already included (mostly info on ABT). Purchase it as Smashwords by clicking on the link below:
Promotional price: $2.00
Coupon Code: BN35N
Expires: September 15, 2012
The Handbook is available on Kindle using the first link provided, but I have no way to discount it. Sorry. There is a nice review there; a bad one on Smashwords. If any of you have the guide and would like to leave a nice review on either site, I’d appreciate it. Also, if you contribute to the updated version and are included, I’ll send you the new edition.