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Out of the Fog, 6-18: Farewell variations
LeBlanc adieu a perfect portrait

By Aimée Ts’ao
Copyright 2009 Aimée Ts’ao

SAN FRANCISCO -- Walking my way up Van Ness Avenue to the War Memorial Opera House May 9, I have to lean into a particularly forceful unseasonably cold wind. (Mark Twain is said to have remarked: "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.") I begin to recall the many roles I have seen Tina LeBlanc dance during her 17 years at San Francisco Ballet. I wonder which I would pick if I could see her in only one more ballet before her retirement at the end of the evening. Her career in the city of fog flashes before my eyes and I know my choice is 'Funny Valentine' from Lar Lubovitch's "...smile with my heart," which LeBlanc danced in 2005 for the SF premiere.

I've written on several SF Ballet farewell performances over the years [Christopher Stowell, Joanna Berman, Yuri Possokhov, Stephen Legate, Peter Brandenhoff, Muriel Maffre], but I must say that LeBlanc's is the best in two important ways. The first is her selection of excerpts, which show off both her still crystalline technique and her broad range of styles, and the second is the evening-length program has high production values. The video clips of LeBlanc's performing are melded into a documentary, segments of which are interspersed throughout the performance to give her time to change costumes and catch her breath without allowing the momentum of the evening to flag. It included interviews with her, her fellow company members, and the artistic staff of SFB which added even more detail to her portrait. The clips themselves included two from her teen years with the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet (she was already an accomplished technician) and many of her roles at SF Ballet. She also speaks of her decade dancing with the Joffrey Ballet before landing on the West Coast. Austin Forbord, the video's production director, can frequently be found behind the orchestra section videotaping SFB performances, and does a superb job, with the help of his team, in defining LeBlanc as both a dedicated artist and a caring human being.

After the opening video, the live performance starts with Balanchine's "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux," in which LeBlanc is happily reunited with her former partner Gonzalo Garcia, who now performs with New York City Ballet. She dances with both verve and elegance. She and Garcia are amazingly well matched in their attack, musicality and sheer joy in moving together.

San Francisco Ballet's Tina LeBlanc and guest artist Griff Braun in 'My Funny Valentine' from Lar Lubovitch's "...smile with my heart." Photo © Erik Tomasson and courtesy San Francisco Ballet.

Another pithy portion of the video documentary is followed by my choreographic choice. Partnered by guest artist Griff Braun, formerly with American Ballet Theatre and now with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, LeBlanc reprises her role in 'Funny Valentine.' When I first saw her perform it in 2005, I was immediately struck by a new emotional depth she brought to her interpretation. So frequently she dances parts that are an extension of her natural effervescence and joie de vivre, but here she needed to find more complex emotional expression.

I first sensed a hint of LeBlanc's ability to get her teeth into modern ballet choreography in Julia Adam's "Night" in 2000. She threw herself headlong into the new vocabulary and also managed to capture the surreality of dreams. This time around in the Lubovitch ballet she submerges herself even deeper in the role, exploring the gamut of nuance in both the feelings and meanings evoked by the interaction with Braun.

After the intermission comes the Adagio from Helgi Tomasson's "Sonata" (1995). Reuben Martin does the honors in accompanying LeBlanc in this romantic pas de deux to Rachmaninov's Sonata for Cello and Piano, Opus 18. The choreography can't compete with the previous two pieces, but LeBlanc uses the opportunity to show another of her many facets, being tender and attentive to her lover, yet at the same time elusive.

San Francisco Ballet's Tina LeBlanc and Davit Karapetyan in George Balanchine's "Theme & Variations." Photo © Erik Tomasson and courtesy San Francisco Ballet.

Partnered by Davit Karapetyan in a second Tchaikovsky-Balanchine combo, the Pas de Deux and Finale from "Theme and Variations," LeBlanc revels in a fitting conclusion to the evening. So often small women get pigeon-holed as soubrette dancers and never are allowed to explore more classical roles. LeBlanc is a mature artist who just happens to be shorter than most. She shares the stage with a company to which she is proud to belong and which in turn is proud to have her as one of its most beloved dancers. That she is also an audience favorite comes as no surprise. From the interviews in the video it is clear that she is a valuable member of the company in many ways. Not only is she a role model for her absolute dedication to dance, but she is an artistic inspiration when she connects with other dancers on stage and brings the performance to a higher level. She is a patient and generous teacher to younger dancers stepping into roles for the first time. And on the human side, her warmth and sincerity makes her a great friend and mother. She says in the video, "I've had a blessed career. Can't say much more than that." Neither can I.

Editor's Note: Tina LeBlanc has joined the faculty of the San Francisco Ballet School. To read more about and from her, check this recent Dance Insider Interview. Dance Insider West Coast bureau chief Aimée Ts’ao will take part in a panel on national coverage of West Coast dance Sunday at 1:30 p.m. at ODC Commons in San Francisco, as part of this weekend's joint Society of Dance History Scholars and Dance Critics Association conference.

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