Last night, after a ravishing debut as ‘Olga’ in San Francisco Ballet’s long-awaited premiere of John Cranko’s Onegin, Clara Blanco, a long time favorite of SFBalletomanes, got the surprise of her dance career: a long hoped for and well deserved promotion to Company Soloist.
(Thanks so much, Quinn Wharton^for this great capture!)
For those unfamiliar with Clara’s unique story, her promotion was as unexpected to the ballerina as it was expected by her many adoring fans of her past 11 years with the company.
Well, almost 11 years.
Clara, a native of Spain, began her training with the ‘Estudio de Beatriz Martin’, continued her journey with the famed ‘Estudio de Danza de Maria Avila’ (which also turned out fellow SFB dancer Ruben Martin and former SFB dancers Moises Martin, Ruben’s brother, and Gonzalo Garcia), and, in 1999, won the esteemed ‘Prix de Lausanne Young Dancers International Dance Competition’ scholarship prize. The school of her choice? San Francisco Ballet School. Her long affiliation with SFB had begun.
2 years later, in 2001, Clara was accepted into the SFB Corps de Ballet and quickly became noted for her exquisite port de bras (literally ‘carriage of the arms’ in BalletSpeak), and épaulement (positioning of the head, neck, and shoulders with that ‘port de bras’), so much so that she was often (and still is) used as the exemplar in company class.
If you asked any long time SFBalletomane what roles she was famous for, early in her career, the answer was often immediate: the ‘Dancing Doll’ in Christensen/Tomasson’s, and later Tomasson’s, Nutcracker, and one of the 4 iconic ‘Cygnets’ (baby swans) in both versions of Tomasson’s Swan Lake. In this company, known around the globe for the versatility of its dancers, Clara also became an absolute stand-out in SFB’s Balanchine repertory, and made her mark in Tomasson’s Swan Lake Pas de Trois, the Pas de Cinq and ‘Zulma’ in his Giselle, and pretty much every ballet that came her way.
She was gorgeous on stage, danced with a charismatic quality (all eyes are drawn to her when she is on stage with few exceptions) that never marred her classical precision, and it seemed to all of us that the petite ballerina (think Tina LeBlanc and Maria Kochetkova sized) was on a road that would include at least one promotion along the way.
And then, in 2006, everything changed. She did the unthinkable: she left the company and headed to the Birmingham Royal Ballet.
We mourned the loss of one of SFB’s popular favorites. Of course, we wished her well and hoped she was happy in her new ballet home, but SFB was moving up in its status in the world and, sadly, it no longer included Clara.
What happened next was almost unprecedented-something few other dancers have achieved in SFB’s long history:
In 2007, just 1 year later, Clara Blanco came back.
For those unfamiliar with the extreme rarity of this occurence, let me share with you a juicy little tidbit: many SFB dancers have left the nest to try their wings in foreign lands and, realizing they might have made a mistake, have tried to return to their previous status with the company. Out of respect to those dancers, I won’t name names, but there have been many who have tried, are still trying, and have failed to return. Peter Brandenhoff, a fine dancer of Royal Danish Ballet training, was the only other I can think of who was allowed to come back permanently-and was also promoted to Soloist-during Helgi Tomasson’s tenure (corrections from my readers are appreciated). Yes, others have come back as ‘Guest Artists’ (happily, Vadim Solomakha returned a couple years ago to dance the Nutcracker Prince), but not to stay.
Could San Francisco Ballet be so full of talented artists and other dancers coveting a spot that some are not welcomed back? You betcha.
The very fact that Helgi Tomasson welcomed his wayward ballerina back to her beloved ballet home tells us of her worthiness in the company.
SFBalletomanes rejoiced upon her return. Once again, here was our favorite ‘Cygnet’ and ‘Dancing Doll’ come home to us. We observed her ‘proving herself’ in all her old roles and watched her bloom with a newfound artistic maturity in new ones.
On her journey, the world’s best choreographers have chosen her to dance some of their most technically challenging roles; Christopher Wheeldon’s Number Nine, scheduled to encore in Program 2 of SFB’s 2012 season, Rush, Ghosts, and Within the Golden Hour, in which she was as mesmerizing as any of the company’s Principal Dancers, are in her rep, as is Yuri Possokhov’s devilishly difficult Classical Symphony, in which she danced a principal role, Reflections, Fusion, and his beautiful Diving into the Lilacs. Classically speaking, she has danced multiple roles in the all great story ballets, including Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle, Don Quixote, Coppélia, and Romeo & Juliet.
But then, so have most of SFB’s fabulously talented Corps de Ballet dancers.
So what makes Clara so special?
Some say it’s her classical precision. Others claim that it’s the elegance of her neck, head, and shoulders. Her famous ‘port de bras’ isn’t lost on even the newbiest of ballet going newbies.
But here’s something to give us pause. One of my readers, a long time SFBalletomane, with absolutely no ballet training or ability to converse in BalletSpeak, may have said it best:
“When Clara is just sitting there on that bench in Coppélia, doing absolutely nothing more than just sitting there on that bench”, (my friend felt that repetition in this case was absolutely imperative for me to understand the depth of her statement), “I cannot take my eyes off her. I would rather watch Clara just sitting there on that bench than any of the other people actually dancing onstage at that moment.”
Now, that’s a quality few can lay claim to.
One more thing:
Clara is one of the nicest ballerinas I have ever had the good fortune to ‘hang with’. After Gala, she sat comfortably for a few minutes at the dancers’ dinner table with me (yeah, I know-trust me, I *get* what a fortunate soul I am) and chatted about her roles and challenges. There is not a ‘diva’ bone in her petite body.
We chatted again in the wee hours of this morning (or very late after last night’s Onegin premiere, depending on how one looks at it) and she was so full of joy at her promotion, she told me she she couldn’t yet sleep, in spite of having to dance 2 performances of Onegin today. Nearly the entire company was present last night for the traditional ‘Company Toast’ at the beginning of the season, following the rather spectacular premiere of Cranko’s Onegin (more about that later), when her promotion was announced and everyone erupted into applause and cheers and a really big figurative company ‘Happy Dance’, as SFB Corps de Ballet dancer, Madison Keesler, called it. Later, chatting online at an hour I better keep to myself, Clara told me, “I still can’t believe it”.
Well, dear Clara, we do. This is the most well-deserved promotion that SFB fans could hope for, is it not?
It was your destiny. You were chosen for a principal role in Yuri Possokhov’s smash hit, Classical Symphony, Balanchine’s iconic role of ‘Spinner’ in his Coppélia, Mr. Tomasson awarded you the coveted role of the ‘Ballerina’ in his beautiful and challenging Grand Pas de Deux during this last season’s Nutcracker, and it was no surprise that you were also offered your most dramatically (and possibly technically) challenging role to date: ‘Olga’ in John Cranko’s sweeping Onegin.
Congratulations on your new status as:
Clara Blanco, San Francisco Ballet Soloist
(And many thanks to Artistic Director, Helgi Tomasson, for ‘doing the right thing’.)
For more about Clara Blanco’s incredible journey, read an article written by Allan Ulrich for ‘Dance Magazine’ in November, 2009 here.
To read Clara’s San Francisco Ballet blog from Sept, 2010, go here.
Her SFB Corps de Ballet bio is here.