Lola de Avila, the soul of Giselle and San Francisco Ballet School’s Associate Director, will be moving on, while Patrick Armand, already ensconced in SFB’s acclaimed school, has been named her successor.
Some of you may have missed this announcement (it was in my post from several days ago here, in which we said “Farewell” to some of SFB’s departing talented artists, “Welcome” to some new ones, and raved a bit about SFB’s artistic staff), so I’m giving this news its own separate post, due to its monumental importance in the world of ballet, San Francisco Ballet in particular.
Lola de Avila’s golden touch helped shape San Francisco Ballet-yes, the company, not just the school-into one of the most versatile, multi-disciplined, critically and popularly acclaimed troupes in the world and it is with great sadness that I (and the dancers she has lovingly coached) will see her move on to the next phase of her extraordinary career in dance, for she has been one of the most valuable components of Helgi Tomasson’s star-studded staff. And yet, her role as SFB School’s Associate Director is just one of many hats she wears at SFB and elsewhere.
Ms. de Avila is especially valued for her fine coaching of Giselle, to dancers here and abroad, and is freshly back from setting her own successful Giselle on Oregon Ballet Theatre, where former SFB Principal Dancer Christopher Stowell, as OBT’s Artistic Director, has wisely recruited her vast knowledge of the ballet’s rounded, soft, fluid, slightly forward, expressive port de bras that reigns as the Romantic style.
Her depth of understanding of the ballet’s dramatic mime sequences, such as Act 1’s Mad Scene, where the ballerina must keep us enthralled for an extended period of time while no actual dancing occurs, is unparalleled; she insists that every movement must mean something to the dancer-nothing is wasted-and some of SFB’s own Giselles have told me that her coaching remains paramount to their understanding of the soul of this ballet.
Did you know that the ghostly Wilis’ port de bras (the movement and positioning of the arms) is supposed to convey an extension of their flowing bridal veils in certain parts of Act 2? Lola does. She also knows that the Wilis’ arms, with their smooth and slow phrasing, should belie the power and speed of their jumps and, in so doing, create the slow and effortless illusion that they are floating. (Gosh, we love that, don’t we?)
Enjoy this video clip featuring Christopher Stowell and Lola de Avila talking about setting her Giselle on OBT:
Patrick Armand is the annointed successor to the position of San Francisco Ballet School Associate Director (SFB Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, himself, is the actual Director) and his own dance career and bio lend credence to why Corps de Ballet dancer Madison Keesler has recently been tweeting so favorably about his classes.
Patrick Armand & Monica Perego in ‘Swan Lake’
As to the much lauded ballet luminary, Lola de Avila, and her future plans, Odette wishes her the best in her future dance endeavors and hopes she comes back to coach another generation of SFB Giselles.
Here’s the SFB press release:
SF BALLET SCHOOL ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR LOLA DE AVILA TO STEP DOWN FOLLOWING A STELLAR TENURE WITH SF BALLET
CURRENT SF BALLET SCHOOL TRAINEE PRINCIPAL PATRICK ARMAND NAMED SUCCESSOR
SAN FRANCISCO—March 8, 2012—Following a distinguished, cumulative thirteen-year tenure as San Francisco Ballet School associate director, Lola de Avila will be stepping down in late August to oversee the full-time operation of the Maria de Avila Ballet School in her native Spain and pursue other interests. Patrick Armand, current SF Ballet School Trainee Program principal, will assume the position of SF Ballet School associate director, effective September 4. As principal, Armand currently oversees the Trainee Program, which provides the experience necessary to ease the transition from student to professional dancer, all while offering personal attention in a small, nurturing environment.
Over the next six months, de Avila will work closely with Armand to transition her many duties. Under de Avila’s direction, the School embarked on its first-ever European audition tour earlier this year, its men’s program was expanded and strengthened, a standard for curriculum was set, and currently, over half of the Company members have received their training at the SF Ballet School.
“The Ballet has had a relationship with Lola for over twenty years and during that time, she has been a wonderful asset to the Ballet School and to the organization at large and we’re sad to see her go,” said SF Ballet Executive Director Glenn McCoy. “However, we are very pleased with Patrick’s appointment. His in-depth knowledge of the art form and our School and his impressive track record managing our Trainee Program make him a natural fit for this position.”
“Lola’s contributions have been immeasurable and I can’t personally thank her enough for her dedication, leadership, and stewardship,” said SF Ballet Artistic Director & Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson. “I appreciate that she has always held the School to the highest standards and her hard work has certainly contributed to the School’s reputation as a world-class training institution. In addition, I feel that Patrick has done a wonderful job with the Trainees and I am very confident in his ability to lead the School, especially given his broad experience nationally and internationally. I look forward to working more closely with him.”
In his new role as SF Ballet School associate director, Armand’s responsibilities will include recruiting and retaining students for the School’s upper levels, managing the faculty and Trainee Program, overseeing all auditions, and setting the School’s schedule.
Born in Marseille, France, Armand studied at the Ecole de Danse de Marseille. He won The Prix de Lausanne in 1980 and continued his studies at the School of American Ballet and at The Centre de Danse International in Cannes. In 1981, he joined the Ballet Theatre Français and was promoted to principal dancer in 1983. Armand was nominated the same year for a Laurence Olivier Award for his performance of Béjart’s Song of a Wayfarer with Rudolf Nureyev. In 1984, he was invited by Peter Schaufuss to join the London Festival Ballet (now English National Ballet), and in 1990 he joined the Boston Ballet under the direction of Bruce Marks.
Armand’s repertoire includes all the major roles in the classical repertory and many leading roles in works by Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, John Cranko, Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Roland Petit, Glen Tetley, and Hans van Manen. In addition, he has had work created on him by Christopher Bruce, Twyla Tharp, and Christopher Wheeldon, among others. As a guest artist, Armand performed with the Australian Ballet, the Bayerische Staatsballet, the Deutsche Oper Ballet (Berlin), the Kirov Ballet, and the Kobayashi Ballet. Since 2002, he has been the director of the Studio Ballet Colette Armand in Marseille. He has also been a frequent guest teacher for major ballet schools and companies.
In 2003, Armand co-produced Raymonda Act III for the Kobayashi Ballet at Tokyo’s New National Theater. His most recent project was a production of Don Quixote for the National Theater in Zagreb, which premiered in June 2010. Armand served as a jury member of the Prix de Lausanne, both in 1998 and 2009, and returned as a teacher and coach for the 2010, 2011, and 2012 competitions. In 2006, he was appointed teacher and ballet master of the Teatro alla Scala in Milan. In 2010, Armand was appointed principal of the SF Ballet School Trainee Program.
One last thing:
Incoming San Francisco Ballet School Associate Director, Patrick Armand, has the power, with SFB’s other talented faculty and artistic staff, to shape the future of San Francisco Ballet. May he use his ample skills to continue the legacy of Lola de Avila, albeit with a ‘French Twist’.