Thursday, May 14, 2009

Tina LeBlanc's Farewell Performance, 5/9/2009

Tina LeBlanc's Farewell Performance
San Francisco Ballet
Saturday, May 9, 2009, 8PM

After 17 spectacular years with San Francisco Ballet, Tina LeBlanc marked her farewell with an emotional and technically stunning program last Saturday. LeBlanc has anchored this company with her effortless technique, and pure, truthful style, and the audience sent her off in regal fashion, tossing flourishing bouquets of lilacs and roses while rising to its feet in rousing applause. Ballet clips and reflective interviews with other dancers, colleagues, and LeBlanc herself were interspersed throughout the evening, and these added a warm, introspective look into LeBlanc’s long career. Maybe the ballet will put these special treats up on the website for all to see?

On a personal note, I met LeBlanc a little under eight years ago. Fresh out of college, I got my first real job and at San Francisco Ballet not less. The summer before I had interned with Boston Ballet’s press office, but then most of the dancers were on summer break. I rarely interacted with the dancers in Boston, but at SF Ballet, they were everywhere: approving photos, giving interviews, taking class, talking on their cell phones, doing their hair in the elevator, and trying on pointe shoes. Just 21, I was understandably nervous about interacting with the pros, but on one of my first days, LeBlanc came by my workspace, radiating a tender friendliness, and introduced herself. If I could have, I would have hugged her right then and there… The next two years at the ballet moved at high speed, but LeBlanc’s genuine smile and down to earthness continued to stick in my mind as one great constant, both on stage and in person.

Saturday’s performance was no different. She danced effortlessly in George Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.” Partnered by Gonzalo Garcia, one of her many great, former partners (who is currently dancing with New York City Ballet), LeBlanc stunningly floated through quick hops into attitude and swift pirouettes, all while looking like she was skipping across a meadow instead of powering through extremely technical choreography.

As a contrast, her duet with Griff Braun (on loan from the Lar Lubovitch Company) in the “My Funny Valentine” excerpt from “…smile with my heart,” showed that even without pointe shoes, she’s still a force to be reckoned with. As she curled herself around Braun, she slowly drew a heart around his chest, but later brought out angst, passion, and admiration without being overdramatic or satirical as she and Braun delved through the poignant and musical choreography, accompanied by the stirring notes of David Kadarauch on the cello and Michael McGraw’s piano. The adagio from Helgi Tomasson’s “Sonata” proved women can wear white unitards at any age. Or at least if you’re Tina LeBlanc. Tomasson created “Sonata” after the death of a female friend, but as LeBlanc waved her arms towards a reaching Ruben Martin as she boureed off the stage, it felt more like transformation and evolution, not any defined-in-stone ending. Fittingly, the pas de deux and finale from Balanchine’s “Theme & Variations” provided a large corps de ballet processional and tribute to LeBlanc, which is the least that anyone could ask for. Partnered by Davit Karapetyan, LeBlanc danced through the final steps with tears in her eyes, officially saying goodbye to the stage and hello to the next chapter of her illustrious career.

The evening, though, wouldn’t be compete without numerous bows, a sincere smile, and an onstage tribute including former partners, more recent company members, colleagues, and family. While sad, the plentiful standing ovations proved that LeBlanc has touched many dancegoers, young and old. Here’s to her as she continues her journey both personally and professionally.

Tina LeBlanc and Gonzalo Garcia in Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.
Tina LeBlanc and Griff Braun in "My Funny Valentine" from Lubovitch's with my heart.
Tina LeBlanc taking her final bows.
All photos © Erik Tomasson

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