Helgi Tomasson was first discovered by Jerome Robbins in his native Iceland and offered a dance scholarship to New York’s School of American Ballet. Subsequently, he began his professional career with The Joffrey Ballet, The Harkness Ballet, and later joined New York City Ballet where he became one of the company’s most celebrated principal dancers.
Under Tomasson’s leadership as artistic director since 1985, San Francisco Ballet has evolved into a world-class company, praised for its diversity and broad repertory. The strong classical base instilled by Tomasson enables the dancers to effortlessly navigate a myriad of styles by a range of internationally distinguished choreographers. Those invited by Tomasson to create works on the Company have included David Bintley, Val Caniparoli, William Forsythe, James Kudelka, Lar Lubovitch, Mark Morris, Paul Taylor, Stanton Welch, and Christopher Wheeldon. Tomasson has also continued to expand SF Ballet’s repertory through acquiring works by renowned choreographers such as Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, August Bournonville, Nacho Duato, Flemming Flindt, Hans van Manen, Wayne McGregor, Agnes de Mille, John Neumeier, Roland Petit, Jerome Robbins, and Sir Antony Tudor, among many others. In addition, Tomasson’s own works (he has choreographed over 40 since joining the Company), have been performed by New York City Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Houston Ballet, Alberta Ballet, Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón, and Asami Maki Ballet. In Denmark, Tomasson’s 1993 staging of The Sleeping Beauty was the most lavish production ever produced in the Royal Danish Ballet’s history and was filmed for Danish public television in April 1995.
In addition to an annual performance season in San Francisco, SF Ballet has toured the world, receiving praise for its purity and verve. Engagements in Copenhagen (1998, 2010), London (1999, 2001, 2004), New York City (1991, 1993, 1995, 1998, 2002, 2006, 2008), and Paris (1989, 1994, 2001, 2005) are among the highlights of the Company’s history. For the Company’s 2004 London engagement, San Francisco Ballet won the prestigious Laurence Olivier Award, its first, in the category of Outstanding Achievement in Dance.
In 2008, Tomasson led SF Ballet through its 75th anniversary, which included a four-city national tour and a New Works Festival—conceived by Tomasson—that presented 10 world premieres by 10 renowned choreographers, over three nights. Also that year, his critically-acclaimed production of Nutcracker was broadcast nationally on Great Performances on PBS, in partnership with KQED Public Television in San Francisco.
Tomasson’s numerous awards include being named Officier in the French Order of Arts and Letters for contributing to further the arts in France and worldwide, and in 2002 he received an honorary degree from New York’s Juilliard School. In May 2007, while on tour to Iceland, Tomasson was awarded the Grand Cross Star of the Order of the Falcon, the country’s most prestigious honor. In 2008, he was awarded the Commonwealth Club of California’s Distinguished Citizen Award and currently, serves on the Board of Directors of the School of American Ballet and the Artistic Committee for the New York Choreographic Institute.
In addition to his role as artistic director of SF Ballet, Tomasson is the director of the San Francisco Ballet School. 2010 marked the 25th anniversary of Tomasson’s tenure with the Company.
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