Sarah Van Patten talks about San Francisco Ballet

Sarah Van Patten talks about working with Mark Morris, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon at San Francisco Ballet

Time Out New York: Were you featured?
Sarah Van Patten:
I was. About three months after I arrived, I was an apprentice and John Neumeier came for Romeo and Juliet, and he cast me as opening-night Juliet with one of the principal dancers.

Time Out New York: So the other dancers must have really loved you.
Sarah Van Patten:
Yeah. That was a lot. Being foreign and being an apprentice and being a child. That was the experience that jump-started my career, for sure. By the time I actually performed it, I think I had just turned 16. I danced Juliet two seasons; after dancing Romeo and Juliet, I got soloist parts here and there, and while I was performing Juliet, Helgi [Tómasson] came to set his Sleeping Beauty in Copenhagen. That’s how I met him.

Time Out New York: Did he invite you to San Francisco?
Sarah Van Patten:
It was mutual. The director had changed, and as much as I loved Copenhagen and really enjoyed the Bournonville classes, I knew that I wanted to be back in the States ultimately. I wanted a bit more of a diverse repertoire. It was a struggle for me a little. Once I was introduced to San Francisco Ballet, because I knew Helgi was interested, I explored it and realized it was the fit for me: being in San Francisco, beautiful company, amazing rep—everything was right.

Time Out New York: Had you been to San Francisco before?
Sarah Van Patten:
No. My very first time was when I came to audition.

Time Out New York: What was your impression?
Sarah Van Patten:
First, of course, were the hills. I grew up in Boston in the thick of it in Beacon Hill—I grew up in a brownstone and then I lived in Europe, so coming out to San Francisco was kind of like Pleasantville. I was like, Wow, it’s all pastel. California felt very foreign. It looked like a movie set to me. But soon after I got out here, I really saw the amazing art that the city appreciates—the symphony, the opera and all that’s going on within the city. And I fell in love with the Bay Area and right outside the city, you have Tahoe and the wine country and Sausalito. For a life, it’s amazing. You can find it all. It’s a great place to live.

Time Out New York: You joined as a soloist. What were your ambitions at the time? What did you want to dance, and how did you want to be seen by the director?
Sarah Van Patten:
I came when I was 17, so I was still very green. I went through all of this in Copenhagen, and I felt like I was ready to connect the dots—if that makes sense—and just to really grow, not only in my technique but in my artistry. I wanted to feel more evolved. That I was more confident and more present, not only about pure strength and technique. When I first got to San Francisco, it was more of just settling in, of course and now being in a position as a soloist that’s a big responsibility too. Just rising to the occasion in terms of the work.

Time Out New York: Do you have time to rehearse things?
Sarah Van Patten:
It depends. We have a unique season where we split the opera house with the opera. Instead of going back and forth every program, the opera has its season and then the ballet has its season, so we have our rehearsal season from July until Nutcracker–and that’s when we’ll have some tours and things, but that’s also when we rehearse our ballets. On one hand, you find out during the rehearsal season when choreographers come to create or when répétiteurs come to set ballets—that’s when all of the ballets are put together or learned and then you put them away, and depending on what the piece is and what your season’s like, you take it out and rehearse it before you perform it in March or April even though you learned it in July or August. There is some heads-up in terms of what your season’s going to look like in the fall. Everyone in every company struggles with having to quickly put things together; our season does go very much back-to-back because from January to May, we do all of our programs.

Time Out New York: That’s crazy.
Sarah Van Patten:
Yeah. Over the years, you learn what works for you and when you need to start working on certain ballets: how you can make the best of all of your performances and stay healthy.

Time Out New York: What are you dancing in New York?
Sarah Van Patten:
I’m a part of a lot of the ballets. I know which ones I’ve danced before, I just don’t know exactly how they’re going to go for the casting in New York. It depends on how the ballets fit with other pieces.

Time Out New York: Let’s talk about Christopher Wheeldon’s Cinderella.
Sarah Van Patten:
I’ve also danced both Cinderella and the stepsisters. It’s phenomenal.

Time Out New York: Why?
Sarah Van Patten:
I have to say I haven’t seen any other Cinderellas. I don’t have anything to compare it to. First thing, visually, it’s absolutely stunning. The way the transitions happen with the scenic design, as well as the way the choreography is blended with everything—the elements really came together. I just felt that in the entire work, everything matched and evolved together. That’s what made it so powerful and such a joy to watch. I was very involved, because I was both Edwina—the real bitchy stepsister—and Cinderella.

Time Out New York: What was the experience like working with Chris?
Sarah Van Patten:
I’ve known Chris for a long time. He has a close relationship with SFB. I think it was his first full-length on the company, and I’ve been part of a handful of his works over the years, so I know how he is in the studio and as a choreographer and so I think because we have a history—and he has a history with a lot of us. He’s really close to many dancers in San Francisco—I think he feels this is another home for him, and he should—we always dance his works, we always have him back and the audience loves his ballets. I think that was another element that really came through in the success of the piece. It made it that much more easy and enjoyable.

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