Few ballet companies, even large troupes, schedule more than one or two full-length works per season. Mostly they present repertories of dance pieces usually running between 20 and 30 minutes.
With large casts and elaborate sets and costumes, evening-long works are difficult and expensive to produce; they are what opera is to chamber music.
Yet San Francisco Ballet offers three big story ballets for its 78th season, which opens with a gala Jan. 26.
The ballets include Artistic Director Helgi Tomasson’s “Giselle” (Jan. 29-Feb. 13); the Alexandra Danilova-George Balanchine “Coppélia” (March 19-26); and the reprise of the company’s world premiere of John Neumeier’s “The Little Mermaid” (April 30-May 8).
“Giselle” was introduced by Tomasson in 1999. Set to music by Adolphe Adam, modern productions derive from Marius Petipa’s 1884 landmark revival for the Imperial Ballet.
Balanchine’s 1974 “Coppélia” is a San Francisco Ballet premiere, of special significance to Tomasson, who danced in the original New York City Ballet production. It is presented in collaboration with Pacific Northwest Ballet.
“Little Mermaid” is Neumeier’s modernistic take on the Hans Christian Andersen story about unrequited love, with music by Lera Auerbach; scenic and lighting design and costumes are all by the choreographer.
The rest of the season features six mixed bills, with three works per program, including important premieres.
Two San Francisco favorites, Yuri Possokhov and Christopher Wheeldon, will introduce new works: “RAkU,” to music by Shinji Eshima on Program 2, and “Number Nine,” to music by Michael Torke on Program 7.
Company premieres include Kenneth MacMillan’s “Winter Dreams,” on Program 4 and Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma” on Program 6.
MacMillan’s work is set to music by Tchaikovsky, as are the other two works in that program: the world premiere of Tomasson’s “Trio” and the great classic of Balanchine’s “Theme and Variations.”
Among returning favorites are William Forsythe’s “Artifact Suite” (music by Bach and Eva Crossman-Hecht) and Possokhov’s “Classical Symphony” (music by Prokofiev) on Program 3. Program 7 features Michel Fokine’s “Petrouchka” (music by Stravinsky) and Renato Zanella’s “Underskin” (music by Schoenberg).
Three dancers — Courtney Elizabeth, Daniel Deivison and Isaac Hernandez — are being promoted to soloists in the new year.
New principal dancer Artem Yachmennikov, from Russia, joins 19 other artists in the top category.
Principal character dancers are rare creatures in ballet, combining excellence with longevity in a profession that sometimes chews people up in months, not years. San Francisco Ballet members in the category include Ricardo Bustamante, who joined the company in 1980; Val Caniparoli (1973), Jorge Esquivel (started with National Ballet of Cuba in 1968, joined SFB in 1993), and Anita Paciotti (1968). Long may they thrive.
IF YOU GO
San Francisco Ballet 2011 season
Where: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco
When: Jan. 26 through May 8
Tickets: $30 to $265
Contact: (415) 865-2000, www.sfballet.org