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About the Change

Sara Sessions
San Francisco Ballet
more importantly...... cover girl

by Jennifer Delaney

San Francisco reviews

If you're a regular reader of, then you already know Sara Sessions. In fact, you've seen her constantly on these pages. A member of San Francisco Ballet for the past decade, Sara also happens to be's cover girl. In fact, bits of Sara adorn most of this website, including the side panels and the menu at the top of this page. So it was inevitable that would catch up with her sooner or later.

Born in Washington, she grew up in Texas, where her mother was a theatre postgraduate. As a child, Sara was in and out of the theatre and dance departments all day. She counts herself fortunate that she started gently - her first dance class was unregimented and concentrated on "expressing yourself" before applying the discipline of ballet. Crunch time came in Sara's teens, when she found herself with an hour-and-a-half commute to Austin for a ballet class, and spending her holidays at Houston Ballet, the School of American Ballet and San Francisco Ballet's summer sessions. The crunch resulted in Walnut Hill, a performing arts school in Boston.

After graduating from Walnut Hill, she wasn't sure whether to choose between college and dance. Some well-timed advice found her in San Francisco at a summer session that led to their production of Nutcracker and invitations to join in company class. Even so, the apprenticeship she was offered in 1988 came as a surprise. The following year she became a full-blown member of the company.

San Francisco has a wide repertoire, ranging from Petipa to Mark Morris, Ashton to Forsythe, Bournonville to Balanchine. Sessions' roles in these range from the Lilac Fairy in Helgi Tomasson's production of Sleeping Beauty, the clog dance in La Fille Mal Gardee, assorted character roles including Lady Capulet, Bathilde and various characters in the Nutcracker to corps, soloist and principal roles in Balanchine. She describes the company as being "exceedingly broad in style" and grins "we do it all really well".

In the company of 65, there are theoretically only three ranks - corps, soloist and principal - while casting for shows tends to go up a week before the show. They work 40 weeks a year, and are only paid for those 40 weeks. Sara describes it as "being on the edge" - nobody has a settled place, which makes for insecurity. She says it keeps the company fresh and on its toes, but "things that keep things fresh keep people stressed and unsettled and not always able to do their best work".

Of the work she does, she's enthusiastic about Balanchine - "it's clean and it's musical". Musicality is very important to her - she dislikes choreography that "doesn't speak the music". She was trained in the neo-classical style, and to her it's comfortable, "a more natural way of moving".

However, her height, (5'9") leaves her sticking out in traditional corps roles, so she finds herself doing a lot of character and dramatic roles. Currently she's performing Bathilde in Tomasson's new production of Giselle, and has a different take on the character each night. For her, it's all about the "joy of live performance. Some nights it works, some nights it doesn't, and some night it strikes gold."

London gets a chance to see Sara when San Francisco Ballet arrive at Sadler's Wells on October 25th. Unlike the usual run of visiting companies, their offering is wildly varied. The one-week run will open with a gala of pas de deuxs, ranging from the "very classical" to Forsythe, after which there will be two performances of a triple bill - Balanchine's Theme and Variations, Robbins' The Cage, and a new work by Mark Morris, Sandpaper. The run will conclude with four performances of Tomasson's Swan Lake, with four different casts.

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