Inside The Provocative 2016 San Francisco Ballet Opening Gala

San Francisco Ballet's Grand Benefactor Dinner in the Rotunda of San Francisco City Hall
San Francisco Ballet’s Grand Benefactor Dinner in the Rotunda of San Francisco City Hall

Photo Credit: Drew Altizer Photography

There was no raining on the parade of the San Francisco Ballet, whose 83rd repertory season got off to a glorious—and glamorous— start with a haute opening night gala that was just as alluring as its theme, Provocative. The seductive, black-tie festivities took place at San Francisco City Hall and the San Francisco War Memorial Opera House on Jan. 21. No sooner had the titillating evening ended and those last to leave were waiting on their chariots, did a few raindrops start to fall. It was as if a dolled-up Mother Nature was looking out for the Company and the elegant attendees, who included Dede Wilsey, Charlotte Mailliard Shultz and George Shultz, OJ Shansby, Randy and Bob Fisher, Ingrid Hills, Nancy Pelosi, Gavin Newsom and New York socialite Blaine Trump.

We’re pretty sure that Mrs. William S. Brandenburg, the gala chair, and SF Ballet Trustee Christine Leong Connors, the dinner chair, are still receiving congratulatory emails and phone calls for the splendid job they did. Barbro and Bernard Osher served as honorary chairs. The evening began with the city’s glitterati gathered in a sultry City Hall, creatively decorated by J. Riccardo Benavides of Ideas, for a Bulgari-sponsored reception in the South Light Court for guests of the SF Ballet Auxiliary’s Grand Benefactor, Benefactor and Patron fundraising dinners, which were deliciously prepared by McCalls to benefit SF Ballet’s annual fund. La Marca Prosecco flowed and Blue Angel Vodka cocktails were served as guests mingled about, posed for photos on the grand staircase and admired the décor. Benavides, inspired by Christian Dior’s 2016 couture fashion show and the SF Ballet dancers themselves, used everything from delicate onyx lace, to vivid fuchsia ostrich feathers. Yards and yards of peek-through sheer fabric were intermixed with lush, sensual velvet textures, including lace and interesting geometric patterns. Intermixed with the soft and fluid were structured, provocative objects. Little did the guests realize that these designs served a prelude to the combination of fluidity and structure that they would enjoy at the performance later in the evening.

Following dinner, the ballet enthusiasts strolled across the street to the War Memorial Opera House. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the prestigious SF Ballet Orchestra, which is widely recognized as one of the best ballet orchestras in the country. During this opening night, 12 classical and contemporary works and excerpts were presented. The program, under the direction of Artistic Director and Principal Choreographer Helgi Tomasson, got off to a delightful start with Jennifer Stahl and darling students from the San Francisco Ballet School performing “Waltz of the Hours” from Alexandra Danilova and George Balanchine’s Coppélia. Dancers Yuan Yuan Tan, Tiit Helimets, Vitor Luiz and Carlos Quenedit took the stage after intermission for the San Francisco Ballet premiere of Gentle Memories. In addition, the SF Ballet Orchestra performed “Infernal Dance” from Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird in celebration of their anniversary.

At the La Perla-sponsored after party, dancers Mathilde Froustey, Dores Andre, Frances Chung and Helimets rocked La Perla as some of the performers kicked up their heels as well. The post-soiree was jam-packed, and guests said they had never seen it so crowded. Still, everyone was jolly as they enjoyed the open bar with specialty cocktails and late-night fare by McCalls. The after-party stretched until 1 a.m. with partygoers getting their groove on in one court to DJ Chris Clouse and in the other to live music by Super Diamond while others put on headphones and boogied to silent disco by Silent Storm. A monochrome photo booth by mirmir photo stayed occupied.

There was plenty to photograph, after all, with the stunning fashions. Fitting in with the theme of the evening, fashion designer Karen Caldwell wowed in her own revealing creation, Stephanie Marver wore a sexy Valentino, Navid Armstrong, in Roberto Cavalli, flaunted flesh and Suzy Kellems Dominik exposed plenty of skin—from the back—as well. Charlot D. Malin dazzled in an embellished Alexander McQueen frock and matching purse as did Tanya Powell, who donned a pouffy green Oscar de la Renta creation that was originally designed as a wedding gown. Wilsey paired her de la Renta with a whimsical Judith Leiber ice cream clutch whiile Allison Speer looked as lovely as a lily she stayed loyal to Andrew Gn. Paula Carano in Naem Khan and Clara Shayevich and Rada Katz in Vasily Vein turned heads as well. Elaine Mellis flaunted her figure in St. John while Carolyn Chandler certainly made Monique Lhuillier proud. Alison Mauze, in a Carolina Herrera gown off the Spring 2015 runway, truly amazed. Barbara Brown‘s fab fuchsia frock fit the decor—and her Bulgari earrings were the perfect accessory. Bulgari also shined on the wrist and ears of Brandenbrug, the gala chair. But no one glowed more than Jennifer-Siebel Newsom, who showed just how glamorous one can be at eight months pregnant, who oozed elegance in a haute yellow Adam Lippes gown and Ryan Roche cape during this memorable evening.

The 2016 season includes three acclaimed full-length productions: Tomasson’s Swan Lake, George Balanchine’s Coppélia, and John Cranko’s Onegin; the North American premiere of William Forsythe’s Pas/Parts; works by a wide variety of choreographers such as Jerome Robbins and Christopher Wheeldon; plus world premieres by Liam Scarlett and Justin Peck. For tickets and more information, visit

Yurie Pascarella and Yuan Yuan Tan
Tanya Powell in Oscar de la Renta
Gavin Newsom, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, in an Adam Lippes gown and Ryan Roche cape, and Tom Horn
Allison Speer in Andrew Gn
Clara Shayevich in Vasily Vein
Karen Caldwell in Karen Caldwell Designs
Stephanie Marver, in Valentino, and Jim Marver
Dr. Carolyn Chang, in Andrew Gn, Norah Stone, Yurie Pascarella and Deepa Pakianathan
Alison Mauze in Carolina Herrera
Jennifer Brandenburg and Christine Leong Connors
Jennifer Brandenburg and Christine Leong Connors
Dede Wilsey in Oscar de la Renta gown and Judith Leiber ice cream purse.
Joy Venturini Bianchi
Joy Venturini Bianchi
Paula Carano, in Naem Khan, and Bandel Carano
Vivien Rattanafun
Suzy Kellems Dominik
Jennifer Mancuso and Barbara Brown
Jennifer Mancuso and Barbara Brown
Susan Dossetter and Riccardo Benavides
Damian Smith and Vanessa Getty
Damian Smith and Vanessa Getty
Nancy and Paul Pelosi
Nancy and Paul Pelosi
Camille and Christopher Bently


Alan Malouf tends to his Bulgari cufflink
Alan Malouf tends to his Bulgari cufflink
George and Charlotte Shultz
George and Charlotte Shultz
Jack Calhoun and Trent Norris
Jack Calhoun and Trent Norris


Photos: Drew Altizer Photography