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Can EDM get millennials and Gen Z to love classical dance? SF Ballet hopes so

San Francisco Ballet in Possokhov’s “Violin Concerto” | Courtesy Lindsay Thomas/SF Ballet

The beats of electronic music producer and DJ Sam Shepherd—better known by the moniker Floating Points—are a familiar sound on dance floors in London clubs and across the globe. But next year, the EDM composer’s lush and cerebral sonic visions will ring through the War Memorial Opera House as the soundtrack for San Francisco Ballet’s first performance of 2024. 

Sam Shepherd | Dan Medhurst/Courtesy SF Ballet

Created in collaboration with Baryshnikov-blessed choreographer Aszure Barton, the newly commissioned piece to debut next January will mesh dance with electronic and orchestral music by Floating Points to reimagine the myth of Pandora’s Box and tackle the perils and promise of artificial intelligence. Titled Mere Mortals, the piece is the first full-length work SF Ballet has commissioned from a female choreographer. The brand new work also headlines the first season under the direction of SF Ballet Artistic Director Tamara Rojo, who took the helm of the company last year and is the first woman to lead the historic, 90-year-old dance company. At each performance, Floating Points will perform live alongside the SF Ballet Orchestra.   

“The Bay Area has such a rich tradition of both electronic and analog music, so it makes sense to bring Sam’s artistry back to San Francisco,” Rojo said in a statement to The Standard. “We’re emerging from these pandemic years with a renewed hunger for live events and fresh ideas, and are committed to welcoming new audiences to experience how dance can inspire each of us to think, feel, and move differently.”

Anna Diaz and Pablo Barquín of Hamill Industries, whose work visualizes sounds through computers, robotics and video techniques, will complement Floating Points' electronic and orchestral score for SF Ballet. | Flaminia Pelazzi/ Courtesy SF Ballet

Rojo’s curated season also spotlights trailblazing Latina choreographers, rare works from across the pond and the return of classic story ballets.

Up-and-coming Havana-born choreographer Arielle Smith and lauded Colombian Belgian dancemaker Annabelle Lopez Ochoa will make SF Ballet history with Dos Mujeres from April 4-14, 2024. The double bill marks the first time two female choreographers have shared the marquee for an SF Ballet production and is the company’s first program dedicated to Latino stories.  

For her reinterpretation of Carmen, which will make its world premiere at the War Memorial Opera House, Smith will apply a cinematic approach to the classic operatic tale and inflect the choreography with the colors and sounds of Cuba; a newly commissioned score by Grammy Award-winning jazz composer and pianist Arturo O’Farrill draws inspiration from Cuban folk music. Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings retells the life of surrealist artist of Frida Kahlo, who spent some formative years in San Francisco, and makes its North American debut. 

Tamara Rojo as Frida Kahlo in English National Ballet's "Broken Wings" by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. | © Laurent Liotardo/ Courtesy SF Ballet

In February 2024, local audiences have the opportunity to see two productions rarely staged in the U.S. The program British Icons brings together works by legendary U.K. choreographers Sir Kenneth MacMillan and Sir Frederick Ashton, including MacMillan’s tragic meditation on love and mortality Song of the Earth and Ashton’s passionate love tragedy Marguerite and Armand. SF Ballet will be only the second American company to perform the lush and evocative Ashton piece originally crafted for legendary ballet stars Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn. 

Tamara Rojo, Joseph Caley and Fernando Carratalá Coloma in English National Ballet in "Song of the Earth" by Kenneth MacMillan. | Laurent Liotardo/Courtesy SF Ballet

Former SF Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson’s Swan Lake returns from Feb. 23-March 3, 2024, and George Balanchine’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, after a pandemic-induced hiatus, will finally finish out its run at the War Memorial Opera House from March 12-23. The whimsical story ballet based on the Shakespearean classic, last performed by SF Ballet in March 2020, had to cut its run short after only one opening night performance as Covid forced major theatrical productions to shut down across the globe. SF Ballet’s run of the Balanchine masterpiece will be able to take its final bow next March, this time with haute couture costumes and stage design by French fashion legend Christian Lacroix. Originally made for Paris Opera Ballet, this is the first time the Lacroix-crafted designs will be seen in the U.S.  

San Francisco Ballet in Balanchine's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" | Erik Tomasson/Courtesy SF Ballet

Per tradition, the evergreen Christmas classic Nutcracker officially kicks off SF Ballet’s new season in December 2023, and will offer a sensory-friendly performance for neurodiverse audiences on Dec. 30. Encores of Yuri Possokhov’s Piano Concerto, Nicolas Blanc’s Gateway to the Sun, and Danielle Rowe’s MADCAP round out the 2024 season from April 2-13, 2024.  Next year also marks the launch of the SF Ballet ChoreoLab series, which will nurture dialogue about the creative process between visiting choreographers and SF Ballet’s resident artists. 

Tomasson’s Romeo & Juliet closes out SF Ballet’s current season at the end of this month. For more details about next season, visit