Monthly Archives: July 2024

JASMINE JIMISON: Lovely Person, Fabulous Dancer

Talking with Jasmine Jimison was a treat. I have seen her dance with the San Francisco Ballet in roles in The Nutcracker (Helgi Tomasson: choreographer) and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (George Balanchine: choreographer). Her onstage presence is a delight as she is able to embody roles as different as The Snow Queen and a wandering, love lorn lady lost in an enchanted forest in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Jasmine Jimison: Principal Dancer, San Francisco Ballet

She selected her life’s direction, stuck with it, worked hard, and now has arrived at the top of the top. Ms Jimison told me that she started out as a figure skater and began to study dance to help with her skating. Her skating teacher advised her to add the ballet movements, especially the arms, for her work on the ice. That was when she was “around 10 or 12.” The dancing gradually took over the skating. At 12 years old, she entered the SF Ballet School. She had started taking summer intensive programs at San Francisco Ballet and School of American Ballet, in New York, and others, but she stayed with the SFB school. A native of Palo Alto, she was happy to be near home.

Her family had no other dancers or artists of other kinds, but they were supportive in her training and career. I asked if her family was surprised by her dedication. The answer was no; they were “very supportive.”

Jasmine Jimison being promoted to Principal Dancer on stage after a performance of Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand // © San Francisco Ballet, photo by Lindsey Rallo

She loved figure skating and was very good at it, but even at the young age of making big decisions, her decision was practical. Jasmine said that figure skating is a short career, skaters stop at 15 or, if lucky, maybe 20. Compared to that, ballet, notorious for the brevity of a dancer’s career, seems like a long, life time career.

Ms Jamison has helpful suggestions for young dancers and not so young dancers. She said that “Everyone has a unique time line for training and dancing. The old rules that a person cannot start to dance seriously after 12 years old are no longer in place. So much depends on the individual’s efforts and the quality of training.” In addition to studying at the SFB, Jasmine studied privately with Kristine Elliot – a beautiful dancer, soloist in the American Ballet Theater. Ms Elliot gave Jasmine significant training. Jasmine feels certain that being in one on one classes with Ms. Elliot gave her a significant boost in learning.

A recent thrill for SF audiences and for Ms Jamison was her role as Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. Jasmine said being cast in the double role is usually set on “veteran” ballerinas with great experience. However, the new Principal Dancer was given the role. Odette, the good princess, was turned into a swan by the evil wizard, Von Rothbart. Odile, the bad “princess,” daughter of Von Rothbart, puts a spell on Prince Siegfried. The Prince had fallen in love with Odette by the romantic Swan Lake. In the picture below, she is Odette.

Jasmine Jimison in Tomasson’s Swan Lake // © San Francisco Ballet, photo by Lindsey Rallo

I asked Jasmine if she preferred one of the parts. She thought that Odette’s personality was closer to hers, it felt more natural, but it is exciting to delve into characteristics that are completely different.

She has appeared in many different roles but she said that Juliet is her favorite, so far. She likes knowing that the audience understands the feelings of the characters. That means that they are with Juliet as she goes through so many challenges. Also, the music is wonderful. It is the “most important in shaping the quality of the movement.”

Jasmine Jimison and Mingxuan Wang in Tomasson’s Nutcracker // © Reneff-Olson Productions

She will not know what ballets or roles she will be in until much closer to the season. She is now learning Grosse Fugue and will learn Clemence in Raymonda. The San Francisco Ballet will go on tour to Madrid, October 1st. Ms Jasmine Jimison, Principal Dancer, is excited about the company’s first international tour with her. I asked her what it is about dance that drew her in to make it the center of her life. She answered that she loves the physical aspect of it, but it also gives her a way of expressing herself and the feelings from the music and characters. She said that these were things she could not express verbally. However, she expressed herself clearly and articulately in our conversation just like the clarity and meaning she puts into her dance.

Photographs compliments of the San Francisco Ballet. 




Mahler Symphony No. 3: A Whole World

June 28, Davies Symphony: The San Francisco Symphony performed Mahler’s Symphony No. 3 in D Minor. It was a stunning presentation. Each movement was full of surprises, emotions, music that inspired our imaginations. San Francisco has been Mahler territory from the beginning of Michael Tilson Thomas’ tenure as Music Director. The Muni had Mahler painted on the sides of buses. MTT brought us great performances. Now, it is Music Director Esa-Pekka Salonen’s time to make the audience marvel at the music and the brilliance of conductor and musicians. This concert was the last of the regular season. It was another great musical experience from the SF Symphony.

Esa-Pekka Salonen, Music Director, San Francisco Symphony.

Before Gustav Mahler began to compose his Symphony No. 3 in D minor, he wrote a scenario in five parts, like sketching the story behind a play. He gave a title to each part. At first, the titles were following this theme: What the Forest Tells Me, What the Trees Tell Me, What Twilight Tells Me, but he changed the titles five times during his summer retreat. He removed the trees, the twilight, and the rest. He switched to Summer entering the symphony, and he wanted to add something Dionysiac, possibly scary. The various images that came to him worked. In less than three weeks he had written the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th movements. When Symphony No. 3 premiered in 1902, none of the titles were on the program. Mahler wrote to conductor, Josef Krug-Waldsee the reason why he removed them.

“Those titles were an attempt on my part to provide non-musicians with something to hold on to and with a signpost for the intellectual, or better, the expressive content of the various movements and for their relationships to each other and to the whole. That didn’t work (as, in fact it could never work) and that it led only to misinterpretations of the most horrendous sort became painfully clear all too quickly.”*

I was glad to read another quotation from Mahler in a conversation with Sibelius about what a symphony is because I have often thought that Mahler’s symphonies encompassed the world. He said, “a symphony must be like the world. It must embrace everything.”* Symphony No. 3 surely demonstrated that.

The first movement is nearly a half hour on its own. That is because Mahler sees so much. The beginning is joyful but a change comes immediately, something sad, more than sad has been released. We hear what might be funeral music, wailing, anger at the undoing of the human. Then, there are marches which are followed by what could be popular music that plays with a gentle hand that turns to enthusiasm. Yes, it is the whole world. Each of us lives all of the turns of experience which Mahler recalls for the listener and for the listener to re-live right now right here whether in a concert hall or hiking past a small town. This first movement, Part I, Kraftig, entschieden (Powerful, determined) is the full first part giving us moments of danger and loss as well. He does not abandon us to loss but reminds us of love.

Part II includes four briefer movements, each with its own identity. The first one is a minuet: Tempo di menuetto. Sher massig (Moderate). Then, the music is placed out doors with a song by Mahler, Ablusung im Sommer. He awaits “Lady Nightingale’s” song once the cuckoo stops. The trumpet becomes a post-horn with a beautiful tune which is carried by the flutes. Arnold Schoenberg observed, “at first with the divided high violins, then, even more beautiful if possible, with the horns.”* The symphony continues to a song by Nietzsche. It is the Midnight Song from also sprach Zarathustra. This song begins by warning humanity. Then, it explains the depth of eternity. “The world is deep–/deeper than the day had thought!/Deep is the pain!/Joy deeper still than heart’s sorrow!/Pain says: Vanish!/ Yet all joy aspires to eternity,/ to deep, deep eternity.” Soloist Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano, sang the first. Her voice fit well with both songs. Her presence communicates authority and, even as a sinner, attracts empathy.

Kelley O’Connor, mezzo-soprano

Next the sopranos and altos of the SF Symphony Chorus plus young boys of the Pacific Boychoir Academy sang the text of The Boy’s Magic Horn (Des Knaben Wunderhorn) with added text by Mahler: “But you mustn’t weep.” The SF Chorus sounded wonderful. O’Connor joined in this song as the sinner. The children made bell sounds and joined the SF Symphony Chorus in “Liebe nur Gott!” Love only God.

Mahler did a daring thing – when did he not do a daring thing? – and ended his symphony with an adagio. The music runs into the terrible, nameless event of the first movement. The interruption of his forward motion leads his music to spiritual directions. The duet of kettle drums was astonishing. The percussionists used drumsticks with large heads of something looking like cotton on the striking end. Side by side the percussionists, each with two drums sticks, struck the drums simultaneously, loudly, and powerfully. Side to side over and over. It created chills, questions, a mystery. The composer instructed the drums should be played “not with brute strength (but) with rich, noble tone” and that “the last measure not be cut off sharply”* in order to produce softness and a silence in the hall and in each listener. Mahler’s No. 3 has the fullness of life. This was Mahler’s world.

*quotations are quoted from the SF Symphony article by Michael Steinberg.