SABINA ALLEMANN – Former SF Ballet Ballerina Returns In A.C.T.’s “The Tosca Project”

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By Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

A.C.T. concludes its 2009–10 season with the world premiere production of THE TOSCA PROJECT. Created and staged by director Carey Perloff and San Francisco Ballet’s Val Caniparoli, this combination dance-theater piece brings together internationally recognized artists from SF Ballet and a cast of renowned actors. The work is inspired by San Francisco’s legendary Tosca Cafe – and the stories within those walls. The accompanying score runs the gamut between Puccini and Hendrix. The cast includes Peter Anderson (star of A.C.T.’s The Overcoat) and Rachel Ticotin (Boleros for the Disenchanted at A.C.T. and Macbeth on Broadway), as well as A.C.T. core acting company members Gregory Wallace and Jack Willis. Joining them are my favorite stars from SF Ballet – Pascal Molat and Lorena Feijóo, and former San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Sabina Allemann. Pascal and Lorena know from our past interviews that I am their biggest fan. I spoke recently with Sabina Allemann, who retired from SF Ballet in 1999 and moved to Australia to be with her husband. But through June 27th, she’s ours again and under the spotlight in what promises to be the most exciting production in town.

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Drunk Bartender (Jack Willis) dreams of his long-lost love from Italy (Sabina Allemann).
Photo, Kevin Berne

Seán: Tell me about your role in The Tosca Project.

Sabina: There are ten people in the piece and we all take on different characters. One of the characters I take on is a ghost figure that travels through the piece. I’m not sure if they want to identify it speifically, but it is a sort of memory. And then I’m other characters from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s. It’s rather complex.

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Seán: How did you get involved with the production?

Sabina: About three years ago I’d thrown the choreographer, Val Caniparoli, an e-mail just to say ‘hello’. I live in Australia now so like to connect with people back here in San Francisco from time to time. He answered right back and said, “I know this is a long-shot, but would you be interested in being a part of this Tosca Project workshop?” I haven’t been involved in the theater at all since retiring, actually I’m a massage therapist now. So, I jumped at the chance to get involved in something creative again. It was never a question for me – I wanted to do it straight away. They brought me over and I was involved with one of the earlier workshops. We performed at Yerba Buena in October 2007. Since then, they’ve had me back to do other workshops. And here I am in San Francisco and it’s very exciting.

Seán: How is it to be back in The City during this blustery summer season?

Sabina: I love it! It’s beautiful in Australia where we live, about an hour and a half drive north of Brisbane. It’s in Queensland, on the coast, in a little spot called Noosa. It’s a tourist destination and always really-really nice, however, I grew up in Canada and lived here for twelve years so I don’t mind a bit of inclement weather!

Seán: How do you go from being a Principal Dancer at San Francisco Ballet – with roles that I’m very familiar with – to another kind of career, another location, and have that other energy just suddenly stop? Or did it?

Sabina: No. It was a decision I didn’t make lightly – to retire. But it felt right for me. I met my husband and we were doing a long-distance relationship for three years. That was difficult. I realized something had to change if we were going to stay together. So, that was in my mind and the fact you can’t dance forever. I loved my career but wanted to step away and experience other things in life. As I got older, I think it was more of a life shift. Certainly the fact that my husband is not a dancer took me out of that world. It was refreshing for me. But to be back again and involved with the Tosca Project has been really fantastic. I realize I’ve missed it a little bit.

Seán: I’ve been watching the youtubes that are available with you in the ballet “Onegin”. The camera certainly does love you.

Sabina: I was very young then.

Seán: Does your husband have an appreciation of the roles and ballets you were involved with?

Sabina: Yes, he definitely does. We met in 1990 just when I came to San Francisco. He did get to see me a dance and definitely has a great appreciation for what I did and what dancers do.

Seán: What kind of dancing will you be doing in the show?

Sabina: It’s more of contemporary/modern in terms of this mystery woman memory figure. I’m actually barefoot in that. I also do a little ballet number as well, which is kind-of fun. I don’t want to give too much away.

Seán: Do you keep a camaraderie going with San Francisco Ballet?

Sabina: Absolutely. I always love coming back and seeing the company perform. I really do make an effort to get there the first day I’m here to see people I know. There aren’t that many left, but I know some of the administrative staff as well. I arrived Saturday, May 1st and on Sunday I took bar class on stage with the company. The teacher was Bruce Samson from the Royal Ballet. I danced with Bruce when he was guesting here for a year – back in whatever year that was! Yuri Possokhov was taking bar in front of me along with a few others I know, so it was a bit of “old home week”.

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The Musician (Gregory Wallace) keeps the drinks coming while the women wait for their men to
return from World War II. Lorena Feijoo, Sara Hogrefe, Rachel Ticotin, Sabina Allemann.
Photo, Kevin Berne

Seán: Do you keep up with that variety of exercise?

Sabina: Oh, absolutely. I’m very active. I couldn’t imagine not doing some exercise everyday, almost. I try to take a day off, but that’s hard for me.

Seán: Do you have connections with the ballet world in Australia?

Sabina: Not much, but I do know Valerie Wilder, the Executive Director of the Australian Ballet. She originally came from the National Ballet of Canada. She was still a dancer when I joined the company there and she went on and became my boss for a little while. After Erik Bruhn passed away, she and another woman, Lynn Wallace, took over co-directorship of the National Ballet of Canada. I do know David McAllister, the Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet.

Seán: One of my treasured experiences in Classical ballet was seeing Rudolf Nureyev dance with the National Ballet of Canada in Sleeping Beauty.

Sabina: Yes, he also staged the production.

Seán: And your primary influence as a young girl was the National Ballet.

Sabina: Absolutely. I went to the National Ballet School. I left home and went to Toronto to be a boarding student at the National Ballet School for eight years and then went on to dance with the National for eight years as well.

Seán: So, a kid like that and a driving force like that is extraordinary. I attended the recent Black and White Ball which supports the Symphony’s music education programs for our schools. I’m very in tune with how a child’s life and perhaps a sense of awakening or a career choice can be influenced by a particular moment – such as you experienced. And then it leads to the extreme situation of being away from home, in a boarding school – but following a dream that has to be more important, more on fire than even a relationship with one’s family. Is that true?

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A beatnik crowd takes over Tosca Cafe in the 1950s.
Kyle Schaefer, Lorena Feijoo, Gregory Wallace, Nol Simonse,
Pascal Molat, Sara Hogrefe, Sabina Allemann
Photo, Kevin Berne

Sabina: Yes. It’s kind of a strange thing. I think – as a child, you don’t consciously evaluate all those different things. I was really lucky to have some kind of burning desire within me and – as hard as it was to leave my parents and my family – as soon as I was in my ballet classes I was happy. I could be crying and homesick, but as soon as I was in class all of that washed away. It was where I wanted to be. I can’t quite put my finger on why I had that or what it was specifically, but it certainly would override other emotions. It’s not to say I didn’t love my parents. There was just this burning desire of something I needed to do and wanted to do – desperately. It was never easy for me. I never felt like I had an easy road. It was always like pushing uphill and trying hard to improve and never liking what I was in trying to get better. But there was always this deep-down burning flame and confidence that I could overcome those things and become what I wanted to be.

Seán: You knew that the passion was in the practice. You could envision dancing the dual roles in Swan Lake, but understood that such a fete takes years of exercise and acquiring technique before getting anywhere near that.

Sabina: Absolutely. It’s a gradual build-up. From the first day you start your ballet lessons it’s this constant layering and layering. You don’t think “how will I get from A to Z?” because you’ve got so many steps along the way. It just sort-of starts to happen. The need to work and the discipline is just part and parcel with having that mindset, that desire to achieve something. You do it because you know that’s what you have to do. You just innately know. For me, it was never a chore. I love the process. I love the physicality of it, the sweat, the grind. As distressing and disappointing as it can sometimes be – because we’re all so hard on ourselves – still, I wouldn’t have given it up for anything.

Seán: What’s coming up after The Tosca Project?

Sabina: My husband is arriving this week and will be here for about a month with me. After the shows we’ll have a week before we fly back to Australia. Then I’m having some foot surgery to correct my bunions on both feet.

Seán: Oh, wow! It’s kind of hard for me to match-up pink satin with bunions.

Sabina: It’s a future-thing I’m looking at. I want to be fit, and active, and walk – maybe running or climbing – in twenty or thirty years time.

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THE TOSCA PROJECT – The Bartender (Jack Willis) finally dances with the memory
of his long-lost love (Sabina Alleman).
Photo, Kevin Berne

* * * * * *

Visit Seán on YouTube:
Lorena Feijóo – A Look at “Giselle” with Seán Martinfield
“Embraceable You” – On The Organ – At the Legion of Honor
Samson vs. Dalilah at AT&T Ballpark
DALILAH – In residence at San Francisco’s de Young Museum

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.

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