Though COVID-19 has restricted live art in devastating ways, it hasn’t stopped San Francisco Ballet from bringing creativity and much-needed hope to the world virtually. SF Ballet’s latest project, directed by Benjamin Millepied, is a six-minute short film entitled “Dance of Dreams.” The film serves as an homage to San Francisco, exploring the beauty of connectivity during a time full of fear and isolation.
Set to music from Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal San Francisco-based film “Vertigo,” the film showcases two solos and two pas de deux dances in quintessential parts of the city. With breathtaking choreography and stunning visuals, “Dance of Dreams” elegantly displays the power of dance as a means to uplift and inspire alongside the beautiful yet desolate city of San Francisco during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The film opens with the hauntingly powerful melody of Bernard Herrmann’s “Scéne D’Amour” performed by the SF Ballet Orchestra. This captivating music complements the gorgeous movements of principal dancer Joseph Walsh as he turns and leaps at the San Francisco Art Institute. Walsh stunningly sets the stage for the rest of the film with his effortless performance of intricate choreography. This opening scene is utterly enchanting, engaging viewers with its outstanding artistry and cinematography. Brightly colored shots of the Bay Area illuminate the film, celebrating San Francisco’s beauty even without the usual hustle and bustle.
As “Dance of Dreams” transitions to its first pas de deux, viewers are transported from these bright shots overlooking the city to a darker, foggier view of San Francisco next to the Golden Gate Bridge. Despite this melancholic lighting, the bridge peaks through the fog with hope, something that both dancers, Ellen Rose Hummel and Daniel Deivison-Oliveira, emulate. The breathtaking choreography in this section amplifies the film’s poignancy as the two dancers revel in their physical connection, something humanity has not been afforded in the pandemic’s wake.
The value of physical and emotional connection is thematically embedded throughout the film’s entirety; whether “Dance of Dreams” centers on a solo or a duet, the choreography seems to always point to the importance of connecting to one’s surroundings. Grounded in the picturesque architecture and music of the city, each dancer seems to reveal their own intimate connection to San Francisco as they utilize the space to perform. Donned in casual, everyday clothing, the dancers bring spontaneity and comfort to their performances, reminding audiences to embrace creativity and performance even in current circumstances.
SF Ballet brings hope while experimenting with dance through this medium, allowing its dancers to freely reconnect with the city and its community throughout the film. The choreography and cinematography reflect this free, hopeful nature with a solo performed by principal dancer Frances Chung. As she explores the seaside of Sausalito, the film highlights the stunning scenery behind her while maintaining a steady focus on the satisfying fluidity and strength of her movements.
The film’s final scene, a pas de deux with Madison Keesler and Benjamin Freemantle, truly explores the purpose and consistent beauty of “Dance of Dreams.” In one of San Francisco’s most iconic spots, the Palace of Fine Arts, the two dancers leap and glide around each other, attempting to physically connect despite an unseen force that seems to separate them. This intimate choreography explores the two’s palpable connection as they engage with each other and their lush environment, ever forced to separate.
Surrounded by the location’s elegance, this final dance serves as an emotional yet hopeful reminder that the feelings of isolation we now face will eventually be met with the ability to reconnect and celebrate live art in San Francisco once again. “Dance of Dreams” gorgeously reconnects SF Ballet’s dancers to the beauty of San Francisco. It finds strength in uplifting and inspiring its community to keep moving forward, embracing the beauty of dance despite the limitations of this time.