Sunday, February 12, 2023

They Come to Say Thank You and Goodbye --- Day 12/46

Walk: AMC Metreon

Distance: 5 miles, yoga

Tiit Helimets, San Francisco Ballet Principal Dancer, 2005-2023

So, this season there have been many empty spaces at the Opera House where the San Francisco Ballet performs.  But yesterday afternoon every single one of its 3,146 seats was filled. People had come from many places (the woman next to Ciwt had made the 4 hour drive from Tahoe) to honor, say their very fond farewells and godspeeds to transcendent principal dancer, Tiit Helimets.  

Tiit is one of those very rare talents so superb he has lifted ballet, his art, to another level.  Not just with his dance gifts but with his humility, graciousness, kindness, absolute love of and commitment to his dream of learning and giving all in his power to his beloved dance.  To follow that dream he left his native Estonia - where he made history as the youngest male dancer ever to perform the role of Siegfried in Swan Lake - to join the Birmingham Royal Ballet.  Part of his courage to embark on such an undertaking was a video he'd seen of as a young man of fellow, but much older, Russian, Rudolf Nureyev.  Nureyev's example of defecting in pursuit of more dance freedom sank deeply into young Helimet.

Later in 2005 Tiit followed his dream even further, off the European continent and to San Francisco Ballet which already had the reputation of being courageously cutting edge, of moving ballet into the future.  Once again, he joined as Principal Dancer, the highest rank in ballet, but the European star found he had much to learn.  European ballet is classical - certain movements are done certain ways in perpetuity more or less - so Helimets' muscle memory was in that tradition.  To learn a more personally  and dramatically expressive techniques was a grueling undertaking physically, mentally, emotionally.  And to be doing that under the spotlight as Principal Dancer almost always injured from the demanding new movements is unimaginable to Ciwt.  To do it as a gentleman with elegance, graciousness,  generosity and helpfulness to his company, well....

Tiit naturally a exudes grounded gracefulness that has the audience asking each other "who is that guy?" even in a minor role or crowd scene.  He is also deep into character at all times and  has a dual dedication to character development.  Soon upon arriving in San Francisco he realized just doing the technical work, however perfectly, was not enough for him - or the audience.  He felt the need to create characters that would engage the audience, characters whose story they could understand and feel.  From that realizationcame a legendary number and variety of major and minor roles he created from scratch or bent to his understanding.

 Swan Lake (Prince Siegfried and Von Rothbart)

Even more legendary was his partnering. Not only did Tilt make his partners look good, he made them feel safe and confident to dance at their highest level.  So many of his partners express their deep relief when told they would be dancing with Tiit. The more demanding and precarious the role, the greater their relief.. "I will be safe.  It will be okay.  Yes!"  For the audience it was beautiful to watch - seamless, graceful, one with his partner, but to the ballerinas it was a godsend.  

Sofiane Sylve and Tiit Helimets in Lifar's Suite en Blanc

And just when you think Tiit can't get any dearer, you learn of his loving relationship with his talented 12 year old daughter, Chloe. His newest partner if you will.  Spend a few minutes warming your heart by going to Tiit's instagram page* and watching some his short videos as he carefully, kindly, exactingly teaches and partners Chloe.  Or read his feelings about dancing Don Quixote last year:  “After having danced the beggar boys, seguidilla, toreadors, Espada, and Basilio in Don Quixote, I must admit that the best part of being in this show was to be Don Quixote because I got to be on the stage with my daughter at the same time.” 

San Francisco Ballet principal Tiit Helimets with his daughter Chloe
backstage before a performance of Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Seasons.

Tiit's future is bright with his daughter, and his wonderful wife, Molly Smollen, whom he met while partnering her in Brimingham!  There are dances and characters to create, young dancers to mentor, guest artist engagements to go to, future awards to accept.  Tiit will keep his dedication to dance - and therefore the art itself - growing, and he will be respected and embraced by all who will meet him.  But, still, it is very sad for Ciwt and the others who got to the Opera House yesterday to wave farewell and let him go into that bright future.


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