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$60 million gift to ballet company supports Spanish Ballerina Tamara Rojo’s artistic leadership
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$60 million gift to ballet company supports Spanish Ballerina Tamara Rojo’s artistic leadership

The San Francisco Ballet has received a donation of $60 million, the largest in the company’s history and believed to be among the largest ever given to an American ballet company.

The gift, from a private donor described as “a lady who has been a longtime supporter”, is intended to help support the creation of new work and to strengthen the Ballet’s financial security, the company announced.

“We are so grateful for this,” Ballet board President Alison Hall Mauzé told the Chronicle. “It’s an unprecedented, historic gift for San Francisco Ballet, and a recognition of the vision and brilliance of our new artistic director, Tamara Rojo.”

According to a company spokesperson, the gift is divided into two parts, with $50 million meant for the company’s endowment, which currently stands at $107.7 million.

That contribution, which will increase the value of the endowment by nearly 50%, is earmarked explicitly for creating new work and acquiring dances that have not been done in San Francisco.

The remaining $10 million will help defray operating costs for Rojo’s initial seasons, which are projected to exceed $55 million annually.

“This individual was obviously very enthusiastic about programming, and especially new work,” Rojo told the Chronicle, noting that she had had extensive conversations with the unnamed donor about her plans for the company when she arrived in San Francisco a year ago.

The donor was particularly invested in “Mere Mortals,” created by Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton with music by British electronica composer Floating Points and visuals by Barcelona-based designers Hamill Industries, which premiered last month.

“She took an interest in ‘Mere Mortals,’ followed the process and attended some rehearsals,” Rojo said, though she noted the donation still came as a surprise. “This donor has a long history with us, but nothing on this scale.”

The gift arrives just as the Ballet is feeling the full artistic ferment of life under new artistic leadership.

The runaway success of the season-opening “Mere Mortals,” Barton’s AI-themed creation set the tone. The production quickly sold out and will return in April for seven encore performances.

Offstage, meanwhile, the Ballet has introduced Creation House, a multi-part initiative connecting company members, students at the San Francisco Ballet School, and visiting artists.

Rojo, the Spanish ballerina, and administrator who came to San Francisco after a decade as artistic director and lead principal of the English National Ballet in London, cited the success of “Mere Mortals” as evidence that there are untapped ballet audiences in the Bay Area eager to experience new and unusual dance offerings.

“That piece brought in a younger audience, as well as audiences from the tech community,” she said. “I have the next three seasons planned, but now I need to look at the programming from new perspectives so that we can capture those audiences.”

The new financial support for dance premieres, Rojo added, will help make that possible.

“I’ve never been risk-averse. Taking risks comes with the territory,” she said. “But now I’m even more encouraged because that is part of why this gift came to be. So there really is no alternative to being brave.”

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