My Trip to San Francisco


Not really sure how or where to start this… Here it goes…

Recently, I launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a book I want to do on men in ballet. The funds would allow me to travel to certain locations to create content for this endeavor. One of the locations I intended to hit was San Francisco. For the last year or so, I was in contact with Tiit Helimets, principal with San Francisco Ballet. We had been talking about working together, so I knew that if I worked with no one else in SF, I HAD to work with him.

Well, finally, the project was funded and I could begin making my plans. I began to look at SFB’s calendar to determine what would be the ideal time to come out. I knew it had to be in between programs if I wanted access to the dancers, but I also knew my best chance was during the season. The break post season presents a multitude of potential scheduling hardships with people vacationing, guesting, etc. I was eager to book it and get it done and the spring/summer months are crazy for me anyway, so the earlier the better…

With that in mind, I determine that between programs 1 & 2 were best for me, so I reached to some of the dancers to see if they would be around, especially Tiit. He said he would be, so I booked my flight. What I did not anticipate then, was the uncertainty to come regarding their availability. Yes, they would be in town, but the question then was would they have time for me? Not my favorite question to raise especially after dropping $400 non refundable or exchangable on this trip.

As the trip neared, even down to the days leading up, the uncertainty still loomed; the “fog” had not lifted from the city by the bay (Like how I did that there??). At some point before I departed, I began to have a dialogue with Teri who pens Odette’s Ordeal, a blog all about San Francisco Ballet. She asked if I was coming to see a show, to which I indicated, “sadly no.” She had suggested I try to work with some of the dancers to which I replied, “yup, already on it.” At this point, I was not worried. I thought I had this trip and the dancers in the bag. Unbeknownst to me, I would come to rely on Teri tremendously, to make my trip a success.

I had a few people working feverishly, campaigning for my trip, trying to line up dancers; trying to establish contact. When dancers are in the midst of production or a harsh rehearsal period, social media (my main means of communication with them) is an afterthought, if a thought at all. A friend of mine asked if I was considering canceling the trip. There was no way I could. Financially, it would not work. All I could do is throw hope up in the air and pray this didnt turn into one helluva vaca! So here I am, the night before I left, and I still had NO contact with the main person I was going to see. I really had little shoots scheduled. When I say little, I really mean none. There were was some interest, plenty of messages out there, but with the dancers not knowing their schedules a few days out, great curious and wonder was abound. Ok, I am not sure if that made sense. I was just trying to really bolster up the verbiage with some dramatic flair.

Thursday is here. Damned. Travel day. No shoots scheduled. No turning back. BOOOOOO!!!! Here goes nothing… I departed for the airport, experiencing some anxiety (in my chest – really). Was a bit home sick. I had only been a week removed from my last trip and being a family man, travel does wear on me. When I arrived in SF, I established contact with Teri and my good friend, Austin and began to figure out what the hell I was going to do. I knew I was going to meet Teri later that night at a club where I was scheduled to shoot Matt Stewart, dancer with San Fran Ballet, whose band was playing.

Until around 5, I was comfortably nestled in Starbucks sucking up coffee, comfort and free wifi. 5:00 finally arrives and by this time, I was feeling sullied. Not sure if that is the proper word, but I was not a happy camper. Here I am on the other side of the country and my only shoot scheduled was a band. WTF? Ugh, this must change! So, I met Teri at the club and we chatted some. She then asked me, “What time are you shooting Tiit?” My response… “I DONT KNOW!” Aye Carumba! I still hadn’t establish contact with him. So she asks, “Do you want me to call him? I have his number.” Well, this was clearly a no brainer. During this call, we established that he had a large chunk of time the following day to work with me AND he invited us to come to the theater and sit in on a company rehearsal on the stage. Teri and I were making plans to grab a bite to eat when she made that call. This was obviously a game changer. Dinner? To hell with food, I am going to the opera house and seeing ballet! AMAZING!!!!!!!! So incredible to be in that opera house watching the company rehearse. Also incredible was to watch Maria Kochetkova rehearse Chroma! This offered a clear take away… I need to get over to Russia. SERIOUSLY!

Also, here was a change in fate for me. Victoria, a soloist with the company (also known from hereon as Vika), had time and came over and chatted with us. Teri had arranged a shoot between her and I the following day. YAY TERI (AGAIN)!!!! So we went back to the club and I shot Matt’s show which was great. BTW, his band is Waking Saints. You should check them out!

The next day, I met Teri and Vika at the studios and we were to drive over to the Palace of Fine Arts. While in the lobby waiting for Vika to come back down, Teri bumped into another dancer from the company she knew, Jordan Hammond. Insert serendipitous moment here… Teri introduced us and informed Jordan I was here and still trying to line up dancers and asked if she was available. She happily said she was! BOOOYAAAAAAAAAAAA! So we quickly established the meeting time and location and said our, “see ya tomorrows!” She was so nice!

Off to the palace we now went for my first dance shoot! Along the drive there, Teri gave me Jordan’s cell # – I wanted to text her and have her invite her friend that she was in the lobby with. This was very much a “pardon the creepy fact that I am texting you and you did not give me your number thing, but hey I gotta question anyway…” Sadly, Patty was leaving the area and would not be back til Sunday night which was too late for me to shoot since I had a Monday am flight. Next time, perhaps…

So, we get to the palace finally and… GAAAAAAAAAAAAA! GORGEOUS!!! We created some amazing images here and we were having fun. This also marked my first trip AWAY from Polk St. YAY!!! Solid start to the day. Vika was very happy with the images too! HAPPY DANCER=HAPPY PHOTOG! We made a quick dash over to the marina and got some shots of her with the Golden Gate in the background. She happened to be wearing a sea foam greenish leo and white tutu. YES WERKK!!!! What an amazing first shoot of my trip, well dance shoot that is. What a sweet and gorgeous person Vika was. When the shoot was finished, we headed back to the SFB studios. That was my home base for meeting dancers. Teri and I were starving as we hadn’t had a real meal in a day. So, we stopped at Peets coffee for some beverages and a nibble. Unfortunately, this put be back a few minutes for a shoot with Tiit Helimets, who met us there. I just had to get something into my system.

Teri, once again, played tour guide and whisked us away to our shoot which took place at Grace Cathedral in Nob Hill area of SF. Tiit has a very manly demeanor and I knew that this cathedral with its architecture would compliment it just perfectly. Yup. I was right! It did. Tiit was great and was very happy with the images. I was so happy to finally have had the chance to meet and work with him! This concluded my day of shooting! Tired and weary from having to shlep my broken wheeled rolling (not really) camera bag all through out the hills of SF, I made my way back home for some rest as well as dump my cards and get the proofs ready! The time zone thing was def playing in…

Saturday arrived and I took the ferry into the city for my first shoot which was with Jordan, who I had met the day before in the lobby. I had decided to have her meeting me at the ferry building for the shoot. Plenty of spots there for scenic images! This also allowed me to sit down for a proper meal at Sinbads. My kind waitress sat me at a table with a waterfront view of the bridge and well, the water! I was also right next to an outlet so I was able to charge my phone! YAY!!!

Jordan was amazing and was very much into the shoot! We clicked right away, shared laughs, we talked about Boston – just had fun! We talked about her and her training, her trip to Boston, Boston IBC. I had to share my London based “mission impossible” story with her. We were somehow on topic… She got a kick out of it. We shot mostly on a pier with the bridge in the background. We did go over to another pier for a slightly different look. On this location, my ship came in! No really, a ship came into the photo! Could not have planned it better!

DOH! I am already at 1700 words and only into my 3rd dance shoot. After the shoot, Jordan and I made our way to the studios. That’s where I was meeting my next dancer, Courtney. We had a nice chat along the way. Once we were off the train, she suggested I shoot at Lyon St steps. She said it was really beautiful and not bogged down with tourists. When I pitched this to Courtney, her eyes lit up and said it was perfect!

Courtney is a soloist with San Francisco Ballet and also the loving wife of Matt Stewart, also a dancer with the company and as I mentioned earlier, front man for Waking Saints. Courtney is a very sweet and beautiful young lady (duh!). She has a very classic look, so we spent a lot time in a romantic tutu skirt in this flowery area. The surroundings had a very Romeo and Juliet gardeny feel and she nailed it. We had fun and got some beautiful elegant images that had a certain fierceness to it. She definitely gave it! After the shoot, we again headed back to the studios and I made my way back home to decompress and prep images. Sadly, tomorrow would be my final day of shooting but likely my most full day!

After a trip to the farmers market, Austin and I drove to our shoot at St Vincents. Austin and I were Facebook friends and I would see her in the studios, etc, when I went to Boston and we would just smile and wave hi. I officially met her when I was in Boston last May for the IBC. We started chatting some on Facebook and were talking about shooting together. We finally were able to make it happen while I was up there in May. We had an amazing shoot then and went for coffee where I bored the hell out of her with my life story lol. JK. We had a great conversation and have been good friends since. So, I was excited to see her and do a new shoot with her. Only this time, it would be more of a fashion shoot and no dance. EEEKKKK! How do I do this? Oofa. Well, we gave it a go and we got some decent shots. I had fun hanging with working with her. Its always relaxed and enjoyable.

When our shoot was over, I made my way to the studios again for my first dance shoot of the day. First up was with Myles Thatcher. He had asked me to shoot him for his moms line of mens ballet tights, Saut de Basque. Myles was great. Turns out he is a local boy. Well local to Philly. Well kinda. He is from Easton. But, if you are on the other side of the country, and you meet someone from the same state, they are local. 🙂 We are both happy with the images! Next up was Diego. I met and shot Diego at the IBC in Boston last May. This was a short shoot as I was running behind but we had some great images! After Diego, was my final shoot of the trip, Ellen Rose. What a wonderful person and drop dead gorgeous! We shot in the courtyard next to the opera house, against the opera house and well, that’s about it. We are both very happy with the images, but there were a few that were epic! Again, we went with the romantic tutu skirt and since she is from Carolina, it seemed to fit – she also had that classic elegant look.

Back home I went to do my normal routine, eat, dump cards, prep proofs and pass out. I really did have an amazing time in San Francisco! I want to thank Austin and her family for their hospitality, Teri for making all these connections, all of the dancers I worked with, all of the dancers I did not work with but met and made me feel welcomed in SF, the Starbucks on Polk and Market for hours and hours of free wifi and electricity on 2 cups of java and anyone else I may have forgotten!

***there were a few moments in there that I could not recount in this post. You will have to wait for my memoirs to be published!

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