To San Francisco for ‘Mrs. Robinson’ the ballet, and more

Dance · Film

Coo coo ca choo, Mrs. Robinson!

So go the whimsical lyrics of the buoyant-yet-melancholic Simon & Garfunkel song that burbles behind The Graduate, the seminal film 1967 film directed by Mike Nichols that introduced Dustin Hoffman to the world. Playing the 21-year-old recent college graduate, Benjamin Braddock, Hoffman can’t exactly decide his next step. That is, not until he encounters a dear friend of his parents, a gorgeous, and dreadfully bored, married woman played by Anne Bancroft. Now we have a swapperoo, a creative work, a dance work, dedicated to telling the lady’s side of the story. Introducing… “Mrs. Robinson,” the ballet!

I’m going to see it. I may not have a racy Alfa Romeo to zoom up the coast to check it out. I’ll have to brave Southwest Airlines, which is hardly as snazzy. Because choreographer Cathy Marston‘s cool idea — conjuring a one-act ballet based on the back story of a temptress — is, for me, a brilliant stroke. Cinephile-balletomane that I am, “Mrs. Robinson” hits my sweet spot. But we’ve seen this character before, haven’t we, dance world?

Classical ballet has its share of vixens — centuries of them! Let’s just pick one. Odile, the bad girl of Swan Lake (her handle is Black Swan), is nearly a Mrs. Robinson prototype. Odile sets about seducing Prince Siegfried by use of her charms, primarily 32 piercing fouettes. Nasty girl! Siegfried loses all interest in the nice-and-sweet Odette. It all goes super badly, and culminates in a jump into a lake. In the movie, the dark-haired, sensual Mrs. R. uses her weaponry (she, too, does some fancy leg work) to seduce a naive young guy and ply him from his fair-haired girlfriend Elaine — who happens to be her daughter. Oh, wicked! But it’s a movie, so Ben and Elaine don’t have to jump into a lake. They have a happy ending — in a bus — almost as bad. Good lord, I just realized that The Graduate is Swan Lake, only staged in mid-Century California! Did screenwriter Buck Henry go to the ballet?

Sarah Van Patten in Marston’s Mrs. Robinson // © Erik Tomasson

Mrs. Robinson is but the tempting headliner of a live-performance spring season of San Francisco Ballet, one of the nation’s most valiant and innovative ballet companies since its founding in 1933. The season’s programs include works by Helgi Tomasson, William Forsythe, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. And that’s why I’m going — to see all these delicious offerings, above and beyond Marston’s work.

Mrs. Robinson has an original score by Terry Davies, scenic and costume designs by Patrick Kinmonth, and a scenario developed by the choreographer and Edward Kemp. This  is Marston’s second commission and narrative ballet created for SF Ballet.

The season honors Helgi Tomasson’s 37th and final season as Artistic Director of a great American ballet company and the end of an era. Adieu, Mr. Tomasson, and, if we may, coo coo ca choo to you!


The premiere arrives after a two-year postponement of the ballet’s debut due to Covid-19. To celebrate, SF Ballet releases the Mrs. Robinson short film free on its website. Filmed at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel in November of 2020, the dance film features choreography from a scene of Mrs. Robinson and stars Principal Dancers Sarah Van Patten and Joseph Walsh in the ballet’s leading roles.

Click here to watch the Mrs. Robinson short film

San Francisco Ballet spring season | War Memorial Opera House | Feb 1 – 13

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