In His Spare Time, Principal Dancer Benjamin Freemantle Gives Free Haircuts to San Francisco's Homeless
Back when he was a living in a dorm as an international student at San Francisco Ballet School, Benjamin Freemantle developed a new skill: cutting hair. "Most of us didn't have the financial means to go out and get a San Francisco haircut," he says. So he started cutting his fellow dancers' hair and his own.
"I actually kinda lied to my friend and told him I'd done it before," admits Freemantle, with a laugh. "But it turned out really well!"
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
To this day, Freemantle, who's now a principal at San Francisco Ballet, continues to do his own hair, in addition to some SFB School students' and company members'. Purely self-taught, he has beefed up his skills over the years thanks to tutorials on YouTube.
But Freemantle's hair-cutting hobby has grown into more of a mission: He's expanded his clientele, offering free cuts to San Francisco's homeless community.
"It started when I had an apartment, like a block from the ballet, and every day there was this homeless man who lived in my alley," says Freemantle. The two became friendly, saying hello to each other. "Then one day I invited him to come up, take a shower and have a beer—just relax out of the cold." Freemantle offered his neighbor a haircut and a shave, and he accepted. "I think it meant a lot to him that someone saw him and wanted to help—even if it wasn't money or food, that's what I could offer at the time."
Freemantle in McIntyre's Your Flesh Shall Be a Great Poem
Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB
So Freemantle thought about how he could build on this experience. "I had the idea—it was a little scary—to go into the Tenderloin, which is our homeless district," he says. He brought a stool, his haircutting set—basic shears from Amazon, combs, a brush and a spray bottle—and a sign that read "Need a Haircut?"
"I cut five people's hair my first day, and the next week I came back again." Freemantle continues to go to the Tenderloin sporadically as his schedule allows.
On a recent visit, he says he ran into some of the people whose hair he'd previously cut. "They were really thankful, just saying how they got a job interview or they're working at Burger King now," says Freemantle, noting how they "felt a little more welcomed back into society."
Reflecting on the experience, he says, "It's reinstilled that they're human—they're someone's daughter, someone's son, niece, nephew, you know? There's a history there and we don't know it." Given San Francisco's large homeless population, it's an especially relevant message. "People tend to throw them to the side without a care, and I don't think that's the way to move forward."
Her Dying Swan was as fragile as her Juliet was rebellious; her Odile, scheming, her Swanilda, insouciant. Her Belle was joyous, and her Carmen, both brooding and full-blooded. But there was one role in particular that prompted dance critic Arnold Haskell to ask, "How do you interpret Giselle when you are Giselle?"
At eight, Alicia Alonso took her first ballet class on a stage in her native Cuba, wearing street clothes. Fifteen years later, put in for an ailing Alicia Markova in a performance of Giselle at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, she staked her claim to that title role.
Alonso received recognition throughout the world for her flawless technique and her ability to become one with the characters she danced, even after she became nearly blind. After a career in New York, she and her then husband Fernando Alonso established the Cuban National Ballet and the Cuban National Ballet School, both of which grew into major international dance powerhouses and beloved institutions in their home country. On October 17, the company announced that, after leading the company for a remarkable 71 years, Alonso died from cardiovascular disease at the age of 98.
William Forsythe is bringing his multi-faceted genius to New York City in stripped down form. His "Quiet Evening of Dance," a mix of new and recycled work now at The Shed until October 25, is co-commissioned with Sadler's Wells in London (and a slew of European presenters).
As always, Forsythe's choreography is a layered experience, both kinetic and intellectual. This North American premiere prompted many thoughts, which I whittled down to seven.
"Law & Order: SVU" has dominated the crime show genre for 21 seasons with its famous "ripped from the headlines" strategy of taking plot inspiration from real-life crimes.
So viewers would be forgiven for assuming that the new storyline following the son of Mariska Hargitay's character into dance class originated in the news cycle. After all, the mainstream media widely covered the reaction to Lara Spencer's faux pas on "Good Morning America" in August, when she made fun of Prince George for taking ballet class.
But it turns out
, the storyline was actually the idea of the 9-year-old actor, Ryan Buggle, who plays Hargitay's son. And he came up with it before Spencer ever giggled at the word ballet.