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Scene Last Night: San Francisco Ballet Opening Night

San Francisco Ballet
The rotunda at City Hall during dinner for San Francisco Ballet. Tickets were $1,250 and up. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg

Last night at the San Francisco Ballet Opening Night Gala, John Powers, who leads Stanford University’s $19 billion endowment, held forth on where to find good coffee in the City by the Bay.

On Saturday hikes, the chief executive officer of Stanford Management Co. stops at Saint Frank in Russian Hill, where owner Kevin Bohlin has an under-counter espresso machine. Pinhole Coffee in Bernal Heights, opening soon, is also on his radar.

As for how much coffee he drinks: five cups a day, between 5:30 and 11 a.m., meaning he was not interested in the Nespresso served at the gala. Still, he lasted through the festivities, which spanned eight hours.

The first guests gathered at City Hall for dinner -- lobster, a salad with green goddess dressing, short ribs and chocolate cake. Large panels projected moving images of the ballet dancers.

Powers dined next to the local congresswoman, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Democrat spoke of wanting to refresh a party initiative called the Innovation Agenda. (One gala innovation she’s ready for: “Chocolate hors d’oeuvres, with sea salt,” she said.)

Then came the move to the War Memorial Opera House for the performance. The ballet program, selected by artistic director Helgi Tomasson, consisted of a dozen short excerpts. A modern tango from “Talk To Her” was strong, the muscles on the female dancer’s back enthralling.

Balanchine Choreography

There were a lot of light-hearted, gala-friendy pieces too: Balanchine choreography to Ira and George Gershwin, for example, from “The Man I Love,” and a glimpse of “Les Lutins,” something of a competition among three dancers’ fancy footwork to express music by a solo violinist and solo pianist. Story ballets -- “Manon, ‘‘Giselle’’ and ‘‘Diana and Acteon’’ -- rounded out the mix.

Whoops and hollers from the audience indicated a great deal of affection for the company and the influence of West Coast informality. That said, the many young professionals in the crowd mostly opted to suit up in black tie and designer gowns.

After the performance, watchful crossing guards guided more than 2,000 guests, young and old, back to City Hall for an after-party. There were two rooms for dancing: one with David Martin’s House Party, a live band; the other with a DJ, Chris Clouse. Both played ‘‘Dancing Queen’’ by Abba, but not at the same time. Guests stayed on the lookout for the ballet troupe’s dancers.

‘‘What’s unique is the breadth of the repertory,” said John Osterweis, founder of Osterweis Capital Management Inc. and chairman of San Francisco Ballet, in an interview at the start of the evening. “We do everything from the most classic to the most contemporary.”

Investment Strategy

Osterweis said the ballet company, founded in 1933 and the oldest in the U.S., is “artistically world-class; we want to make it financially world class.”

Redoing the budget and introducing so-called Lean Ops have made a difference. The board would also like to boost the endowment to $150 million from $100 million. The current investment strategy includes hedge funds, equities and fixed income, while eschewing private equity and venture capital, Osterweis said.

The gala brought in $2.4 million, a record. Net proceeds will be used for new works, education programs, financial aid and scholarships for students at the San Francisco Ballet School. Dinner tickets started at $1,250.

‘Eclectic City’

Tom Steyer, the founder of Farallon Capital Management LLC, who is now focusing his energies on reversing global warming, said he attends the event because “I love dance, and this is one of the great institutions. And I’m not kidding you, it’s a really fun evening.”

“This is one of the best nights in San Francisco,” said Chad Thomas, a managing director at JPMorgan Chase & Co.

“We’re a very eclectic city, and this is athleticism meets the arts, and we appreciate that very much,” said Carl F. Pascarella, executive adviser at buyout firm TPG Capital and a vice chairman of the San Francisco Ballet’s board. “We have a great breadth in audiences, from Silicon Valley to new entrepreneurs. Everybody is embracing the ballet.”

Those seated with Pascarella included Jerry Yang, a co-founder of Yahoo! Inc., and Colin Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Olympic Dreams

Other guests: Matthew Berler, president and chief executive officer of Osterweis; venture capitalist Gary Lauder, son of cosmetics magnate Leonard Lauder; and Larry Baer, CEO of the San Francisco Giants, who said he’s preparing to work on an Olympic bid for the city in 2024.

Also: ex-Googler Nathan Stoll, chief executive of Luvocracy; ex-Zynga-er Owen Van Natta, now an investor, and a Valentino-clad Erin Glenn, the chairman of the Allegro Circle ballet patrons group and chief financial officer of Kixeye Inc., an online game developer.

There was also Deepa Pakianathan, a biotech venture capitalist at Delphi Ventures, who said she’d had a good day. Two of her companies crossed $1 billion in market capitalization: Karyopharm Therapeutics Inc. (KPTI) and Relypsa Inc. (RYLP).

As the clocks in City Hall approached midnight, Barclay Corbus, senior vice president of strategic development at Clean Energy Fuels Corp., and venture capitalist Tom Byrne shared more of their tips for the city. Byrne raved about Sightglass in SoMa for coffee, Corbus recommended Tacolicious in the Marina for dinner.

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