Photos Courtesy of Michelle Pullman


Shinji Eshima, graduated from Stanford University, and the Juilliard School. He is an accomplished double-bassist having played in the San Francisco Opera since 1980, and has served as Associate Principal Bass in the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra. He is on faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and San Francisco State University. He has composed ballets RAkU and Swimmer.  Most recently he has come to work with ex-pro skateboarder turned novelist Scott Bourne to create a contemporary opera fusing 19th century poet Percy Shelley with Scott Bourne entitled, Bourne to Shelley.

1) I read and watched clips about your ballet Swimmer and thought it looked beautiful. I am curious how long Swimmer took from initial concept to opening night and how long your most recent Bourne to Shelley took?
Swimmer took 2 years because after the initial version, Yuri Possokhov, the choreographer, was asked to create a new Rite of Spring for SF Ballet because “Rite” was celebrating its 100th anniversary. When we returned to Swimmer, we realized we were both different people so we started again from scratch. It was heartbreaking at first, but ultimately it was the right thing to do.
Bourne to Shelley is a different animal. Just 3 performers, the singer, French horn and Steinway (piano), – not for full orchestra as Swimmer is. It did include a video projection of the text however. Kate Duhamel, who did the film projections for Swimmer, created a beautiful video for Bourne to Shelley where the words enveloped and caressed the audience. It is part of a larger project that has been steeping in me for years. This particular incarnation took about 3 months to compose.
2) Scott told me about your meeting and friendship. When did the idea first hit you that you would like to work on a project with him? 
We met at a bar ( surprise! ) and I challenged him about what gave him the right to wear the tattoo on his neck. I quickly learned, he above ALL others, deserves to wear that word on his neck. Working with him was bound to happen. What I do comes from inspiration. Scott is a direct source of it.
3) When you are creating a ballet, do you think in terms of story first and then put music to fit? Can you explain how that creative process works? 
Yes, the story is first and music comes from the expression of the feelings within that story. Keep in mind that the great choreographer Balanchine once said “all you have to do is put a man and a woman on stage and you already have a story.”
It’s all about creating tension and then releasing that tension. Basically it is sex. Making love. Everything is a bunch of peacock feathers to attract someone, create tension, then the greater the tension, the greater the necessity for release. Even breathing is about this.
4) Scott told me to ask you about wearing two different boots when the city of Berkeley named a day in your honor, can you please tell us the story behind that? 
The city of Berkeley California where I was born, named December 6, 2011 “Shinji Eshima Day” in my honor. When I was getting ready for the presentation by the mayor and city council, I was trying to decide which shoe to wear. I put on a black cowboy boot and a brown Frye boot. Before I could look in a mirror I must have gotten distracted as I did not notice until I stepped out of my car in front of city hall. I remembered a shop on Telegraph Ave where Frye’s are sold and zipped up there to buy a pair.
In retrospect I probably should have just worn a black and a brown boot. It is Berkeley after all…