Saturday, December 8, 2007

Steps: State of the Art

Where is ballet today? Where did it come from? And where is it going? New York City Ballet principal dancer Damian Woetzel offers some ideas in his Aspen Ideas 2006 talk. Discussing and demonstrating ballet technique and repertory, Woetzel lucidly articulates the state of ballet today.

Go to the website to find a higher resolution video that's also downloadable to your iPod.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Feature: The cat is out of the bag

In a feature article about the Santa Barbara Chorale Society, the Santa Barbara Independent reveals the exciting, new collaboration between State Street Ballet and the Chorale Society on a new production of Carmina Burana, to be choreographed by William Soleau whose Carmen we presented recently. This production will also be our first regular performance in the new Granada Theatre.

So mark your calendars for May 31 and June 1, 2008 for a world premiere ballet performed to live music, including a 125-person chorus in a brand new performance space designed especially for such productions. We'll keep you up to date on the ins and outs of Carmina Burana as it evolves as well as when you can purchase tickets for what promises to be a spectacular production.

Santa Barbara Choral Society Prepares for a Breakthrough Year

Feature by Charles Donelan

But it is the spring sequence of programs, and its culmination with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana at the Granada with State Street Ballet on May 31 and June 1, that marks this 60th anniversary year as a potential breakthrough one for the organization. Choreographer William Soleau recently scored a distinct hit with his Carmen, which State Street Ballet performed at the Lobero. With 125 SBCS members, many in full costume and playing supporting roles onstage while the dancers do their thing, Soleau’s Carmina Burana is unquestionably the most ambitious multimedia production of the year, and will be a supreme test not only for both organizations, but for the Granada as well.

Read more of the feature.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Feature: Carmen at Ford video

In case you missed our performance of William Soleau's Carmen at the Ford Amphitheatre, LA36 filmed the performance, and has just released it online.

Review: Carmen at the Lobero Theatre 2

Enton Hoxha and Leila Drake in Carmen, courtesy Noozhawk

Noozhawk reviews Carmen:

State Street Ballet Dances a Hot 'Carmen'

Lobero Theatre, October 19, 2007

Reviewed by Margo Kline

Carmen, that enduring Gypsy seductress, danced to her doom once again on the stage of the Lobero Theatre, as State Street Ballet presented an updated and thrilling version by choreographer William Soleau.

Read more of the review.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Feature: Carmen at University of New Hampshire

A feature article on last week's tour to the University of New Hampshire with William Soleau's Carmen:

Celebrity Series brings professional ballet company to UNH

30 October, 2007

Taylor St. John

The lights in the house were dim, but the enthralled expression on almost every audience member's face was illuminated by the colorful array of stage lights, costumes and scenery. The sounds of dozens of pointe shoes tapping upon the stage floor became mixed up in the loud, vibrant music of George Bizet. A crowd of gypsies and soldiers floated among one another in a trance-like dance of seduction. A minute later, a gypsy girl leaped into the air and, held in place by her partner, remained hovering several feet above the stage, capturing the audience's gaze.

Read more of the feature.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Review: Carmen at the Lobero Theatre

Leila Drake and Ryan Camou in Carmen (photo: David Bazemore)

The Santa Barbara Independent reviews Carmen:

Carmen, presented by State Street Ballet

Lobero Theatre, October 19, 2007

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Met with favorable reviews at its Hollywood premiere last summer, SSB’s Carmen is by far the company’s most ambitious and most dazzling ballet yet, choreographed by New York’s William Soleau and set to the original Georges Bizet score.

Read more of the review.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Company: More ballet company blogs! (And serious thoughts on the ballet business.)

Official ballet company blogs are starting to appear. Perhaps great minds think alike. Or more likely, this newfangled Internet technology's become so easy to use and pervasive that more people are finding out how useful it can be for their lives and businesses.

Check out the beautiful pictures on the Joffrey Ballet's blog, j-Pointe.

And check out Houston Ballet's newly minted En Pointe.

Why a blog for a ballet company?

Almost all art dance companies, and that includes modern and other forms of dance outside of ballet, depend on funding beyond ticket sales. For many companies, ticket sales don't even make up half their annual budgets, so many companies depend on grants and more importantly corporate and personal donations.

Why Does Anyone Give To The Ballet?

There's a saying in the charity development community: people don't give money to organizations. They give money to people they know. A company that depends on charitable contributions must always be reaching out to the community it serves so that people in the community feel that the company is an essential part of the community. They have to feel that life would be worse off if the company wasn't in town. Only then can a company start to build the kind of support to make it successful in the long term.

10 Ways Blogs Beat Newsletters

There are lots of ways to make this happen, and one essential piece is constant communication with the community. Traditionally, arts organizations have done this by sending newsletters reporting on the latest activities of the company, upcoming performances, and other information, but newsletters are expensive to print and mail, and impose a deadline for submissions that usually leads to a mad scramble before the deadline to throw something together.

Blogs are a better way to handle that communication:
  1. They're free.
  2. They can be updated any time.
  3. They're very easy to write and publish so you can always report the latest news and information.
  4. It's very easy to add video or pictures to blog posts. And if there's one thing the dance world has in excess, it's beautiful pictures of beautiful people doing beautiful things.

    Leila Drake and Yuan-Ming Chang in the Arabian dance from Nutcracker

  5. They can be read in many ways which makes it convenient for everyone. You may be reading this on the blog website. Or perhaps you subscribed through email, and this post is in your email reader. Or you may use the RSS feed to automatically fetch new updates.
  6. They're easy to pass around. Just copy the blog address and email it to your friends.
  7. An entire new demographic (the coveted 18 to mid-30s) that is woefully underrepresented in our audiences uses the Internet extensively and often exclusively. The Internet provides new ways for new people to discover our art, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. For a large number of people, the Internet is their only source of information: if a company doesn't have a website, it may as well not exist.
  8. Blogs can easily link to each other, as we did for the Joffrey and Houston Ballets, and this kind of referral, unknown in physical print media, is another avenue of discovery. How often have you stayed up a bit too late following interesting links from various websites?
  9. Many newspapers can be read on the Web as well: you can easily point your readers to reviews and features written by your local papers.
  10. Size doesn't matter. You no longer need a huge budget to put out a lavish newsletter or brochure: every company is now on equal footing as long as they're willing to put the time and effort into their blog.
Why People Don't Read Your Blog

Of course, just like perfect ballet technique (or feet), this technology is but a tool which can be used well or badly. An interested, knowledgeable, enthusiastic human still has to fill the blog with interesting and relevant information, and they have to do it regularly. Think about the websites you visit often: how many haven't posted any new information in a while?

They also have to do it with a sense of earnestness and authenticity that reflects the company and its place in the community. The last thing anyone wants to read is some sanitized, cookie-cutter template that tries to be everything to everyone. You are an integral part of your community. What is your unique identity in your community?

So there it is in an extra-large nutshell: how blog sites can help ballet (and other dance) companies. If you know of any other ballet company blog, feel free to send the link our way, and we'll add it to our list.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Feature: Carmen v4

You may already know that State Street Ballet is opening its 2007-2008 season this weekend with the Santa Barbara premiere of William Soleau's full-length Carmen with performances on Friday, October 19, 8pm and Sunday, October 21, 2pm at the Lobero Theatre.

You may even have seen our first Carmen with Jennifer Batbouta dancing our Gypsy protagonist in the original one-act version. Or perhaps you've seen us on tour with Silvia Rotaru in the lead role. You may even have been lucky enough to catch a one-time performance in Los Angeles with Corina Gill dancing Carmen.

Carmen v1: Jennifer Batbouta

But you've definitely never seen our newest Carmen. Coming a long way from a part-time corps role in Giselle when she joined us in 2004, Leila Drake is not only dancing Carmen for the first time, but the eponymous Gypsy is Leila's first ever principal role with SSB.

Carmen v2: Silvia Rotaru

Every dancer brings something different to a role, revealing new aspects of the character and taking the story in different directions. Avid ballet fans will watch multiple casts of a production because different dancers illuminate the ballet and show us new things only they can reveal.

Carmen v3: Corina Gill (supported by Yuan-Ming Chang)

What will Leila show us this weekend? Come to the show and find out for yourself! Endowed with long, flowing lines, extensive ballet training alloyed with years of modern dance, and the brains to graduate from UC Santa Barbara with dual majors, this Carmen will be unlike any other, and cannot be missed.

, Leila --- you will be amazing.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Event: Evenings 9/07

Three weeks of preparation came to a head tonight as 11 State Street Ballet dancers put on an in-studio performance for over 100 guests. With choreography ranging from the mostly classical "Stars and Stripes" to the premiere of a contemporary ballet by company dancer Dana Young, Evenings gave dance novices a lot to taste, and dance experts a lot to savor.

Terez Dean and Ryan Camou kickstarted the evening with a performance of the coda from Balanchine's "Stars and Stripes". A virtuoso showpiece punctuated by the pin-sharp steps of Terez, the hopping pirouettes à la seconde of Ryan, and their outsized personalities and dancing, Stars and Stripes grabbed everyone's attention and made sure they sat up and paid attention.

Whoops and catcalls greeted the second piece, Enton Hoxha's mysteriously named "Tango 1", as Leila Drake, in a very short dress, and Enton, in a very open shirt, demonstrated how ballet steps and ballet partnering techniques were integrated into a sensual tango.

Terez and Dana Young performed the third piece, Jackie Clark's "My Friend", that explored the relationship between two friends through the use of hip-hop inspired contractions fused with ballet pointe technique and African drumming. White long-sleeved T-shirts formed a bond between the two friends as they found new ways to twist and pull the T-shirts to hold and push each other apart, literally and metaphorically.

The equally mysteriously named "Tango 2" by Galina Valeryuna danced by Alyson Mattoon and Ryan showed us again how compliantly ballet technique can be merged with other dance forms. If "Tango 1" was about a relationship in full bloom and perhaps decline, then "Tango 2" seemed to show us the hopeful, playful beginnings of a new relationship.

Next came the literally breathtaking pas de deux by Kenneth Balient with Dana and John Christopher Piel, as this duet of extreme physical demands made both dancers' breaths audible from across the room by its end. A piece that showcased difficult lifts and partnering steps linked together smoothly and seamlessly, "Forgotten Desires" asked for trust as well as stamina, as the girl had to often commit to off-balanced poses trusting that the boy would be there to catch her before the ground did. Set to a mysterious, atmospheric score that unfolded as the choreography did, "Forgotten Desires" rewarded viewers who followed its long, lyrical line.

After such an intense piece, Enton's "Back Again" was welcome reprieve. Basically a showcase for male virtuosity, Enton and Bayaraa Badamsambuu used all of the stage space as they demonstrated huge leaps and turns done in unison.

Finally, the premiere of the night, Dana's "Not a Number" set for an ensemble of 6 girls --- Terez Dean, Leila Drake, Sarah Fuhrman, Alyson Mattoon, Jennifer Rowe, and Christine Sawyer --- had dancers moving to Apparat's Minimalist-inspired electronica, "Not a Number." While there were ballet steps interspersed, and everyone danced in pointe shoes, its entire sensibility was contemporary. Many of its steps have no equivalent in ballet: when do ballet shoulders purposely go up and down, and when do ballet arms form such sharp, straight lines? Its ensemble movement, its relationship to the audience, and the patterns it formed came from without ballet: right angles away from the audience with no hint of classical contrapposto, asymmetric patterns and movement all pointed to a more modern influence.

Leaving the performance, people could be heard to say that they wanted more, and that the program was too short. In dance, this is only good news, and we hope that they will tell their friends and come back to see us again.

10 of 11 Evenings dancers: Bayaraa, Christine, Leila, Terez, Sarah, Alyson, Ryan, Dana, John, Enton

Ballet makes people happy: the performer's eye view

Friday, September 14, 2007

News: Evenings returns on September 28!

Save the date of Friday, September 28, because Evenings returns to the studios of State Street Ballet kicking off our 2007-2008 Santa Barbara season!

Celebrate the end of a long work week, and join us for a casual evening of fun and dancing: enjoy a glass of wine and light food while watching new choreography created and performed by the dancers of SSB. With a little bit of everything in a short program, Evenings is a great way to see a wide variety of dance in many styles you won't see in a traditional ballet performance. Afterwards, meet the dancers and find out what makes them tick.

Doors open at 6:30PM. Tickets are $20 in advance, and $25 at the door. RSVP to or call (805) 965-6066. The SSB studios are located at 322 State Street.

The poster you'll be seeing around town.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Feature: Carmen video trailer

Missed our recent Carmen performance at the Ford Amphitheatre? We'll be performing it again to open our 2007-2008 Santa Barbara season on October 19 and 21 at the Lobero Theatre. In the meantime, check out this trailer of the ballet:

Review: Carmen at the Ford Amphitheatre

Lewis Segal reviews Carmen for the Los Angeles Times:

'Carmen' moves in new directions

Ford Amphitheatre, August 17

Reviewed by Lewis Segal

[Carmen] offers roles that display and develop artistry and enough choreographic originality to interest dancers and audiences alike. Plus, of course, a classic story that gets deeper with every retelling.

Read more of the review.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Company: 2007-2008 Prelude

It's 7 PM in Santa Barbara. The humidity must be well over 80 percent, and the warm temperature and sweating bodies are constant reminders of summer in full swing. At Gustafson Dance's studios, Ravel's Bolero starts pounding out its relentless rhythm as dancers scramble to the front of the dance floor for the second week of rehearsals preparing to kick off State Street Ballet's 2007-2008 season.

Gary McKenzie rehearses Dana Young in Rodney Gustafson's Bolero

In two days, on August 3rd, SSB performs its Snow White and the Seven Dwarves at its annual fall Redlands Bowl performance. On Sunday, August 5, SSB helps celebrate Santa Barbara's Fiesta week by performing Rodney Gustafson's Bolero at the Sunken Garden of the Santa Barbara Courthouse in the Fiesta finale, starting at 8 PM.

Two more weeks of rehearsal, and the dancers will be performing William Soleau's full-length Carmen at the Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood on August 17 at 8 PM. This new full-length Carmen will later make its Santa Barbara debut on October 19, opening SSB's home season.

Many dancers will be rehearsing two or three different parts set to completely different music, sometimes all in one night. The heat's sweltering. Rehearsals run late into the night, but everyone's glad to be back: friends are reunited, new dancers are welcomed, and the dances are coming together.

Gary McKenzie rehearses Leila Drake, Terez Dean, new apprentice Angela Rebelo, Alyson Mattoon, and Dana Young in Bolero

Be sure to join us for an exciting new season of State Street Ballet by subscribing to our performances. We have several exciting things in store for you this season, and this blog will be the first to let you know about them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

News: State Street Ballet Summer Intensive Performance July 22

As this year's State Street Ballet Summer Intensive wraps up, the students are busy preparing for their performance this coming Sunday, July 22, at the Lobero Theatre at 2PM. Tickets are $20 for adults and $16 for children 12 and under. Drop by the Lobero box office or call (805) 963-0761 for tickets. Be sure to check our theater guide for seating recommendations, too.

The performance is the culmination of their summer intensive experience, as 4 weeks of work is displayed on stage in both classical and contemporary pieces. In addition to a hefty excerpt from the classical ballet, Paquita, the students will also be dancing contemporary ballet pieces by SSB Artistic Director Rodney Gustafson, and SSB dancer Dana Young, jazz pieces by Alyson Mattoon, and modern choreography by Nancy Colahan.

The eclectic make-up of the program not only shows off the versatility of these young dancers, but also reflects the realities of today's dance world, where dancers are expected to know many different dance forms from classical ballet to modern dance. It's not unusual today to see a classical ballet company perform all in one night an avant-garde work that pushes the boundaries of theatricality and a classical ballet with strict classical lines dressed in tutus and white tights. Juxtaposing such far-flung opposites can better show what's great about each dance form, and helps the audience appreciate the unique qualities each dance form brings to the stage.

So be sure to join us on July 22 to see what these up-and-coming dancers have been doing for the last four weeks, as well as the choreography of SSB's own dancers as they show a little-seen side of themselves.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Steps: Good feet

Hang around balletomanes long enough, and you might wonder if they all have a foot fetish problem. It seems no ballet dancer can escape having their feet judged and commented upon by knowledgeable fans.

And can how we blame them? Great ballet dancers have feet that are as expressive as their hands, and fans have been known to rhapsodize at considerable length about their favorite dancers' feet. So what makes a good ballet foot, and how can we recognize it?

According to this post on Ballet Alert's very interesting and worthwhile Details blog, there are three important factors for a good foot:
  1. A high arch
  2. A high instep
  3. A flexible ankle
While the Details post does an admirable job describing these factors, a picture is worth a thousand words. We've marked up a photo of a very nice foot to better illustrate these points.

In the first picture, the red curve under the foot shows the arch, and the arrow shows the height of the arch from the bottom of the foot if the foot was standing flat against the floor:

The foot's arch

In the dance world, the instep of the foot refers to the top of the foot. The curve following the top of the foot shows the instep, and the arrow shows the height of the instep from the foot's unpointed, flat position:

The foot's instep

Ankle flexibility is the angular range of the foot from the ankle. In the following picture, the angle the foot makes with the leg is compared with the bottom of the heel:

The ankle's flexibility

However, as we hinted earlier, and as the Details post we linked very carefully points out, having a good foot isn't enough. Dancers must also possess the experience, coaching, good taste, physical strength, and about a million other things in order to use their feet to best serve their performance. A good-looking foot is a useful, desirable tool, but it is only a tool.

Dancers on stage are trying to express and project something in their mind to the audience, and it's the dancers' job to figure out how to do that with the tools (ie. the various parts of their body) they have, whether the tools are good, just adequate, or even sometimes unavailable, like when they're dancing with an injury. The best dancers always find a way to do this despite their body, because, with perhaps one exception, no one has a perfect body for ballet.

So now you know what makes a good-looking foot, and you may find yourself watching your next ballet performance from a new perspective as you try to spot the nice feet on-stage and how they're used. And there are still plenty of summer performances left if you're impatient to apply this new knowledge!

Monday, June 25, 2007

News: State Street Ballet Summer Intensive begins

The State Street Ballet Summer Intensive kicked off today, and will culminate some 4 weeks later with a performance on July 22 at the Lobero Theatre. A summer intensive is a 4- to 5-week simulation of a professional dancer's life for up-and-coming dance students between 12 and 21 years old. It's a great way to not only see what a professional dancer's life is like (and decide whether it's right for you), but also a good way to improve your technique significantly since you're taking a large number of classes.

For 5 to 6 days per week, students start each morning with a normal ballet technique class followed by one or two more classes concentrating on specific aspects of ballet or other forms of dance. These extra classes include partnering, modern technique, and, for the men, male-specific deportment and technique. After classes, students then have several hours of rehearsal as they start to learn the various pieces they'll be performing at the end of the intensive session.

Ending some time around 5 PM, intensive students have been dancing since 9 in the morning. They have a chance to relax in the evenings, though some of the more energetic students may take another technique class then as well.

Another important aspect of summer intensives are the friends and contacts students make that can help them later on in their career. Whether it's fellow students that they may work with again in the future, because the dance world is very small, or the teacher who remembers how hard a particular student worked in class or rehearsal, and may want to work with that student when their paths cross again in the future, an intensive can have a significant effect on a dancer's career.

Intensives are a vital part of a ballet dancer's training, and each summer brings us new students full of promise as we wonder where we will see them practicing their art in the future.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Features: Where can I see great dance in Santa Barbara?

Maybe you're new in town, or your curiousity about dance's been piqued, or maybe you're just hoping to see something like this. Whatever reason you want to see dance, we have a great new resource for you: the all-new, all-singing, all-dancing map of Santa Barbara's dance venues.

Opinionated, and spilling the dirt where there's any, we tell about you the good, bad, and smelly bits of each venue. Go in better informed, and hopefully better seated.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Company: Where in the world is our Artistic Director?

What do you get if you combine the skills and talents of a professional ballet dancer with the knowledge and schooling of an MBA-level education? If you add to that the iron stomach to consistently balance razor-thin budgets for 15 years, and the energy and enthusiasm to find and meet current and prospective donors at all hours of the day and night, you'll find someone approaching the modern-day Artistic Director (AD) of a professional ballet company, like Rodney Gustafson, founder and AD of State Street Ballet.

Being an AD is a never-ending job: during the season, he (or she) will be busy rehearsing upcoming shows, and now, during the off-season, he'll be busy setting the ground for upcoming and future seasons. One part of this is deciding what ballets to perform next season, and another, less visible part is networking and keeping up relationships that may help the company in the long term. In addition to meeting potential donors, the AD will also be travelling to meet with directors of other companies and other people in the dance world. Many dancers often hear about job openings through these sorts of connections well before job listings appear in the trade magazines, and these connections let SSB get early access to very desirable dancers. After SSB finished its season in April, Rodney's schedule wasn't going to let up all summer.

One of two ADs selected to adjudicate the Educandance Festival's dance competition, Rodney spent a snowy week in April in Calgary, Canada. Competitions are great ways to see new dancers, and to meet other directors who are also there to scout out the talent.

On May 17, Antioch University, where Rodney earned his Master of Arts degree in Organizational Management, presented him with the Horace Mann Award for service to the community and being an outstanding Antioch alumnus. Because many of the big arts and non-profit movers and shakers of Santa Barbara were going to be present at the ceremony, it was also a great way to reach out to potential donors who haven't seen SSB before with a live performance of excerpts from ballets in SSB's repertoire. All reports indicate that attendees went away very impressed with our company.

Later that day, Rodney flew to the North Carolina School of the Arts, who had invited him along with five other nationally known ADs for the NCSA's Dance Arts Exchange on May 18. The program lets ADs see NCSA students in class and performance, as well as meeting them to give them candid career advice from a professional point-of-view. It's also a great way for ADs to spot rising talent.

After flying back from North Carolina, Rodney flew out again (on his own dime!) the next week to New York City for American Ballet Theatre's alumni dancer reunion for past and current members of the company in New York City on May 26. Many ABT alumni are now directors and teachers, and are great resources for everything from finding dancers to costumes.

Rodney Gustafson (left) and Kevin McKenzie, Artistic Director of ABT

More pictures of the ABT reunion can be found here: ABT, 1940-2007, Alumni Reunion, May 26, 2007, Metropolitan Opera House. See if you can spot Rodney. (Hint: he's in this picture.)

In addition to having danced for ABT, Rodney is also involved with ABT's summer intensive program in Texas, running the program along with teaching and setting choreography on the students. A summer intensive is a 4- to 5-week immersion in ballet simulating a professional dancer's life, with 5 to 6 days of a week filled with classes and rehearsals from morning to evening. It's one of the best ways of finding future dancers because any ballet student with professional aspirations will always go through one of these intensives.

What's up next for our plane-hopping AD? SSB is about to begin its own summer intensive on June 25, culminating in a performance on July 22, so lots of last-minute, behind-the-scenes preparations are going on to get everything ready.

Of course, Rodney will be teaching at the ABT Texas intensive later this summer, and then rehearsals for SSB's 2007-2008 season will start right after that. Where did the summer go?

Friday, June 1, 2007

Events: Summer Ballet

Is June gloom getting you down? Or maybe you just need a dose of ballet before State Street Ballet's season begins again in the fall. One of the many great dance performances coming up in Southern California, and some very worthwhile ones further away, will easily cure you of either ailment. Imagine a vacation capped off with a world-class ballet performance, and you'll understand why some balletomanes love summer.

In Southern California, both the Music Center of Los Angeles and the Orange County Performing Arts Center are closing out their seasons with a pair of sensational companies. First up, performing June 22 through 24, is Shen Wei Dance Arts at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The New York City-based company describes itself as "founded on a fusion of the art forms: dance, theater, Chinese opera, painting, sculpture, and a unique hybridism of Western and Eastern cultures." We will just say that they'll show you images and worlds you've never seen before. They're a bit off the ballet path, but are well worth seeing.

Shen Wei brings his Connect Transfer to Walt Disney Concert Hall

American Ballet Theatre returns to SoCal for two weeks starting on July 12 at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion with two programs (a mixed repertory program of excerpts from many ballets, and Lar Lubovitch's Othello). They continue on to OCPAC, July 17, which will host the west coast premiere of their new Sleeping Beauty which recently premiered in New York City. Sleeping Beauty, despite its truncated third act in ABT's staging, is our pick if you can only see one show. Sleeping Beauty is the apotheosis of classical dance, and its many dances, like the Bluebird pas de deux pictured below, really show off ABT's impressive roster of dancers.

Sarah Lamb and Yohei Sasaki as Princess Florine and Bluebird in the Royal Ballet's production of Sleeping Beauty

Further away and much sooner are the closing programs of Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, Washington, on stage last week and this week. Belonging to the top tier of important American ballet companies, PNB is always worth seeing, but this week is even more special because PNB is saying good-bye to Patricia Barker, a ballerina of very special qualities, as she retires after 26 years of dancing with the company. One of a tiny handful of ballerinas still dancing today who credibly deserves the title "prima ballerina", Patricia Barker's last performance cannot be missed.

Patricia Barker in Kent Stowell's Firebird (photo by Ben Kerns)

England's Royal Ballet, one of the world's top ballet companies, and who unfortunately has not come to the west coast in many years, continues to visit cities in America east of here. This summer, they'll be bringing their recent production of Sleeping Beauty to San Antonio, Texas from July 5 through July 7. For the enthusiastic fan, it would be fascinating to compare and contrast their Sleeping Beauty to ABT's. ABT personnel were seen at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC last summer when the Royal Ballet first brought their new Beauty to America.

The Royal Ballet continues on to Philadelphia from July 10 through 13 with Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet, which continues to be a great inspiration for many dancers, and a Swan Lake considered closer to the original than other versions recently seen in America. Ballet fans will celebrate its lack of a jester, and its true-to-the-original sad ending.

Finally, if you want to indulge yourself, why not fly to Paris, and enjoy the Paris Opera Ballet's first ever production of Frederick Ashton's comic ballet La Fille mal gardée starting on June 22 and running through July 15? If seeing the best ballet company in the world perform the classic comedy ballet, replete with Ashton's characteristic intricate steps and quintessentially English deportment, isn't enough to convince you to go, we're sure you can find some other reason to visit Paris.

Marianela Núñez and Carlos Acosta in the Royal Ballet's production of La Fille mal gardée

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Fun: Why there's nothing else like live theater

There's really nothing else like live theater, because every show is different, and you can never tell what's going to happen on stage.

Sometimes even things off-stage add to the drama, like this incident at a recent performance of San Francisco Ballet's Don Quixote:

To: Guy Who Screamed Obscenities at the Ballet the Other Night:

Another fantastic performance by the SF Ballet. I know you enjoyed it. Our whole section knows you enjoyed it. Every time a dancer would perform a particularly impressive jump, or a series of 3+ pirouettes, you would say, "Whoa!" or "Jaysus!"
Curtain comes up and the dancers begin to take their bows. You notice a few people standing up. Was it an ovation? NO! They were LEAVING! These people could not WAIT to get to their cars (they were obviously not MUNI riders, walkers or cab-hailers like most of us in the City)! They had no time for CLAPPING! They had to get out now!

It was then you yelled, in your beautiful gray-haired old crotchety man voice, "WILL YOU PEOPLE SIT DOWN AND LET THE *POLITE* PEOPLE SHOW THEIR APPRECIATION?!," slight pause, "YA A[bleep]S!"

more (warning: PG-13 language within)

While vocal fans like this man are very rare --- when was the last time you even heard a boo? --- we can promise you that the best live theater performances have an energy and excitement approaching that of a big football or basketball game. Audiences will clap, scream, and do whatever else they're moved to do. The energy between the audience and performers fills the hall, and you get to go along for a great ride.

Bet no one ever told you ballet could do that.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Dancer: Corina Gill

Corina Gill, a Southern California native, began training in San Diego in 1994, where she studied with Sylvia Palmer, and Ahita Ardalan. In 1999, she joined San Diego Ballet, dancing soloist and principal roles. Corina earned a BA in dance from the University of California, Irvine, where she performed leading roles in ballets such as David Allan's Cinderella. She was also chosen to travel to France to dance at the Conservatoire de Paris. She then joined Eliot Feld's Ballet Tech and also guested for Sacramento Ballet. She danced with Ballet Pacifica from 2003-2005, appearing as a principal in Molly Lynch's The Nutcracker and Robert Sund's Alice in Wonderland. Corina has also participated in the National Choreographic Initiative, dancing in new pieces created by Val Caniparoli and William Soleau. Corina joined State Street Ballet in 2005.

Along with SSB, Corina currently dances with Los Angeles Ballet in their inaugural season.

Corina Gill and Yuan-Ming Chang in Rodney Gustafson's A Midsummer Night's Dream, premiered during State Street Ballet's 2005-2006 season.

Pre-performance ritual:

  • 4 ibuprofen and coffee before warmup.
  • Hair - check.
  • Makeup - check.
  • Choose and lay out pointe shoes for each piece.
  • Costume - check.
  • Place sweat towels along with water and Red Bull on both sides of the stage.
  • Short prayer, and Merde!

Favorite ballet or role: Romeo and Juliet, in which I've never performed as Juliet yet, and must do so before I can retire, even if it takes me until I'm 40. The video recording of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in Kenneth MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet was what inspired me to be a ballet dancer.

Favorite food: Dim sum!

Favorite step: No particular step, but I love partnering best.

Hobby: Scrapbooking.

Current music playlist: Mozart's Requiem

Guilty pleasure: cigarettes ... I know, I know...

Daily support: My husband and God.

Daily mantra: "The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing." - Marcus Aurelius

Corina Gill and Oleg Gorboulev dancing George Balanchine's Agon in Los Angeles Ballet's inaugural season.

News: State Street Ballet elects two new board members

State Street Ballet would like to welcome its two newest board members: Thiep Cung and Jennifer Deacon.

Thiep (sounds like "tip") is CEO of the Warner Group Architects, Inc. located in Montecito, California. Thiep is a licensed Architect in the State of California and an active member of the American Institute of Architects. As Principal Designer, Thiep is responsible for all aspects of design for the Warner Group's high-end residential and country club projects. The Warner Group Architects are honored to have been selected four times by Architectural Digest for The AD 100, their exclusive listing of the world's top 100 architecture firms, including the 2002 'Legends', 2004 and 2007 issues. In May of 2007, the premier edition of The Robb Report Luxury Homes Design Directory honored The Warner Group Architects as one of the top 30 firms in the world.

Jennifer, a native of Santa Barbara, is the Assistant Dean of Development for the Donald Bren School of Environmental Science & Management at UC Santa Barbara. Since 1997, Jennifer has
designed and implemented several development programs at UCSB, serving as the Assistant Provost for Development for the College of Creative Studies, Director of Development for the University Libraries, and Assistant Dean of Development for Social Sciences. She is a Vassar College alumna and holds a New York State teaching credential in Social Sciences. Jennifer is married and has two sons.

When asked how she become involved with dance, Jennifer replies:

"My introduction to dance began in 6th grade cotillion classes at the Music Academy of the West with Ken and Mia Ota. But it was not until I attended Vassar, and became a member of the varsity fencing team, that I discovered ballet, a required weekly training component. I quickly discovered how physically demanding ballet is, and how complex and exhilarating it is to couple music with disciplined movement. I am in awe of the talent State Street Ballet has assembled. Through my involvement on the board I hope to invite more people to experience the exhilaration of professional ballet."

Welcome Jennifer and Thiep!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Steps: écarté

SSB dancer Alyson Mattoon mentioned below that one of her favorite ballet steps is écarté. Écarté, pronounced "ay-kar-TAY", is a position in which the dancer is lined up on a diagonal of the stage, stands on one leg and extends the other leg to the side. The arm on the same side as the extended leg is held above the head, while the other arm is held to the side.

Two famous ballet excerpts display écarté in its full glory. The first is the beginning of the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty where Princess Aurora, danced here by Royal Ballet principal Alina Cojocaru, balances en pointe, or on her toes, several times in an écarté position.

The second is the beginning of Giselle's Act II pas de deux in which Giselle unfolds into an écarté position. Bolshoi Ballet principal Svetlana Zakharova demonstrates the position, albeit with a different use of the arms.

Gustafson School of Dance's Assistant Director Nicole Comella likes to go back to écarté's original French meaning of "thrown away" to explain the feeling of the position. For students, she likes to see the upper body stretched and not crunched, as if the various extremities of the dancer are being thrown apart or pulled away in opposite directions.

For the audience, Nicole points out that écarté presents a very flattering view of the dancer, since écarté is aligned with the diagonals of the stage, and lends a three-dimensional texture to the dancer's body. The dancer isn't facing directly front, which can flatten the dancer. Being at a slight angle to the audience, the contours and lines of the dancer's body become better delineated.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Review: La Sylphide and Napoli

The Santa Barbara Independent reviews the preview program for La Sylphide and Napoli:
Excerpts from La Sylphide and Napoli, presented by State Street Ballet

At Gustafson Dance, Sunday, February 4.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

It required dedication to come out on Super Bowl Sunday for a mid-afternoon preview of two classical ballets to be performed this coming weekend, but State Street Ballet rewarded its loyal supporters richly, and not only with a delicious buffet.

Read more of the review.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Feature: American Legends feature

A nice feature on our American Legends show from the Santa Barbara Independent:

State Street Ballet Premieres American Legends

by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Fostering the American spirit has always been central to State Street Ballet’s mission. Since its conception in 1993, Southern California’s only fully professional ballet company has prided itself on bringing a distinctly American approach to what is traditionally a Russian, French, and Italian art form. “There’s a restlessness about the American spirit,” said SSB Artistic Director Rodney Gustafson. “A youthfulness, and a desire to grow. I like to bring that to making dance — to take ballet in a new direction. Everything I do is kind of edgy.”

Read more of the feature.

Review: American Legends

The Santa Barbara Independent reviews American Legends:

American Legends, presented by State Street Ballet

At the Lobero Theatre, Saturday, September 16.

Reviewed by Felicia M. Tomasko

The opening night of State Street Ballet’s new season was a triumph. The dancers delivered beautifully in a bold, varied, and dazzling extravaganza. The selections ranged from serious to humorous, from nostalgic to cutting-edge, yet all shared a joyous celebration of Americana.

Read more of the review.

Dancer: Alyson Mattoon

Alyson Bryce Mattoon
is originally from Sedona, Arizona. Alyson attended the Virginia School of the Arts on scholarship and graduated with honors. Her affiliation with State Street Ballet began in the summer of 2000. While dancing with the company she has created the roles of White Rabbit in Robert Sund's Alice in Wonderland, and Bianca in Sund's Taming of the Shrew. Alyson has danced soloist roles in Giselle, William Soleau's Seasons, Sonnets, Five by Gershwin, Sund's Beauty and the Beast, B.A.N.D, the role of Arabian in Rodney Gustafson's Nutcracker and the Fairy Godmother in Cinderella.

Alyson also has a passion for teaching, and teaches jazz and ballet dance classes at Gustafson Dance, the official school of State Street Ballet.

Favorite ballet or role:
Victoria Simon's Salute To Sinatra. The only performance of mine I've ever been completely happy with? It has to be a performance of Ballroom SSB did in Los Angeles a few years ago.

(Note: SSB will be performing Ballroom this coming season, and the picture of Alyson and Chad Bantner below is from William Soleau's Five By Gershwin, part of the Ballroom program.)

Favorite food: Ice cream, cookies ... I have such a sweet tooth!

Favorite step: Anything that stretches me: Piqué arabesque, écarté, any kind of épaulement.

Hobbies: Cross-training, like spinning, weight training, and hip-hop classes. I also love sharing good food and wine with my friends.

Guilty pleasure: Indulging my sweet tooth.

Anything else you'd like to say? Ballet is really hard, and requires a lot of discipline and practice. The ease that you see on stage is the result of a really tough, daily physical routine --- it takes a lot of hard work, but the end result is always worth it. I'd encourage everyone (women and men) who's curious about dance to come visit the studio and take a class or two, just to see what it's like to be on the other side of the curtain. It's a lot of fun, and we always welcome new beginners.


Everything you've heard about ballet is wrong.

OK, maybe not everything, but there are lots of stories about ballet and dance that are just myths. And the thing no one ever tells you is that ballet is for everyone. Yes, everyone.

Who doesn't like seeing finely-tuned athletic bodies moving to some of the greatest music ever written? And all because they need to tell us incredible stories with an emotional intensity no other art form can duplicate.

Whether you've watched hundreds of ballets, a few, or even none, we'd like to take you behind the red curtain to see how it's actually done. And whether you're trying to figure out the finer points of temps de cuisse or just peeking in to see what the fuss is all about, we've got something for you.

Get to know some dancers. They've been described as normal people with extraordinary jobs. Why do these normal and presumably sane people keep dancing when it's the least respected performance art, with the lowest pay, and the shortest career span? Maybe there's something about the art of dance no one's ever told you.

Get to know the remarkable pieces they get to dance. What does it take to combine amazing athletic ability, artistic sensitivity, and some of the greatest music ever written, and then make it all look easier than a walk in the park? Some of the answers may surprise you.

And finally we'll tell you where you can actually see all this wonderful stuff we've been writing about. Of course, we'll tell you when State Street Ballet is performing, but we'll also let you know about can't-be-missed shows that happen in nearby and sometimes not-so-nearby places. If we create a mob of rabid, ballet-loving jetsetters, the world will just have to deal with us.

So join us on a journey of discovery by subscribing to our feed or via email to be notified of updates to the blog, and get to know one of the world's best kept secrets: ballet.