California Ballet History – the 1980’s

The 1980’s was a good decade for California Ballet Company. The dancers were strong, the company vibrant, and the artistic direction never clearer.


The first year of the new decade saw the premiere of what would become a California Ballet classic, and a San Diego favorite: Romeo and Juliet. Choreographed by Charles Bennet and set to the music by Prokofiev, this production captured the Bard’s masterpiece with letter-perfect precision.


1980 also saw California Ballet ballerina, Denise Dabrowski head off for the Joffrey Ballet in New York City. Thankfully, the beautiful ballerina would return the following season to lead the company as Prima Ballerina for the next two decades! It was the Joffrey’s loss!



In 1982, the entire San Diego community came together to celebrate Flora Downs Jennings as San Diego’s “First Ballerina”. The pivotal role she played in developing dance in San Diego is undeniable, as evidenced by the number of special greetings that were received: from President Ronald Reagan, Governor Jerry Brown, State Assemblyman Steve Peace, Mayor of San Diego, COMBO, California Ballet Association, and others.



1982 also was the year the the Romanian Journalist, Nicolae Spirescu joined the CBC staff as part of a cultural exchange. Once again, California Ballet was putting itself out there in the international community!


1983 was the inaugural year for the California Heritage Project: a program produced by California Ballet that showcased  new dances and choreography that would echo California’s heritage while paying homage to California’s present day artists. The first of these new projects was a piece titled By Candlelight, about the early California pioneers. While the project wouldn’t last beyond a handful of years, it was recently revived by Director Maxine Mahon in conjunction with the city of Chula Vista, and last year was presented as a full-fledged festival at the Chula Vista Bayside Park!



In 1984 California Ballet’s place as San Diego’s premiere ballet company was challenged as the Hartford Ballet made a bid to make San Diego its second home. The community came out in support of California Ballet, writing letters to the newspapers and turning out in droves to make California Ballet Company’s production of Giselle sold out! In the end, thanks to the support of our community, Hartford Ballet decided that San Diego was not the place for them.

That just shows how influential your support can be to our city’s arts scene!

Director Maxine Mahon and Ballerina Denise Dabrowski planned a cultural exchange to Russia in 1986. Their timing couldn’t have been any luckier. The well-publicized trip was cancelled within 24 hours of departure due to a nuclear accident in the Russian town of Chernobyl! We’re glad they didn’t go!



The Company celebrated their 20th Anniversary season in ‘87-‘88! This was a milestone for the Company, who was absolutely no longer fledgling! The 20th season began on July 1, 1987 and was punctuated by beautiful performances. In September, California Ballet presented its A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the outdoor Nautilus Amphitheatre at Seaworld.



October brought a World Premiere of Charles Bennet’s Dracula! Paul Sanasardo (of Batsheva Dance Company fame) guest starred in the title role, and the ballet was well-received. Performed at the Symphony Hall over Halloween, the audience members were invited to attend in costume, which many did!


The California Ballet Company’s 20th Anniversary would be featured the following year in a generous spread in Dance Magazine.


1988 would also see Maxine Mahon going overseas with Mayor Maureen O’Connor to pave the way for the Soviet Arts Festival in 1989. The decade ended with a bang as California Ballet Company danced in the Festival with Russian dancers as part of the cultural celebration, thus cementing the company’s role as a ballet ambassador!

The years have treated the company well, and we still have two more decades to go before we arrive at present day! Stay tuned as we unfold more history of the California Ballet Company!

Also, be sure to purchase your tickets for the upcoming Chopin Tribute! The short clip below comes from the 1996 performance of Kathy Auten’s Deux Nocturnes, and features former California Ballet Prima Ballerina Denise Dabrowski with former CBC soloist Manuel Alcantara.

This piece will be performed again at the May 1st Chopin Tribute,  this time by CBC dancers Pablo Infante, Hugo Carreon, Cassandra Lund, and Rebecca Correia!

Get your tickets by phone at (858) 560-6741 or online at

-The California Ballet Company Staff


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