California Ballet in the 21st Century

Our Chopin Tribute, which performed last Saturday, was a huge success! The turnout was great, the dancers were beautiful, the live piano performances were dynamic! We sincerely hope that you were able to join us, it was a wonderful evening of romantic and neo-classical influenced ballet, with lively performances from the entire company.


We held a special reception onstage after the show. The stage was packed with patrons, donors, and special invitees mingling with dancers, staff, instructors, and our Director. Fine hors d’ oeuvres, good wine, and excellent company in a theatrical setting made for a wonderful social gathering that was a perfect cap on an exciting evening in the ballet world!


Our next event will be the reception for our Textiles in Motion exhibit at the San Diego International Airport, Lindbergh Field. It will be on May 6, 2010 from 3:30pm to 4:30pm. You would normally have to pay for parking to see the exhibit, but should you RSVP and attend the reception, your parking will be validated. This will be your only opportunity to see this exhibit with free airport parking. Call the Ticketing Office at (858) 560-6741 to RSVP so that you may see this wonderfully done, artfully executed array of displays, depicting the efforts that go into costuming a ballet. There will be refreshments and the chance to mingle with fellow ballet-lovers, California Ballet Dancers and Staff, our wonderful Director, and prominent invitees.

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Next month, the California Ballet School will be mounting its annual All School Concert. This is a great opportunity to see the up-and-coming dance talent of San Diego! As you know, many nationally recognized dancers have come from our school – from Calvin Kitten (principal, Joffrey Ballet), to David Alvarez (lead, Billy Elliot), from Anne Dabrowski (ballet mistress, Pacific Northwest Ballet), to Jessica Saund (corps de ballet, American Ballet Theatre). Our All School Concert is a great chance to be the first to see the next big talent! Contact the California Ballet School office for more details: (858) 560-5676

Now, due to our Chopin Tribute, we’ve had to take a break from presenting you with the tail end of our history. It’s time we bring you up to the present of the California Ballet Company. So, without further ado . . .

When we left off with California Ballet’s history, we were just entering a new millennium! In the year 2000, the company found itself to be a 32 year-old institution producing a four hundred year-old art form. The world was changing fast, and the company had to begin to make changes in order to keep up. Let’s take a look at what has happened to California Ballet in the first decade of the new millennium.


The new millennium started out on a high as in 2000 California Ballet was asked to represent the state of California at the Millennium March on Washington for Equality Opening Gala Dinner! Six CBC dancers attended, and performed a tribute to Broadway composer Jerry Herman, choreographed by Director Maxine Mahon.


In keeping up with the times, in 2000 California Ballet made their first foray into cyberspace as they launched their very first website:! The domain name would remain the same over the next decade, although the design would change to accommodate changing needs and aesthetics.

2001 saw major changes for the Company. In an effort to stay up with the times, California Ballet moved from it’s 26 year-old facility to a brand new, state of the art facility (located just across the parking lot). The new building featured a custom designed floor plan with a physical therapy room, meeting space, state of the art box office, heating and air conditioning (which were sorely missed in the old space), space to view classes, four beautiful new studios, built in computer and internet networking, an a shiny new veneer!

WTC 2001 was also the year the World Trade Center came crashing down. The tragedy was tastefully acknowledged in the season’s October repertory performance. Former Ballet Master Paul Koverman choreographed a beautiful tribute to the victims, the heroism, and the valiant rescue efforts that were associated with the September Eleventh terrorist attacks.


In that same month, the company mourned the loss of a valued member of the dance community: Ricardo Peralta. An accomplished modern dancer and a well-rounded artist, Ricardo danced with California Ballet for several decades. He is best remembered for his performances as the grandfather in the family scene of The Nutcracker, his dynamic dancing as the lead Russian dancer in the Russian variation of The Nutcracker, and his masterful and heart-wrenching acting in the lead role of Petrushka.


At the fourth annual Tommy Awards in 2002, California Ballet stole the show by coming away with seven awards! The awards included: Overall Production, Male/Individual Performance, Female/Individual Performance, Duet Performance/Honorable Mention, Visual Design/Honorable Mention, Student of the Year, and Lifetime Achievement (for Director Maxine Mahon).



December 27, 2002 marked another loss for the dance community as Charles Bennet, long-time friend and associate of the Company, passed away. His decades of artistic genius brought California Ballet such beautiful works as: Romeo and Juliet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, The Legend of Josefa, and Dracula to name a few.


The 2002-2003 season marked California Ballet’s 35th year! The season opened in October with four sold out performances of Charles Bennett’s Alice in Wonderland. It was also a landmark season as the company had its largest operating budget to date at $1.3 million! The company had never been stronger.


With thirty-five years under it’s belt, California Ballet took its place as the 5th oldest ballet company in the state! The Company had become one of the crown jewels in San Diego’s nationally recognized array of cultural attractions. March 1, 2003 was officially proclaimed California Ballet Day by both the city and the county of San Diego!


In 2003, long-time favorite Ballerina Denise Dabrowski was appointed to the position of company Regisseur. It was now officially her job to maintain the artistic integrity of the company’s repertoire (a task she had unofficially taken on for many years). Her experience on the dance floor with the California Ballet material put her in a unique position to internally understand the nuances of the choreography.


The Company remounted their Snow White, which was unfortunately cancelled after just two performances due to Firestorm 2003. All of the scenery and costumes, as well as the Poway Center for the Performing Arts were in danger as the now famous Cedar Fire was headed directly for the facility. Fortunately the theater and all of its contents were safe in the end!

Due to the unexpected closure of Snow White during the 2003 fires, the production was mounted again in October of 2004 to a well-receiving audience.


Despite the 38% decline in goverment funding following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the California Ballet Company was still going strong in 2004, corporate sponsors and private donors being pivotal in keeping the ballet company strong. In the wake of an increasingly bad economy, California Ballet still managed to premiere an all new, full-length Sleeping Beauty in 2005. The production featured the American debut of the Bolshoi-trained Polina Seminova, and was received with critical acclaim.


Later that year the Company ran into a Christmas hurdle as, a sign of American’s trending toward contemporary arts,  the traditional dates for The Nutcracker at the Civic theater were challenged by the  national tour of The Lion King. The Civic dates were changed to Thanksgiving weekend – earlier than at any point in the company’s history. The December performances were mounted, for the first time ever, at the San Diego Symphony’s Copely Hall!



In May of 2006, a long-time dormant brain-child of Director Maxine Mahon was revived! In collaboration with the Chula Vista Office of Cultural Arts, the Sweetwater Unified High School District –  Division of Visual and Performing Arts, the Unified Port of San Diego, and the County of San Diego, the California Heritage Project found new life! The new project was intended to become an annual event, with a vision of growing into an annual community festival in Chula Vista’s Bayside Park! It was a success, and the California Heritage Project has continued to survive even in a difficult economic climate.


In April of that year, California Ballet School student, David Alvarez, placed 2nd in the world finals of the Youth American Grand Prix! He received a full-scholarship to the American Ballet Theatre School, and we said goodbye. Once again, California Ballet had played a part in launching a young career. David would later go on to win a Tony for best actor in a new musical for the title role in Billy Elliot.



The Fall of 2006 saw even more change for California Ballet as the Company was forced to evacuate the warehouse they had been using for 30 years! The building was being demolished, which left the sets and costumes without a home. The Company found itself in the middle of a mad scramble to find housing for 42 years of ballets, and the Sweetwater Union High School District came to the rescue in the end by offering California Ballet a huge space in their warehouse for our sets, scenery, and props! We are forever grateful to them.


The Nutcracker was given the chance to be shared with the television public for Thanksgiving in 2006. A special performance was mounted at the East County Performing Arts Center, and Cox Media with Channel 4 San Diego partnered with California Ballet to create a special 90-minute, High-Definition free broadcast of our perennial classic! The broadcast aired ten times throughout the Holiday season, and we were able to reach an even wider audience when it was expanded to sister stations in Northern California.



The 2006-2007 season ended on a high when California Ballet Company premiered the fourth ballet in their Family Series: Beauty and the Beast. Choreographed by Robert Sund, the ballet was more contemporary than the Company is known for, and was well-received by audience and critics alike! The new ballet was a hit, and an excellent addition to our ever-growing repertoire of family-centric ballets.

October of 2007 saw yet another horrible fire-season. Once again the Company’s costumes were threatened. Staff hurriedly packed up Nutcracker costumes in an effort to avoid the fires. In the end, our extensive stock of costumes were safe.


March of 2008 heralded the most recent addition to our Family Series. Toni Pimble, who worked with the Company in 1993 to set Petrushka, returned to choreograph Cinderella. The ballet filled the Civic Theatre with exuberant ballet patrons, and excited little girls all dressed in pink princess costumes. Filled with comic antics and romantic pulling of the heartstrings, the new ballet was well received by both the critics and the droves of petite pink princesses.


Of course, the 2007-2008 Season marked the 40th Anniversary of California Ballet! The Company celebrated turning forty with a black-tie Gala at Qualcomm Hall.

The 40th Season ended with long-time Ballerina and all-time favorite, Denise Dabrowski, retiring from the dance floor. The company was lesser for the loss of her dance shoes on the stage, but greater for her continued involvement as the company Regisseur. We’re overjoyed and grateful that Ms. Dabrowski decided to stay on with the Company!


The 2008-2009 season saw the beginning  of financial strife, not just for California Ballet, but for all arts and nonprofit organizations. The economy began to fail, the real-estate bubble burst, and everyone had to cinch their belts and close their wallets. This hit the arts hard. With government funding severely cut since 2001, all arts organizations had been receiving funding from private investors and individual donors. Now, suddenly, everyone’s disposable income had become nonexistent. Between 2008 and 2009, charitable donations saw a cut of 73%! In the wake of such financial troubles, the Company was forced to cancel a planned production of Coppelia. Yet, nonetheless, California Ballet persevered and presented an otherwise full season of professional ballet. Somehow, the Company always manages to land on its feet!


The 42nd Season began in the fall of 2009 with a remounted Alice in Wonderland at the Balboa Theatre in Downtown San Diego. The more intimate theater was perfect for the story ballet, and was once again well-received by the audiences.



The second decade of the new millennium, 2010, began with California Ballet fully immersing itself in the digital age. The Company started its own Facebook page, begayoutubeiconn a new blog (which you are currently reading), joined the world of Twitter, and started a YouTube channel! The Company then went on to pioneer new roads in Fundraising for the arts by lautwitter_iconnching a massive online fundraiser, using all of the above mentioned tools, plus Facebook Causes. The end result wasn’t what the company had hoped for, but provided enough funding to continue into their 43rd season. All things considered, the online fundraiser was a success the first time out.

California Ballet continues to forge ahead with high hopes for the future. The new online media has created new interest and reached a younger audience for the 42-year old institution. New ballets are constantly being added to the repertoire – the newest being Director Maxine Mahon’s Concerto #1, which premiered at the Chopin Tribute on May 1, 2010. New talent and dancers are rising through the ranks of the school and the company.


While the present may be shaky for everyone in the arts, for California Ballet, the future is bright.


–The California Ballet Staff


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