California Ballet’s Complete History, Abridged!

45 in 45 banner

So far in our 45 in 45 fundraiser, we’ve raised just shy of $1,000. It’s a start, but we’ve still got a long way to go! If you’re wondering what we’re raising money for, take a look at this Abridged history of California Ballet, and you’ll see the legacy and staying power of the 5th oldest ballet company in California!

We’ve done the long history thing for California Ballet, but we’re not fools. We sat in history class in high school, too! We know that there can be nothing worse than a long, drawn out treatise on the history of . . . well . . . anything. We don’t care if it’s the history of the United State, video games, or Santa Claus – no one likes to be lectured on it.

Still, we thought that as long as you are participating in our 45 in 45 fundraiser, you might want to know  a little about the wonderful company you’ve joined Team 45 for. So, here’s an abridged, and hopefully entertaining, history of California Ballet.

And we promise, it won’t take three hours to read.


Picture this: 1968 . . . civil rights was in full swing, Lyndon B. Johnson was president, and Americans were training to land on the moon for the first time! It was an exciting year, and it was also the year California Ballet Company was born. Gathering a small group of disparate dancers, Maxine Mahon sought to fill a void in San Diego, CA: the need for a professional ballet company. Together this small troupe of professional ballet dancers began a legacy that would endure for the next 45 years.

Enter the 1970’s: disco, bell bottoms, and 8-tracks (kids, go ask you parents what those are). The beginning of the 70’s was also the beginning of San Diego’s largest and DabrowskiClara74longest running Nutcracker. 1971 was the first year California Ballet’s holiday extravaganza was performed, and the following year the production moved to it’s permanent home at the San Diego Civic Theatre. Other new ballets found their way onto the California Ballet stage: Coppelia, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Giselle to name a few. Plus, the ballet company moved to its permanent home neighborhood of Kearny Mesa in 1974.

The 1980’s were a decade of punk rock, mohawks, and tulle (and not just on tutus). They were also a decade of expansion for California Ballet. New ballets, new faces, and an ever-increasing budget were just part of these formative years. San Diego’s favorite ballerina stepped forward as California Ballet’s premiere dancer: Denise Dabrowski. In 1986, Denise and Director Maxine Mahon were just about to leave for a cultural exchange with Russia when Chernobyl went boom! Of course, their trip was cancelled. Not to worry, just three years later the Soviet exchange happened anyway, this time with Calvin Kitten (recently retired from the Joffrey Ballet) acting as California Ballet’s cultural ambassador. There were some exciting premieres in the 1980’s including Romeo & Juliet, The Legend of Josefa, and the California Heritage Project (which celebrates California history.)

When the 1990’s came about, people were wearing fanny packs and fluorescent, day-glo colors. The decade began with on a bitter-sweet note as CBC lost Calvin Kitten to the Joffrey Ballet. Yet, the ever-growing ballet company welcomed new dancers from abroad, including Ukrainian Vadim Solomakha (formerly of San Francisco Ballet). CBC also added a new line of ballets to its repertoire: a family series! The first in the series was Alice in Wonderland, followed the very next year by Snow White. Plus, in 1997 the company premiered its full-length . . . wait for it . . . Swan Lake! That’s right, and we’re performing that very same production this season!

SwanLake45 Titled


Flora Gypsy titled

Y2K came and went, and the world didn’t end like everyone thought it would. The ballet company continued to dance on into the 21st century. In a big change in 2000, the entire company and school picked up and moved . . . across the parking lot into a brand new, state of the art dance center. For the first time in 28 years, the company would have air conditioning in its rehearsal space! The first decade of the 21st century was also a very sad one as we lost many long-time California Ballet family members including artistic advisor (and world-renowned ballerina) Sonia Arova, dancer and choreographer Ricardo Peralta, board member and friend Karen Saltzman, our dearly beloved Principal Choreographer Charles Bennett (of Dracula, Romeo & Juliet, Alice in Wonderland fame), and San Diego’s first ballerina and mother of director Maxine Mahon, Flora Jennings-Small.


Now we’re into the second decade of the 21st century. We’re all looking around asking ourselves what happened to the flying cars The Jetsons promised us, the hovering skateboards Back to the Future promised us, and the jetpacks Flash Gordon promised us. Yet California Ballet continues to forge a future for classical dance. Every year we debut new works at our annual Choreographer’s Concert, we preserve classics for future generations by mounting and remounting timeless ballets, we strive to educate our youth in a nation that turns it back on arts education more and more with each passing year. 45 years is a long time for a ballet company to pursue its mission of artistic excellence. We’ve only gotten this far because of you, our friends, followers, patrons, supporters, and family.

Become a part of writing California Ballet’s next 45 years of history by increasing support for the ballet. Go to our fundraising page and donate $45. Better yet, save a few bucks and start your own fundraiser – get your friends and families to become supporters of the ballet. We’ve been around 45 years because of you, and we’ll need you to make it another 45!




45 in 45 – Celebrate 45 years of excellence in dance, become a member of Team 45!

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Click the link below to donate $45 or start your own Team 45 fundraising page!





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