Life, Ballet, and Giselle

October 17, 2014

California Ballet Company is just a couple weeks out from opening the season with the full length romantic classic Giselle at the San Diego Civic Theatre. The dancers have been hard at work, and are ready to impress on November 1st and 2nd!

We caught up with California Ballet Regisseur and former Prima Ballerina Denise Dabrowski and took a moment to get to better know this woman who has dedicated her professional life to California Ballet and the art form the company strives to preserve. We also asked her how she feels about Giselle, and why it’s still relevant today.

CBC: How old were you when you knew that ballet was going to be your world?

DabrowskiClara74DD: I think I knew when I wanted it to be my world, but I had no idea that it was going to happen. I was a soldier in The Nutcracker. I was sitting with my mom in the audience of the Civic Theatre, watching dress rehearsal, watching Clara onstage. My mom, although she doesn’t remember doing this, she turned to me and said, “I could picture you doing that some day.”

Oh, that was all I needed: that little bit of encouragement. I thought, “I would love to do that!”

I wanted to be Clara, and then eventually I was Clara. And then every ballet I saw, I dreamt of doing. It was like, “Oh God, please let me do it and then I’ll die a happy girl!” The love was there from, I guess, around age 10 or 11. I had no idea you could make a living at it. I had no idea what that would entail.  I think I was very fortunate to be so supported from my family and from the California Ballet family.


CBC: What’s your favorite role to dance?

Dabrowski Lanham R J

DD: I think I have three. I think I would start with Romeo and Juliet, Juliet of course. And Giselle. And, I loved [Lucy from] Dracula because that just went from one end of the world to the other as a character. But, I always, always loved best the ballets where I was somebody other than myself. Somebody to play. Somebody to make the audience laugh, like in Coppelia, or cry, like in Giselle and Juliet. Those were my favorites.


CBC: Tell us about Denise outside the ballet studio.


DD: The greatest thing in my life is my husband, John Stubbs. [California Ballet Company Music Director and Conductor] We’ve been married 21 years. That’s the best decision I’ve ever made. He’s my life. I love to read, I love to garden, I love to work with my hands. I go and take pilates classes to try to stay in shape. I try to visit my parents as much as I can and help them – they’re getting older. I like to travel, though I don’t have the opportunity too often. But, I’m just a regular person. 


I don’t have any other major things in my life – I spent my whole life focused on the dance world. I’ve never had a job outside of the dance world. I’ve never been a secretary. I’ve never had to be a waitress, thank God. So, I think that my focus is always on that. I’m always exploring, through reading and seeing things, how to be a better teacher, how to be a more inspiring person to the artists I come into contact with, how to best serve the dance world that served me so well.

What is the most rewarding thing about your job?

Denise d

DD: That’s a hard one! I think to watch someone blossom. To know that maybe I gave a couple of the right words to somebody, that made it click, what they needed to either develop a role or have the confidence to go for something.


One of the things that I’ll never forget is, on tour with The Nutcracker years ago when I was still performing, we’d go to Colorado Springs and besides being the Sugar Plum Fairy or the Dewdrop, I would help the families there – or the children who were involved with the ballet outside of San Diego. I got a sweet card from them once that thanked me for my patience, and my grace working with the children. But, most of all they said, “For your kindness and humor.” I thought to myself, that’s all. That’s all I want to do. I want to be maybe remembered for that. When someone responds to that part of me, then I feel that I’m satisfied, that I’ve done my job. Maybe as much as lying still as Juliet at the end of the ballet, lying dead onstage and hearing crying in the audience. To be able to move somebody like that? Unbelievable. An unbelievable, satisfying experience. Since I can’t do that onstage anymore, my most satisfying and rewarding moments are watching others move forward, maybe because of the little help I gave them. I’m proud of that.

CBC: Why do you think Giselle has withstood the test of time, being one of only a handful of ballets continuously restaged and produced by most major and regional ballet companies?


DD: Well, I think that it is one of the only ballets that has lasted from the romantic era. The only ballet older than that is La Fille Mal Gardee, but the story of Giselle is timeless. It’s about true love, being taken advantage of, retribution, and then the power of love to overcome all things.


Plus, Giselle gets to go mad, so there’s a mad scene. Everybody gets into that. It’s a really interesting scene to see, and it’s so basic to the romantic era of music, art, and ballet.

CBC: How do you think Giselle is still relevant today?


DD: I think it’s kind of a period piece. But I also think that if it’s done really well, really, truly with integrity by the performers, I think it still speaks to people today. How you feel when you fall in love. How you feel when you’re jilted in love. How you forgive. And how human that makes us.


So, not only to look at the ballet as this is where we’ve come from as an art form, but also what part of Giselle or Albrecht do you see in your own relationships? I think every person that comes and sees the ballet will connect with it in a different way.

Giselle87 Dabrowski copy

Denise as Giselle, 1987

CBC: How does the role of Giselle compare to other roles in regard to technicality and stamina?


DD: Oh, it’s a toughie! It’s hard, but wasn’t as difficult for me as Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, which are four acts long. Giselle is just a two act ballet. The technical demands on the body are not as difficult as those ballets. It was made earlier than the Petipa ballets, so the technique of the dancers was not as fancy. There aren’t tricks. It not as physically demanding, but it is at least, if not more, emotionally demanding than any other ballet. 


I would rank maybe Giselle and Romeo and Juliet as the most emotionally challenging, and satisfying, and devastating.



Wilis, Giselle Act II

CBC:What would you tell an audience member? What should they expect when they come to see Giselle?


DD: It probably depends on if they’ve been to the ballet or not, because Giselle’s style is a little more old fashioned than you’ll see in more familiar ballets, like The Nutcracker and even Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. But Giselle – if they have any sense of the romantic era where there was such a dichotomy brought out between the earthly and the spiritual – you’ll find that all throughout Giselle.

The audience has to open their mind and see. Watch for the very realistic, very heartfelt acting and character portraying that you’ll see in the dancers. They will tell you the story. You don’t need to read the story ahead of time. With the atmosphere that’s created, hopefully you’ll just get sucked into that story and feel what Giselle feels. Feel what Albrect feels. Pull for them in the second act.

Just open your mind, dig in, watch it and see if it relates to anything you’ve ever experienced. If you’ve ever had your heart broken. If you ever have, and do love someone so much that you’ll love them beyond your death. And relate to the dance onstage. I think they’ll enjoy that very much.


Giselle 47 with text 

California Ballet Company presents Giselle at the San Diego Civic Theatre

November 1 & 2, 2014.

For tickets or more information CLICK HERE! 


Dancing in Mexico – California Ballet Soloist Oscar Burciaga

October 11, 2014


California Ballet Company dancers are several weeks into rehearsals for the first production of the company’s 47th season, Giselle. It wasn’t that long ago that everyone in San Diego was enjoying a sunny summer that can only be found on the California coast.  Summers provide a break between seasons here at California Ballet. We took a moment to catch up with California Ballet Company Soloist, Oscar Burciaga, to find out how he spends his summer down time.

Summertime means different things to professional ballet dancers. For some it is a time for much needed “R&R” and a break and from a grueling schedule of rehearsals, 6 day-a-week company class and cross-training injury prevention. However for other dancers it is a time where the crack of the whip goes unchecked and, for the extreme some, is increased to sadistic like frequency! For those overachievers it is a time to hone their craft and to get ahead in the all too brief career of a dancer.

Soloist Oscar Burciaga, knows all too well what comes with intensive summer dance studies, but this time in a teaching capacity. Since 2008 Mr. Burciaga has been shuffling to Mexico every summer to hammer out a two week ballet class at the Universidad de Colima to students whose main path isn’t exactly the yellow brick road to prima ballerina. 


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“Ballet Folklorico is the traditions and customs of Mexico through dance. I teach ballet down there where ballet isn’t the main focus. There really isn’t a professional ballet company or ballet school down there.” Mr. Burciaga is part of a wide range of dance professionals who journey yearly down to Mexico to lend dance expertise in their specific field to students whose main form of dance expression, Ballet Folklorico, is a demonstration of national and cultural identity. 


Mr. Burciaga muses on his own past with eyes that sparkle wildly, brimming with intensity. It is with this intensity that Mr. Burciaga, at the age of 18, forwent an education at the University of Texas, El Paso in favor of following his passion for Ballet Folklorico. This life-choice brought him to the megalopolis of Mexico City. After a series of dead ends in his new city he found himself placing a call to one of the Ballet Folklorico teachers he had met in his formative training. The teacher asked him to come dance at the University of Colima . It was the there where he started his relationship with the university ultimately completing a BFA in Mexican Folklore and Modern Dance.


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When asked about his teaching methods in the summer workshop he sits forward intently and a smile flashes across his face.

“Ballet isn’t like anything else in the classes. Classes are fast. I can’t take too much time in explanations and demonstrations because I lose the kids’ attention. My approach is disciplinarian. I don’t give the same exercises every day. But I want them to leave with a sense of “I did it!” Mr. Burciaga also has a keen sense of humor which he emphasizes while teaching, “ I love to give them stuff to see their reactions, like quick dégagés in first position. They’re having so much fun! They’re just so into it. I’m so into it, it’s funny. Their evolution is my own evolution and I look forward to going back there every year.” 


Students range far and wide in this summer workshop: over 300 plus disciples of dance, preschool to adolescent, professionals and masters. Faculty members are as just as diverse, some of Mr. Burciaga’s colleagues hailing from such prestigious stateside institutions as Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey. The summer workshop allows students exposure to numerous dance forms such as modern dance, hip hop, musical theatre etc. all culminating in a final complete workshop production that showcases the progress of two weeks of their hard and sometimes very difficult work.


“It is challenging teaching ballet to students whose foundation is not ballet. But it’s what keeps me coming back. What I have in Colima is so different to what I have here at California Ballet. Students in Colima are not used to ballet. From discipline, to what to wear, from class, to how to listen to music and how to capture an exercise on the fly . . . ballet is meticulous.”  Mr. Burciaga frequently comes across 16 and 17 year old girls whose dreams are to become professional ballerinas, despite their lack of formal training and physical development from years of training in adolescence.



Universidad de Colima, Summer 2014

The Colima event has garnered more and more interest, which has led to this past year being an inaugural year for community sponsorships. More and more Ballet Folklorico students from the United States are flocking to Colima as its reputation as a bastion for Mexican traditions through art continues to steadily grow. 

When not in Mexico teaching, or working for California Ballet Company as a Soloist dancer and Production Manager, Mr. Burciaga finds time to spend with his wife and family, and enjoy some relaxation with football or fishing. He ruminates methodically and honestly on the future of his dance dichotomy: 

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“I get calls from Mexico to come teach ballet and I also get calls in the US to teach Ballet Folklorico. I feel like I’m always getting caught in the middle. But it is the fact that I don’t have much time left to be able to dance at a certain level that keeps me going. All I’ve ever wanted to do is dance. To know that you’re not going to be able to do it, as you feel of you once did, is scary. I can still do what I can still do. Time is eventually gonna run out, but you can’t stop. There’s so much to still learn, evolve and grow. I don’t know where it’ll end up. Five years ago I didn’t really think about it. We’ll see where it goes.”

Dancing on the Fringe – 2014 San Diego International Fringe Festival

July 7, 2014


fringe |frinj|

  (often the fringesthe outer, marginal, or extreme part of an area, group, or sphere of activity

       • (the fringethe unconventional, extreme, or marginal wing of a group or sphere of activity

  adjective [ attrib. ]        not part of the mainstream; unconventional, peripheral, or extreme: fringe theater.DSC 2075

We began this post with the dictionary definition of the word, “fringe,” because when trying to define the San Diego International Fringe Festival, we ran up against a brick wall. We want you to understand just what it is that California Ballet is participating in, but this amazing arts festival defies description! Oh, we could tell you about how it’s the largest arts festival in San Diego, or that it draws artists from all over the world, but that doesn’t really tell you what you’ll experience when you attend.

But the words “extreme,” “marginal,” and “unconventional,” begin to hint at the tapestry that makes up this amazing arts experience. At the SD Fringe Festival, you’ll have a chance to experience performance art, new dramatic works, independent musicians, cabarets, comedians, drag queens, burlesque, ethnic art forms, slam poets . . . the list goes on and on.

To learn more about what’s performing, go to for more info.

California Ballet Company is participating this year with Ballet 360 – Skyline View performed in the Shiley Events Suite on the 9th floor of the San Diego Central Library. The venue is gorgeous with panoramic views of the city at sundown! Dancers from across San Diego have come out to join us in a low-tech, high octane dance performance that will send you reeling and begging for more.

Oh yeah, and the performance is free to the public! All you have to do is show up a little early to be sure you get a seat, all performances begin at 8:00pm. Here’s the information:

Email image for Fringe

The performance is free, and we love that we can dance for you, but our dancers and choreographers have to eat, too! We are asking for donations either online or at the performance. Recommended donation is $10 per person, and you can make one by clicking the link below and indicating that your donation is for the Fringe Festival.


Now, you may be thinking, “What the heck is a ballet company doing at this festival?” And, you may be right . . . if you’re thinking of Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. But California Ballet Company, and the San Diego dance scene, has so much more to offer than that! Just in case you doubt us, take a look at the video below for a sample of what you might see at Ballet 360 – Skyline View!


Ballet 360 – Skyline View is sponsored by: 

Coleman Transparent

Getting to Know Ballet’s Sleeping Beauty

April 5, 2014

A lovely princess is cursed to die an early death by an offended evil fairy. Her spell is softened by a good fairy, and the would-be demise becomes a deep sleep. After 100 years of slumber, a prince fights his way to the Princess, kisses her awake, and the two live happily ever after.

Sounds familiar, right? Everyone is familiar with the story of Sleeping Beauty, but what does it look like as a ballet? Are there any differences? How do I tell what’s going on through movement alone?

Here’s the synopsis. After reading it, when you go to see the ballet it should all make a lot more sense to you:

Prologue – The Christening S Beauty LilacGroupweb

King Florestan and his Queen have invited all the fairies to be Godmothers at the christening of their infant daughter Aurora. The evil fairy, Carabosse (in the Animated Feature she’s called Maleficent), has been accidentally omitted from the invitations. Furiously angry at the insult, she curses Aurora, declaring that one day she will prick her finger and die. The Lilac Fairy confounds Carabosse’s curse by promising that Aurora will not die, but will fall into a deep slumber until the day a prince comes to awaken her with a kiss and marry her. The King orders all pointed objects be removed from his kingdom.

Act I – The Spell S Beauty_DSC2105lowres

Now 20 years old, Aurora receives four princes who have come for her hand in marriage. The court gathers and celebrates the occasion. Aurora dances with each suitor, getting to know them in turn. Suddenly, an old woman appears and offers Aurora a bouquet of flowers. She accepts the bouquet to discover a long spindle hidden within it. Having never seen a spindle before, she accidentally pricks her finger appears to die. The old woman reveals herself as Carabosse, exultant that her curse has been come true. The Lilac Fairy appears to fulfill her promise, casts a sleep spell over the entire kingdom, and causes a forest to grow around the palace and its grounds.

sbeauty carabosse Carabosse and her minions

Act II – Scene 1 The Vision

A hundred years pass. Prince Desire is hunting in the forest near the old Florestan castle, when his companions leave him. While alone, the Lilac Fairy appears and shows him an image of Princess Aurora dancing among woodland sprites. Desire implores the Lilac Fairy to take him to where the Princess slumbers.

Act II – Scene 2 The Awakening SleepingBeautyKisslowres

Following the Lilac Fairy, the prince enters the room where Aurora sleeps. As he awakens her with a kiss, the whole royal court comes back to life. Desire asks the King and Queen for Aurora’s hand in marriage, and they consent.

Act III – The WeddingCatsBluebird

A joyous celebration! The entire kingdom gathers in honor Aurora and Desire on their wedding day. The royal court dances a polonaise, the fairies give their blessings, and fairytale characters make special appearances. The special guests include Puss ‘n Boots, Princess Florina and her Bluebird, and Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. The celebration culminates in the joining of Princess Aurora and Prince Desire.

 The Third act is commonly performed apart from the rest of the ballet. The wide variety of characters allows companies to showcase their dancers’ talent. The fun and celebratory atmosphere makes for a lively performance, and what other ballet can offer so many fairytale characters gathered in one place?






Okay, now you know what’s going on in the ballet, now would you be interested in knowing how this ballet classic came to be? You would? Great! Here’s a little history:

It’s hard to find a ballet company that does not have Sleeping Beauty in its repertoire in one form or another. The ballet has been a part of California Ballet Company’s repertoire since 1989, when Director Maxine Mahon debuted the ballet’s third act with her own choreography. (The full-length ballet would follow in 2000.) Producing just the third act is a popular approach for many companies, as act three is perhaps one of the varied and festive sections of a ballet in all classical repertoire.

But what were the origins of this ballet? Who choreographed it? Who composed it?

Sleeping Beauty’s origin hails from St. Petersburg, Russia and the Russian Imperial Ballet. In the late 1880’s Ivan Vsevolozhsky, the then current director of the Imperial Ballet, commissioned ballet master Marius Petipa  to choreograph the ballet, and Peter Tchaikovsky to compose the score.

VsevolozhskyIvan Vsevolozhsky

This ballet was a final ditch effort for Petipa. In the few years leading up to Sleeping Beauty, the ballet master was losing his appeal to audiences. Fewer and fewer people were attending his ballets, and the director of the company was considering dispensing with the failing ballet master. If Sleeping Beautywas a flop, it would mean the end of the ballet legend.

Marius PetipaMarius Petipa

And so collaboration began on what would become a long-lived, beloved staple in the ballet world.

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Petipa’s collaboration started with Director Vsevolozhsky. The two men worked together to create the ballet’s libretto. Most of us are familiar with the well known fairytale. We can thank a certain Theme Park and Animated Feature Company for our familiarity. The ballet, however, predates the Animated Feature by about seventy years. So, of course, Petipa and Vsevolozhsky pulled from the original source material, written by Charles Parrault of 17th century France, to write their libretto.

While the story as we know it today, and as it is told by the ballet, is clean and romantic, the original folk tale had some more decidedly gruesome details that were deemed not appropriate for the ballet stage. In the end, Petipa’s and Vsevolozhsky’s libretto became the simplified and family friendly interpretation of Sleeping Beauty that we’ve all come to know and love.

Of course, a good ballet needs good music. And who would you turn to for that music? Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, of course!

TchaikovskyPeter Tchaikovsky

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By the time that he was asked to compose the score for Sleeping Beauty, Tchaikovsky already had one four-act ballet under his belt: Swan Lake. His collaboration with the original choreographer, Julius Reisinger, was less than scintillating. Because of this bad experience, Tchaikovsky wanted to ensure that he had the full participation of the choreographer.

A meeting was set up between the composer, choreographer, and company director on November 6, 1888. At this time, Petipa handed Tchaikovsky detailed notesfor the complete Prologue of the ballet, detailing what pieces of music he would need composed.

An example of Petipa’s notes to Tchaikovsky:

Act 2 Scene 3 No. 11 With a new wave of the fairy’s magic wand Aurora appears and rushes on stage. 6/8 for 24 [bars]. A voluptuous adagio. Coquettish allegro – ¾ for 48 [bars]. Variation for Aurora. Coda in 6/8, concluding in 2/4. This is one pas.

No. 12. ‘Where is the divine being you showed me?’ Very agitated, passionate music. 32 bars for the transition into the panorama.

No.13. The boat is under way. The length of the music depends on the extent of the panorama.

No. 14. With a wave of her wand the fairy orders the gates to be opened. The entrance way is visible. A thick mist enshrouds the stage. A tender melody is heard. 32 bars of largo.

No. 15. Musical entr’acte.In an era where telecommunication was anything but instantaneous, notes like those above were vital to Tchaikovsky composing a coherent score. He took artistic license, of course, but the end product was nearly perfect. This close collaboration with Petipa during Sleeping Beauty laid the groundwork for the composer’s third ballet score, and perhaps his most enduring, The Nutcracker. He would  again closely collaborate with Marius Petipa for the Christmas-themed ballet.

Tchaikovsky was so inspired, so moved by the subject of the ballet, that he work quickly and tirelessly. He composed the ballet in, by his own calculations, about 40 days! He considered the score to be one of his best works, and was not surprisingly dismayed and disgruntled when Czar Alexander III dismissed his work as “Very nice.”


In the meantime, rehearsals for the ballet began in August of 1889. Tchaikovsky would deliver the finished music to the theatre act by act, providing the necessary music to get the ball rolling. Petipa would then employ a violinist to play the music for him in his home so that he would have basic choreography and floor patterns already drawn up before he ever set foot in the dance studio.

When the ballet premiered on January 15, 1890, it was to mixed reviews. People praised the performance of Italian Ballerina Carlotta Brianza (who had been wooed away from the Bolshoi Ballet for this production) for her brilliance and technique in the role of Princess Aurora. The ballet as a whole, however, was criticized for it’s high level of spectacle and lavishness (Vsevolozhsky was trying to hail back to the ballets of Louis XIV). The music was deemed “too serious.”

Carlotta BrianzaCarlotta Brianza as Aurora

The funny thing is, criticism aside, Sleeping Beauty became a huge hit! Within two years, the ballet had been performed over 50 times. The success allowed Petipa the chance to continue his residence as ballet master, eventually leading to The Nutcracker (which was finished by his assistant Lev Ivanov as Petipa’s health failed). The ballet continued to flourish in Russia for the next few years, eventually spreading to Europe and abroad where it has become one of the most popular ballets in the classical repertoire.

As a side note, that Theme Park Company we mentioned earlier pulled music directly from Tchaikovsky’s score to put into their Animated feature. Once Upon a Dream’s melody is 100% Tchaikovsky.

Wow! That’s a lot of information, and if you made it all the way to the end of this blog post you will be more than ready for the spectacle that is the full length Sleeping Beauty!

Sports & Arts – Birds of a Feather

March 22, 2014

**The views and opinions in this article are expressly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the California Ballet Company or indicate endorsement by said company.**

It’s rare that I post an article on this blog that is a personal statement. I prefer to keep things even and educational, but every once in awhile, I feel that there are things that need to be said and an impartial academic approach just won’t do.

So, let’s not beat around the bush: arts and artists are underrated by most Americans.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you are not one of those Americans. But, in light of recent events in the San Diego arts community, it needed to be said. In case you don’t know what’s going on, it’s quite shocking. After 50 years of nationally recognized productions, drawing international stars, the San Diego Opera is closing its doors.

You read that correctly: the San Diego Opera will finish out the 2014 season and call it quits.

What could possibly lead to such a cultural gem and city institution closing its doors? Well, that’s hard to say. There has been much conjecture, a lot of supposition, but no one outside of the the Opera really knows at this point. All we know is that the arts community should be flying their flags at half-mast for a death in the arts family that will send ripples cascading throughout, not just San Diego’s arts community, but the entire city.

We could have a discussion here about the Opera, but that’s not my expertise. My specialization is dance, and the arts in a more general fashion. Some may regale you with an elevator speech about the state of the arts in America, but I’d rather sit back and put two things that I love side-by-side: the arts and sports.

Qual08954PhotoWe live in a society where sports are held in incredibly high regard. In America, the NFL, NHL, MLB, and MLS are largely universally supported by not just the citizens who buy tickets, but the corporations who sponsor them, the governments that spend tax dollars on new stadiums, the media that dedicates inordinate time, space, and energy to their coverage. The frenzy and excitement that accompany a sporting event has been around for thousands of years. Can you say Olympics? Hold a picture of any football stadium next to one of the Colosseum. Notice any similarities? You may even draw some between football and gladiatorial events.

There is nothing quite like the camaraderie you feel when you are surrounded by fans of the same sports team and your team makes that winning score. There’s an amazing sense of of brotherhood between fans that have just watched their team lose their way out of the playoffs. The feel of the bass from the stadium sound system gets your heart pounding, and who doesn’t love the announcements made over the P.A. system that absolutely no one can understand? Beer, pretzels, sodas, hot dogs, nachos. The roar of the crowd. Lines for the public restrooms.

Sports certainly have their charm. I love sports. I even have season tickets to San Diego’s football franchise. But I also support, attend, and generally go gaga over the arts. And you’d be surprised over the similarities between the two!

Have you ever been to an opera, symphony, or musical and witnessed a piece of music that moves you to tears . . . and then realized that the entire audience is crying with you? Have you ever seen a ballerina tossed impossibly high in the air, get caught by her partner with her face mere inches from the ground – and then realized that the entire audience is holding its breathe? Have you ever felt the solid wall of music emanating from the orchestra pit pulsate through your body? Wine, cheese, cocktails, brownies, espressos. The roar of the applause. Lines for the public restrooms.

Heightened emotions, catharsis, elation, escape. These are all reasons we go to both sporting events and arts performances. But why, then, are sports supported so much more? Why are the arts underplayed, cut from schools, eschewed from corporate cultures?

Let’s start with the players and dancers. Football players have to be able to throw a ball fifty yards with accuracy. Baseball players have to be able to hit a tiny ball moving 100mph with a skinny stick. Golfers have to be able to smack an even smaller ball halfway across a course filled with sand pits and ponds with enough accuracy to sink it into a six-inch hole. That kind of skill is rare, and take years and years of training. Most athletes start their sports training in high school. Some in junior high.

Dancers have to be able to balance on one foot, on only their toes for extended periods of time. They have to be able to turn, and turn, and turn, and turn, and never get dizzy. They have to launch themselves six feet into the air. They must fling their partners even higher, and catch a human being with accuracy and safety. They have to be so precise as to move in perfect unison with 30 other dancers. They have to be so flexible as to be able to kick the backs of their own heads. Their training begins anywhere from 3 years old to 8 years old.

Anyone not in the know will likely think that ballerinas are twigs with no strength, no endurance, just floating around on their toes. Why should they be paid to do something that looks so easy? Well, here’s one reason:

Sacrifice copy

 Like professional sports athletes, dancers’ bodies take a beating, and their later years are often plagued with arthritis, destroyed knees, shoulders, and ankles. I’ve seen dancers’ achilles tendons shredded like spaghetti and knees bent backwards at awkward angles. The difference between a football player taking a header during a tackle, and a ballerina taking a header during a failed lift is that the ballerina doesn’t have medical coverage worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In many cases, she’s lucky if she works for a company that can provide worker’s compensation let alone disability insurance for missed wages.


Male dancers are often stereotyped as being fay, flimsy, and not altogether masculine. They aren’t necessarily considered “real men” like a hockey player might be. But consider that male dancers have to launch themselves several feet into the air. They have to have the hand-eye coordination to catch a woman who’s hurtling through space towards them – and not drop them. How many incomplete passes have you seen in football? In ballet, an incomplete pass is called a law-suit.


Oh yeah, and both football players and ballet dancers wear tights:

                                                               Butt2Men tights


Jumping, leaping, catching, turning, running, sweating, taking in the applause. Sports athletes and arts athletes have all these in common.

Comp2        Comp1

Only, dancers have to look pretty while doing it and make it look effortless!

So, why do sports athletes get paid hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars, when the dancers who work for some of our nation’s most prestigious dance institutions have to get second jobs? Did you know that New York City Ballet’s season only lasts 35 weeks? Oh, and the salary they get? The average annual ballet salary is $35,000. That doesn’t get you very far in New York City.

Okay, so what about sponsorships? Don’t corporations give money to arts organizations and sports franchises?

Did you know that in 2013, according to an IEG study, corporate sponsorship increased by the following percentages:

  • Sports (football, baseball, soccer, hockey, golf): 6%
  • Entertainment (movies, television, music): 5.1%
  • Causes (eg: Make-a-Wish, Voices for Children, Blood Banks, Susan G. Komen): 4.8%
  • Arts (Performing arts, museums, arts education): 3.3%

Uh huh. That’s right. Arts were at the bottom of the list.

And consider this: nationwide sponsorship of American sports in 2013 totaled $13.8 billion. The arts saw $920 million – for the entire United States. Put into perspective, arts sponsorship totaled 6% of what American sports saw.

Now, its easy to understand if you consider that sponsorship is given in exchange for exposure. Think of it as paid advertisement. A football team will reach more people than a ballet company . . . but think of what a ballet company could do with just a fraction of what the Greenbay Packers get from their sponsors!

But whether your talking about the size of a salary or the amount a corporation is willing to sponsor, it all comes down to one word: exposure.

What does that mean? It means how many people buy tickets and attend sporting or arts events. The more tickets sold, the more income a dance company has to turn into salaries for its performers. The more butts that fill seats, the more money a corporation is willing to give to a company. The more you engage with a theatre, dance company, opera, symphony, museum, or gallery the more leverage those organizations have to keep themselves alive.

And so we come back to the San Diego Opera. Why did they close? Many reasons, but a decline in ticket sales was a major one. In 2013, 513,641 Chargers Fans attended home games in San Diego. If just 10% of those people attended a California Ballet Company production just once during the year, at an average price of $48 (compared to the Charger’s $90/ticket average), that would mean an income of $2.5 million! That’s nearly double the ballet company’s entire annual operating budget! 

One more way to look at things: there are 3.1 million people living in San Diego County. If just 5% of the county’s population purchased $20 tickets (1/4 the cost of an average football ticket) that would mean an influx of $3.1 million into our arts community! Do you have $20? Skip your Starbucks for just one day a week for the next month and you will.

The people of San Diego spend their Sunday afternoons at Qualcomm Stadium instead of the Civic Theatre. Now, I can’t blame you. I’m  there, too. But guess what? I’m at the theatre Saturday afternoon taking in a matinee. Where are you?


—Joe Shumate

Professional Performing Artist & Arts Administrator


**The views and opinions in this article are expressly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the California Ballet Company or indicate endorsement by said company.**


Top 5 Choreographers of the 20th Century

March 8, 2014

The world of dance has a rich history of change and innovation, but these things cannot happen alone. You have to know where you’ve come from to know where you are going. California Ballet’s mission of preserving the classics while fostering new works is the embodiment of this concept.

As we look forward to a new generation of choreographer’s, let’s take a look back at the 1900’s for inspiration and understanding. We’d like to present a list of the 20th Century’s top five choreographers (in no particular order).

Now, let’s be honest: this is a hard list to make. Many people were instrumental in shaping dance during the 20th century. And no matter who you choose, someone influential will be left off of this list. We’re quite certain that you, the reader, will likely disagree with at least one of the choices or say, “Well, what about so-and-so?” We welcome discussion, so please, feel free to include your suggestions for alternate choreographers in the comments section!

Sit back and enjoy this quick rollick through 20th century dance history. Here is our (completely subjective) list of the Top 5 Choreographers of the 20th Century:

Unknown1) George Balanchine (1904-1983) – Co-founder and Principal Choreographer, New York City Ballet

Born Giorgi Balanchivadze, George Balanchine was the son of an accomplished Georgian composer. He trained at the Russian Imperial Theater Ballet School as well as the Petrograd Conservatory of Music. From this art-laden beginning, Balanchine launched a career as a professional dancer in which he danced with the Soviet State Ballet (during a tour he would defect) and Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes (to which he defected).

In 1933, Balanchine met an American entrepreneur named Lincoln Kirstein. Kirstein’s dream was to create an American ballet school and company, and he felt Balanchine was the man to do it . . . he could not have been more right! Together, Balanchine and Kirstein founded the School of American Ballet, followed shortly by the American Ballet. This company would go through a couple reincarnations, including Ballet Society. In 1948, Ballet Society was offered the position of resident ballet company of the New York City Center. This solicited a name change to . . . you guessed it! New York City Ballet!

Balanchine create countless famous works. His prodigious body of choreography is instantly recognizable by his signature neoclassical style of movement with little or no narrative. Balanchine believed that dance should shine on its own, and therefore felt little need to embellish movement with storytelling. While the ballet world knows him for signature works such as Apollo and Serenade, his most widely known, and most profitable, work is his interpretation of The Nutcracker which premiered in 1955. Mr. Balanchine performed the role of Herr Drosselmeyer. New York City Ballet still performs Balanchine’s The Nutcracker every holiday season.

George Balanchine passed away in 1983 at the age of 79. He left behind quite a legacy: a premiere ballet school and company recognized the world over, a body of over 175 works, and a new style of ballet. He is widely considered the preeminent choreographer of the 20th century.


George Balanchine Retrospective – New York City Ballet


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2) Martha Graham (1894-1991) – Founder, Martha Graham Dance Company

Martha Graham was the daughter of a prominent Presbyterian physician. Coming from a family of high standing, Graham was exposed to art from an early age, however, she would not begin her training until very late in life (for a dancer). She was 22.

Graham trained at the Denishawn School, where she received instruction from modern dance pioneer Ruth St. Denis. She was told right away that she was much too old to become a professional dancer, but she knew her calling and refused to be swayed. Graham danced with the Denishawn Company for seven years before moving to New York City to begin her own company and school. Her work in New York would change the face of dance forever. Graham forged new ground with choreography that was visceral, primal, and spiritual. She choreographed subject matter that was topical and controversial. She created a new style of dance and choreography whose sole purpose was to elicit emotion and thought.

Martha Graham’s style has been deemed uniquely American, but took the world by storm. Her career and skill as a modern dancer is unmatched, and Graham didn’t take her final curtain call until she was 75 years old!  She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, received the Local One Centennial Award for dance (given only once every 100 years) and in 1986 was named Time Magazine’s Dancer of the Century. The legacy she left behind rivals even that of George Balanchine: a world-renowned dance school and company, a new genre of movement, and a choreographic body of 181 works. She is considered by many to be the mother of 20th century modern dance. Graham continued to teach until she died in 1991 at the age of 96.


Martha Graham’s Lamentation


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3) Alvin Ailey (1931-1989) – Founder, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Alvin Ailey was born in Texas to a 17 year-old Lula Ailey. His father, also named Alvin, abandoned his family when he was only six months old. Life in Texas in the early 30’s was turbulent for African Americans, and segregation was predominant. Lynchings were common, and when he was five Ailey’s his mother was raped by a gang of white men. This left Ailey scared of whites as a youth, and eventually led to a fierce pride in his black heritage, which would heavily influence his choreography later in life.

Living through the Great Depression was difficult for Ailey and his mother. Employment was difficult to find and hard to maintain. When the United States joined World War II in 1942, Lula Ailey moved her family to Los Angeles to seek employment in support of the war effort. In California, Ailey’s exposure to the arts would flourish. He studied many forms of art as a child and young man, including poetry and gospel. He started his dance training at the age of 18, but did not begin to take dance seriously as a profession until a late age. Ironically, it was the same age as another dance icon. He was 22!

In 1953 Alvin Ailey joined the Lester Horton Dance Company. When Horton died later that year, Ailey took over as the company’s Artistic Director and began his long career as a choreographer. His stint in San Francisco with the Horton Dance Company lasted only one year, and in 1954 he moved out to New York City to dance on Broadway. This turned out to be one of the best decisions he could have made for himself and, indeed, the entire dance world.

While his experience on Broadway was no doubt incredible, Ailey was dissatisfied with New York’s modern dance scene. He attended classes and performances of the greats: Martha Graham, Doris Humphrey, and Jose Limon. He didn’t like any of them. He found himself incredibly disappointed that there was no one in New York offering modern dance similar to the Horton technique he had excelled in while in California. With no mentor readily available, Alvin Ailey decided that the best thing he could do was to create dance on his own.

In 1958 Alvin Ailey founded the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. The company would allow him to create his vision of modern dance in America and to preserve African American culture. In a time when the modern dance scene was dominated by white dancers, Ailey created a company that not only gave blacks a cultural mouthpiece, but became one of the very few multi-racial dance companies in America at the time. His company was uniquely positioned at the beginning of the Social Rights Movement, giving Ailey’s work an amazing opportunity to shape America’s understanding of itself, its citizens, and its art. He also created the practice of hiring dancers solely based on talent, skill, and merit with no consideration to race, gender, or creed.

Alvin Ailey spent his entire career making dance accessible to anyone and everyone who wanted to experience it. He brought dance to underserved communities, and crossed racial boundaries. He created a pioneering company that continues to innovate and educate to this day. He developed a new technique of modern dance and founded a school to teach it. He created 79 choreographic pieces and inspired countless youth. Alvin Ailey was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor in 1988 and was posthumously inducted into the National Dance Hall of Fame.

Alvin Ailey passed away from AIDS in 1989 at the age of 58. The New York Times said of Mr. Ailey, “You didn’t need to have known [him] personally to have been touched by his humanity, enthusiasm, and exuberance and his courageous stand for multi-racial brotherhood.”


Alvin Ailey’s Revelations


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4) Bob Fosse (1927-1987) – Broadway and Hollywood Choreographer/Director/Producer

Bob Fosse was born in Chicago, Illinois, the second youngest of six children. He spent his entire childhood surrounded by dance, and was the stereotypical boy who got dragged along to his sister’s dance classes. He spent several classes standing in the viewing area and trying out the steps for himself, before being invited to join the class properly. Ironically, his sister would quit dancing shortly thereafter, while Fosse would go on to become a dance legend.

Fosse’s training was troubled by the fact that he did not have a traditional dancer’s body. He suffered from knock-knees, pigeon-toes, and a slouch. Obviously not suited to ballet, he turned to tap. His ability as a tapper was phenomenal, and he set his sights on becoming the “new Fred Astaire.” As a youth he performed on the Vaudeville circuit in Chicago, gaining exposure to new dance styles that would eventually influence his own choreography. He would spend the second World War touring the Pacific Theater in a show called Tough Situation. Fosse often said that his time performing for the military was when he honed his performance skills.

Following the war, Fosse moved to New York to continue his dream of becoming the new Fred Astaire. While there, he caught the eye of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis who contracted Fosse and his wife at the time, Mary Ann Niles, to appear on the Colgate Comedy Hour. Their success on television led to Fosse securing a MGM contract in 1953. He appeared on the silver screen multiple times, but his performance in the movie musical Kiss Me Kate led directly to his success later in life. The short dance sequence in which Fosse appeared was choreographed by himself, and caught the attention of Broadway producers.

Fosse found himself cashiered from the Hollywood spotlight in 1954. While the history books say that it was due to “typecasting,” it was in reality due to early balding. His lack of hair made him undesirable at the time, and he lost his contract with MGM. This turned out for the best, as he was being sought out by Broadway producers. Fosse took the leap to the stage, where he would change the face of dance as a choreographer. Fosse’s first stage work was The Pajama Game. It was with this musical that he would begin to develop his trademark style of jazz that is instantly recognizable. Knocked-knees, pigeon-toes, slumped shoulders, shuffling steps, bowler hats – they all appeared in his unforgettable number Steam Heat. These innovations in style, heightened by a dramatic sense of sexuality, were the culmination of Fosse’s early childhood training, his personal peculiarities (such as his bald head and his dislike of his hands), his time on the Vaudeville circuit, his rebelling against Hollywood conventions, and his own personal need to push the boundaries of dance.The result: one of the most technically challenging, aesthetically pleasing, and recognizable styles of jazz and musical theater dance to ever grace the stage.

Fosse would continue to create works for Broadway, and his choreography and vision would eventually bring him back to Hollywood for countless screen-adaptations and original works. He would work with Liza Minnelli, Joel Grey, Doris Day, and Dustin Hoffman, to name a few big stars. Fosse’s work would net him 9 Tony Awards, 3 Oscar nominations, 1 Academy award for direction, and 1 Emmy. He is the only person to have ever received all three award in the same year! Fosse created an amazing body of work that graced the stage, the silver screen, and television. He developed a brand new style of dance that continues to challenge dancers today the world over.


Bob Fosse’s Steam HeatThe Pajama Game (1957)


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5) Jerome Robbins (1918-1998) – Choreographer & Director, Stage/Television/Film; Ballet Master, New York City Ballet

Jerome Wilson Rabinowitz (later Robbins) was born in the heart of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. His family had many show business connections, and he was surrounded by artists. Robbins began his college education at New York University in Chemistry, but dropped out after one year to pursue dance. He studied at the New Dance League, receiving ballet training from Ella Daganova, Antony Tudor, and Eugene Loring. He would expand his training with lessons in modern, Spanish, and folk dance styles.

By the end of the 1930’s, Robbins was appearing regularly in the chorus of Broadway shows. He appeared in the 1940 production of Keep Off the Grass, where he worked with George Balanchine for the first time (Balanchine choreographed for the show). In 1940, Robbins decided to refocus his efforts from theater to ballet, and joined Ballet Theatre. Can you guess what that company’s name eventually became?

That’s right, American Ballet Theatre.

Robbins performed as a soloist with the company for three years, where he gained attention for his dramatic abilities. It wasn’t long, however, before he was drawn back to theater. With the success of choreographers like Agnes de Mille, who had integrated dance into the drama of musicals, Robbins felt compelled to challenge his own choreographic chops. His first foray into theatrical dance was Fancy Free, a ballet about three sailors on liberty. It was a huge success! It was also the foundation for a long and prolific association with a, then unknown, composer Leonard Bernstein. Like a modern day Petipa and Tchaikovsky, Robbins and Bernstein would together create some of the most stunning music and dance moments of the 20th century.

What Bob Fosse was to jazz dance and pop culture, Jerome Robbins was to ballet. Robbins’ expertise in theatrical dance and ballet blended to create some of the most technically impressive, visually pleasing, and emotionally exhilarating dance pieces in musical theatre and movie history. Robbins brought ballet to the masses, cleverly disguised as frothy theater. But the dance community was not fooled. Robbins continued to split his work between theater and ballet for two decades – creating works for ABT and the Joffrey Ballet while also making a huge splash in Hollywood and on Broadway.

In 1972 Robbins was asked to join New York City Ballet as Ballet Master. He would work alongside his dance idol, George Balanchine until Balanchine’s death in 1983. The two choreographers, while sharing a mutual respect, were very different sides of the same coin. Where Balanchine was prolific, Robbins obsessed about each dance piece to the point of near-stagnation. Where Balanchine’s choreography was minimalist in nature, Robbins’ works ran the gamut from dramatic to comedic and married technique with acting. Together, Robbins and Balanchine gave America’s finest ballet company one of the world’s finest repertoire.

Following Balanchine’s death, Robbins continued to work alongside NYC Ballet Director Peter Martins as a Co-Director. He staged his last ballet, Les Noces, in 1998 before dying two months later at the age of 80. Jerome Robbins bridged the gap between classical and popular dance, creating his own vision of a dramatic contemporary ballet style. His ability to marry emotion, movement, and music brought joy and humor to millions of people the world over.


Jerome Robbins Retrospective – New York City Ballet

So there you are! Five dance icons. Five dance legends. Five giants that shaped not just dance, but how we view the world. But, let’s not get mired in the past. Let’s look towards the future! Join California Ballet on March 22, 2014 as we explore new works of the choreographers of the 21st century:

Fun Facts About The Nutcracker

December 20, 2013

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As we enter our final weekend of The Nutcracker for 2013, we’d like to thank everyone who made California Ballet a part of their family holiday traditions. We love what we do, and we love sharing it with you! As a special treat, here are seven fun facts about The Nutcracker that you might not know. Memorize them and impress your friends with your knowledge of all things ballet!

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1. In Germany, there is a folklore tradition based on the idea that nutcrackers protect your family and bring your home good luck. For this reason, nutcrackers were often given to children at Christmastime.

2. The libretto for The Nutcracker ballet is based on a story by E.T.A. Hoffman entitled “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”. The original story is much darker than the ballet, featuring a bloody battle between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King’s army, and the backstory of how the prince was changed into a nutcracker.

3. When The Nutcracker was first performed in Russia in 1892, it was a critical flop. It wasn’t until George Balanchine’s production of the ballet in 1954 that the show began to gain popularity. By the late 1960s, The Nutcracker established itself as the essential ballet of the holiday season. Balanchine’s choreography is the version most often performed to this day.

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4. At the first performance of The Nutcracker, the roles of Clara and the Nutcracker Prince were played by children. In later professional productions, these roles were given to adult dancers.

5. Although Tchaikovsky’s score for The Nutcracker is one of the best known pieces of his music, he did not feel it was his best work. The composer apparently felt that his earlier composition, the ballet Sleeping Beauty, was far superior to The Nutcracker.

6. Tchaikovsky died less than a year after the original production of The Nutcracker, never knowing the impact his work would have on audiences around the world for decades to come.

7. The uniquely twinkling instrument you hear in “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” is a celesta. Tchaikovsky smuggled this relative of the piano into Russia from Paris to add a unique sound to accompany the character of the Sugar Plum Fairy.


A special thank you to our Nutcracker sponsors: The Westgate Hotel, Sycuan Resort and Casino, and Coleman University.

And thank you to our Season Sponsors: The Hermann Foundation, The City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture, Google, Inc., and San Diego Theatres, Inc.

CBC Holidays

Arriving in Transylvania – California Ballet’s Dracula

October 24, 2013

Have you ever been at the theater and stopped and wondered, “How the heck did this show get put together?” If not, don’t worry. You’re not alone.

A good ballet, musical, or drama will cause you to become so thoroughly lost in the story that you won’t stop to ponder such things. That’s what you have us for! We like to stop and ask ourselves how our ballets and productions came to be.


Our Halloween season is highlighted by our increasingly annual production of Charles Bennett’s Dracula. Those of us here at California Ballet Company love this show because it is so far removed from traditional ballet as to have a wonderful appeal to the general public while making our dancers stretch not just their legs, but their acting chops. But, how did the dance-drama’s creator, Charles Bennett, assemble the eclectic choreographic masterpiece?

As with any story ballet or dance production – our Dracula is not truly a ballet, but rather a dance-drama – you need two things before you can even begin to think about choreographing: the story and the music.

Well, the story was no problem for Mr. Bennett. Bram Stoker‘s tale of vampires and romance was a tried and true horror story by the time Charles Bennett began work on the dance interpretation in the late 1980’s. There had been several movie adaptations, reinterpretations of the vampire mythos, and a burgeoning reawakened love of the occult by the public in general. Add to that the fact that the dance world had never seen a staged interpretation of Dracula, and Charles Bennett was ready to go! He just needed to find a score.

For a history of Dracula, check out Toe-2-Toe’s post HERE!

Mr. Bennett spent quite some time finding just the right musical pieces to bring his gothic vision to life, and ended up going back to source material for inspiration. He used music that was popular at the time of the novel’s publishing – such as Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Massenet’s Thais. These pieces are beautiful and haunting, but only a small part of the show. For further inspiration, Mr. Bennett turned to the dance stylings of the time and the ethnic traditions involved in the story itself. At the time of Dracula‘s publishing, the Tango was all the craze in upper-class circles. Well, who was Charles Bennett to argue? Feeling inspired, he choreographed a gorgeous and light-hearted tango set to authentic music.


Charles Bennett

And ethnic traditions? The show opens with a lively gypsy dance. The choreography was inspired  by real ethnic dance and the music is authentic Gypsy Cymbalo (brass music).

The rest of the score was pieced together with music that would create the necessary atmosphere. The music ranges from neoclassical to Hollywood horror. While it’s not performed live, the original composite score was so lovingly tailored and carefully assembled that it becomes a living, breathing, indispensable part of the dance-drama.

So we have a story, and we have music, but those are only part of a ballet! A dance performance requires . . . well, dance!

As we already mentioned, the Tango and the Gypsy scenes were inspired by Bram Stoker’s novel itself. Guess what? So was everything else! Charles Bennett was a master of turning the written word into a visual art form. He alone masterminded some of the most popular story ballets in California Ballet’s repertoire (Alice in Wonderland, Snow White, Romeo and Juliet). So in creating the rest of the dance-drama, he drew inspiration from Bram Stoker’s colorfully painted characters.

In Charles Bennett’s own words:

“Renfield’s movements are based on those of mental patients suffering from severe motor-psychosis but extended and theatrical. Dracula’s movement continuously winds inward, drawing those around him to his persona for his gratification. Lucy, of a generous spirit has centrifugal, spiraling outward movements. Mina, is religious, with movement that his generally contained, resistant, slightly reserved but very nearly broken. In short, each character and situation was approached as much as possible as a unique event. Dracula’s nightmare brides are deceptively seductive. Diversity in approach to character and situation has been the intention.”


Dracula’s Brides

Every motion, every gesture was lovingly crafted and choreographed – specifically tailored for each character. Each dance number and pas de deux serves a purpose: furthering the storyline and setting the atmosphere of a scene.

In assembling the dance-drama, Charles Bennett then went on to draw further inspiration from silent film. He created striking vignettes which propelled the story forward. Each vignette was then flawlessly stitched together to create smooth transitions that feel like the cross-dissolving of scenes in films. The show is underscored with sound effects, flames fly across the stage and fog clouds your vision with special effects. Even the progression of time is felt as projections are used to show the moon slowly climbing through the night sky.

What you end up with is a theatrical experience unlike any other. It’s a hybrid between ballet, drama, and silent movies.

Charles Bennet’s Dracula was the very first dance-interpretation of the gothic novel ever created. It premiered in 1987 at the San Diego Civic Theatre, performed by the California Ballet Company. Many other ballet versions have since been created, and Mr. Bennett’s original interpretation has been performed all over the country by other companies, but it started right here in San Diego!

Dracula Image Edit for RSVP



Join us this Saturday and Sunday at the San Diego Civic Theatre for this year’s production of Dracula. Tickets are still available, but going fast!


Go online to

or call (858) 560-6741.

California Ballet Announces its 46th Season at the San Diego Civic Theatre

July 12, 2013

California Ballet has just finished up a scintillating 45th Sapphire Anniversary Season, and we are excited to look towards the future as we prepare for another year of professional dance in San Diego! We invite you to join the fun at one or all of the following productions at the San Diego Civic Theatre:


Choreography by: Charles Bennett

San Diego Civic Theatre

October 26 & 27, 2013

Back by popular demand, the season opens in October 2013 with Dracula. The unique combination of seductive drama intertwined with movement will mesmerize audience members. Choreographed by Charles Bennett and based upon the classic Bram Stoker haunting tale of vampires and romance, this season’s production will hold surprises even for those who attended last year! This production is not appropriate for children under the age of 8.







Choreography by: Maxine Mahon

San Diego Civic Theatre

December 14-15, 2013 (Classics Philharmonic) 
December 18-22, 2013 (San Diego Symphony)

In December 2013, Maxine Mahon’s The Nutcracker returns to the stage for an extended two-week run. Filled with amazing dancing, magical music, and the whimsy of childhood, this holiday classic is an instant family tradition. San Diego’s longest-running Nutcracker will be presented with full symphony accompaniment of Tchaikovsky’s magnificent score, conducted by California Ballet Music Director John Stubbs (The Classics Philharmonics December 15 & 15; The San Diego Symphony December 18-22).

SL46Sleeping Beauty 
Choreography by: Maxine Mahon

San Diego Civic Theatre

May 17-18, 2014

Considered by many to be Tchaikovsky’s crowning jewel, Maxine Mahon’s Sleeping Beauty returns to the Civic Theatre in May of 2014 for the first time in nearly a decade! The ballet is considered to be one of the most difficult to stage and execute in the ballet repertoire. California Ballet is the only local professional company to present this classic gem in its extravagant entirety. Children of all ages will be entertained by this fairy tale classic, filled with special appearances by Little Red Riding Hood and her wolf, Puss ‘n Boots, and Princess Florina and her bluebird!

Don’t miss your chance to see one or all of these exciting productions during California Ballet Company’s 46th Season, presented at the San Diego Civic Theatre!

Tickets are already on sale through the California Ballet ticketing office at:

(858) 560-6741

or online at

California Ballet’s Swan Lake – The Names Behind the Steps

April 24, 2013

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California Ballet is presenting our full-length Swan Lake on May 18 and 19, 2013 at the San Diego Civic Theatre. Swan Lake is one of the world’s most loved ballets, filled with romance, sorcery, betrayal and deceit. It’s the art form at its finest, and has only improved over time as ballet icon after ballet icon has put their own signature touches on the choreography.

California Ballet’s version of this quintessential ballet was choreographed by Thor Sutowski and the late Sonia Arova. Yet, like all geniuses, Thor and Sonia knew when to stand on the shoulders of giants, and the entire Act II of our Swan Lake uses the original choreography by Lev Ivanov.

Now, you may be asking, who are these people that put their touches on the ballet? Who’s this Lev guy that was so influential that California Ballet had to use his choreography? Well, let’s take a look at the choreographers who made this ballet legendary.

Swan Lake first made it’s appearance on the ballet stage at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, 1877. The original choreography was by a man named Julius Reisinger. Reisinger was the ballet master for the Russian Imperial Ballet at the time, and an uninspiring one at that. The only thing he was ever noted for was his failure with Swan Lake, which brought an end to his time as ballet master.

Yup. Ballet’s most beloved production was a flop the first time out. Peter Tchaikovsky’s score (Swan Lake was his first) was considered too complex and Reisinger’s choreography was called “lackluster.” The ballet was a critical failure in 1877, and ended up being shelved for twenty years.

It wasn’t until the Tchaikovsky’s death that Swan Lake would get a second chance. In tribute to the great composer, a man by the name of Lev Ivanov re-choreographed the second act (that’s the one with the lake and swans) for Tchaikovsky’s memorial concert. His re-imagination of the second act was so popular, that Ivanov and his master, Marius Petipa, were commissioned to breath new life into the old ballet. With a rewritten libretto, and a rearranged Tchaikovsky score, Swan Lake became the ballet that the world over associated with the art form at its finest.

Who are are these choreographic masterminds?

Marius Petipa 1898

Marius Petipa is considered one of the greatest ballet choreographers to ever grace the stage. He dominated the Russian Imperial Ballet as Ballet Master for 30 years, producing over 50 ballets. Talk about prolific! The three ballets he is most keenly remembered for, however, are his collaborations with Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty,  and Swan Lake. Petipa is often credited with creating the framework of the classical story-book ballet with dancing that furthers the storyline, a section of divertissement pieces that are simply dances for entertainment (think the variations in Act II of The Nutcracker), and everything culminating in a grande pas de deux. The technique required to execute a Petipa ballet was often very demanding, pushing the dancers to higher levels. Many of the solos Petipa choreographed were created with specific dancers in mind, leading to each solo being specifically tailored and stylized. Many dancers today still consider the work of the 19th century genius to be the ultimate challenge to the perfection of their technique.

But to think that Petipa did it all alone would be foolish. Always trapped in his shadow was another choreographic giant of the time, Lev Ivanov. Petipa viewed his assistant as a threat to his career, so always kept the man firmly under his thumb. The truth of the matter is, Ivanov create many works during his career, and all of them ended up with Marius Petipa’s name on them because that was the ruling of the Imperial Theater’s director. Petipa was ballet master, and he was the one who would see the glory.

200px Lev Ivanov St Petersburg circa 1885

But, Ivanov was able to bring something to the Imperial stage that Petipa could not: an amazing sense of musicality. This would become especially apparent when working withthe complex music provided by Peter Tchaikovsky. In fact, the two ballets that are arguable the most famous and beloved of all should be credited to Ivanov: The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. Petipa may have gotten the credit for The Nutcracker, but he was bedridden with illness when it came time to stage the ballet. Instead, Lev Ivanov did all of the work under Petipa’s name, and the ballet we see today , as well as the popularity it has gained, is truly due to Ivanov’s brilliance.

And remember how we mentioned that the re-staging of Swan Lake led to it being given a second chance? That’s right, it was Ivanov who re-choreographed that second act. When the ballet was given a green light to be restaged in its entirety, Petipa was given acts one and three, and Lev Ivanov was given acts two and four to choreograph. Just in case you’re wondering, acts two and four take place on the lake with the enchanted swans. When you think of the ballet Swan Lake, what image pops into your head first? 

Yeah, we thought so.

Ivanov never truly saw the spotlight or the glory that he deserved in his time, but his musicality, paired with the technical demands learned from Petipa, made a mark on the ballet world. The two choreographic giants together reassured that their story ballets would become a part of every ballet company’s repertoire across the globe. That’s why California Ballet’s version by Thor Sutowski and Sonia Arova made the decision to include Lev Ivanov’s Act II choreography in their version. The way the choreography becomes a part of the music instead of just being informed by it will impress and stun you!

But, what about Thor Sutowski and Sonia Arova? Who are they? Why is California Ballet using their version?

Both Thor and Sonia – a husband and wife team, but the way – are well known and much loved by the San Diego dance community. They are also internationally renowned dancers of some stature.

Sonia arova

Sonia Arova is internationally recognized as one of the great 20th century  ballerinas. She danced with the original Ballet Russes, the Royal Ballet, the National Ballet of Washington D.C., and ABT. In fact, she was even Rudolph Nureyev’s partner for the ballet legend’s American debut! For her outstanding achievements in ballet, she was knighted by King Olav V of Norway, making her a Dame. But, as amazing as she was as a dancer, some of her greatest work happened while directing, choreographing, and teaching. She served as the director of the National Ballet of Norway, co-directed the San Diego Ballet with Thor Sutowski, became the Artistic Director for Alabama Ballet and a faculty member at the Alabama School of Fine Arts, and an Artistic Advisor for California Ballet. In all of these capacities, her greatest contribution to the world of dance was teaching and shaping some of the greatest dancers of the recent generations. Her sense of musicality, photographic memory for choreography, and understanding of a dancer’s needs made her unarguably one of the greatest ballet instructors and directors of the late 20th century.

Working side by side with Dame Sonia Arova was her husband, and fellow famed ballet dancer, Thor Sutowski. Like Dame Arova, Mr. Sutowski is a principal dancer of international fame. He danced with many famous ballet dancers, including Margot Fonteyn, Natalia Makarova, and George Balanchine. But, just likeSutowski thor his late wife, Mr. Sutowski’s greatest achievements would be seen once he hung up his ballet slippers. His work as a teacher, coach, choreographer, and mentor have shaped many up-and-coming dancers into the finest of their time. His choreography has been seen around the world, and has even received three Emmy Awards! He co-directed the San Diego Ballet with his wife, served as a resident choreographer for the Atlantic Ballet and Dance Chairperson for the Alabama School of Fine Arts, and was the Associate Director of California Ballet. His sense of style, love of the art form, and natural empathy with those under his tutelage make him a much loved and well respected figure in the dance community.

Together, this husband and wife team are responsible for the full-length version of Swan Lake that has been a part of the California Ballet Repertoire since 1997. The ballet was originally set on our company by Thor and Sonia themselves in 1997, and each successive time Mr. Sutowski has been present to ensure that style and choreographic integrity not only remains consistent, but is improved upon with each iteration. Dame Arova’s musicality paired with Mr. Sutowski’s vision blend to create something that is unique, dynamic, and believably gorgeous! Amazingly, but not surprisingly, Thor’s and Sonia’s choreography blends seamlessly with the 120 year-old choreography by Lev Ivanov. The resulting production is monumental in stature, emotionally cathartic, and thoroughly enchanting. California Ballet’s Swan Lake shows the workmanship of not one choreographic genius, but three.

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If you haven’t seen Swan Lake, you owe it to yourself to experience what is easily the greatest and best known ballet in history. Join California Ballet Company at the San Diego Civic Theatre on May 18th and 19th, 2013 for the full-length Swan Lake, starring Dutch National Ballet Principals Maia Makhateli and Artur Shesterikov.

For tickets and information call (858) 560-6741 or go online to