Luna Mexicana – A Breath of Fresh Air

We recently had the wonderful opportunity to bring some of our dancers together to rehearse and film “Luna Mexicana” at the Peralta Hacienda Historical Park in Oakland. This park hosts a treasure trove of hidden gems – the beautiful Peralta House from the 1870s, shady wooded slopes, green spaces for children to play and a historic area where you can see the footprints of early to mid-19th century adobe structures. We are incredibly grateful to Executive Director Holly Alonso and Marketing Director Miguel Lopez for helping us bring Luna to life in such an important space for Oakland and the Latino Community as a whole.

Surprise visitors during rehearsal for Luna Mexicana in front of the beautiful Peralta House!

Since then, we caught up with one of our company dancers Aidan O’Leary, who shared with us how it felt to be rehearsing again, this time in open air:

“Getting to reunite with my fellow dancers was such a blessing! After so many months of online class, it was a joy to take barre with others. It felt so refreshing to step back into dancer mode, relearning choreography and getting to express myself as a dancer again. There was a shared feeling of how special just a few days of being dancers was, and a palpable sense of how much we all missed it.”

We welcome you to enjoy an excerpt of the final product below!

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Voter Resources for the Arts Community and Beyond

Here at Oakland Ballet we’ve gathered a few resources that we felt might help smooth the voting process. We hope they make casting your ballot easier, and if you want to go beyond the ballot and get more involved in arts advocacy, we’ve got you covered too! Feel free to share them if you or someone you know might find them helpful, and happy voting!

Vote.org is a non-partisan, non-profit organization, dedicated to helping connect you to the resources you need to get the most updated and accurate information about your local voting process.

For any first-time or young voters, the “How to Vote in Every State” YouTube channel, created by Media Wise Voter Project and educational video production company Complexly, provides current resources on voting guidelines. They have also created a Voting Guide meant to help young voters, across the political spectrum, find accurate and reliable information on the internet as they prepare to cast their ballots.

Specific to the performing arts industry, Dance USA has prepared a November 2020 Elections Toolkit, along with a list of voting resources and additional information discussing relevant issues impacting the dance industry and arts sector today.

Lastly, Americans for the Arts Action Fund has created an Arts Vote 2020 Campaign that has resources on how you can advocate for the arts sector and get involved in getting the arts community out to vote!

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Luna Mexicana Stay At Home Soiree

Join us in a celebration of Día de los Muertos.
 
Share a meal from Agave,
Ballet Folklórico México Danza,
Jalisco Harpist Salvadore Vazquez,
hear about the elements of an ofrenda with Daniel Camacho,
learn to construct paper marigolds,
and see excerpts of Oakland Ballet in Luna Mexicana
 
all from the comfort of your own home.

Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

Oakland Ballet recognizes the contributions of LatinX Americans and Hispanics in our community. Board members, donors, company dancers, teachers, and choreographers, our organization is strengthened by the addition of their voices, diverse heritage, and perspectives to America’s Arts tapestry.

Cancellation of Paramount performances

It is with great regret that we announce the cancellation of the 2020 Paramount Theatre performances of Luna Mexicana and The Nutcracker.  Look for their return in 2021.

Our Luna Mexicana Stay At Home Soiree will be October 30, 2020 7PM. Tickets available soon. Mark your calendar so you don’t miss it.

Connecting with the Community

As spring bursts into full bloom, the artists and staff at Oakland Ballet Company are still basking in the success of the company’s newly added, early spring season – this year featuring the premiere of Jangala. This all new program had a modern, urban take on The Jungle Book with an all-Indian music score and an exciting mix of classical Indian dance and contemporary ballet.

Jangala ran from March 8-16 for a total of 7 community performances and student matinees in Oakland, Castro Valley and San Leandro. All three community performances featured appearances by Nadhi Thekkek and her company, Nava Dance Theatre, a San Francisco-based bharatanatyam dance company. OBC’s collaboration with Nava Dance Theatre is just one example in an ever-growing list of creative partnerships – a hallmark under Artistic Director Graham Lustig’s leadership.

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Frankie Lee Peterson as Mowgli and Nadhi Thekkek as Messua in Jangala

 

The Spring Repertory season

Beyond Jangala, OBC has a full schedule coming up with the annual Spring Gala on Saturday, May 19, at the Bellevue Club, and the unveiling of new works by Lustig and four other local choreographers in the Scene and Heard spring repertory program, which runs May 31 to June 2, at Laney College’s Odell Johnson Performing Arts Center.

Capping the season is the fourth annual East Bay DANCES on June 3, a diverse performance celebrating the best of dance in the East Bay, including performances by AXIS Dance Company, Urban Jazz Dance Company, Ballet Folklórico México Danza, and many more!

A fall season filled with collaborations

OBC’s community-driven spring slate follows a fall season also filled with partnerships. Luna Mexicana returned for a second year and, in a celebration of the local Latino and Hispanic community, featured performances by Nahui Ehekatl Aztec dance group, Ballet Folklórico México Danza, and Mariachi Mexicanisimo alongside OBC.

The eighth annual presentation of Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker, as usual, featured live music by the Oakland Symphony and new addition – the Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir. This year’s Nutcracker also saw the return the Oakland Athletics to the Paramount stage! A’s president Dave Kaval, alongside former player and current NBC Sports California analyst Shooty Babbit, took a turn in the December 23 matinee with cameos during the party scene of Act I.

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Shooty Babbit and Oakland A’s President Dave Kaval with the Snowballs from Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker” 2018.

The A’s guest spots harkened back to All Star Night, a tradition started in 1986 under OBC founder Ronn Guidi and A’s former manager Tony La Russa as a charity fundraiser.

The evening typically opened OBC’s Nutcracker run. Players from La Russa’s lineup to join Guidi’s playbill in those early performances included Mark McGwire, Carney Lansford, and Dave Stewart. Over time, the cast grew, reaching beyond the A’s bench to bring in members of the Giants, Raiders, as well as Bay Area announcers and sportswriters.

Community Spirit

With the A’s celebrating 50 years in Oakland in 2018, and OBC slightly ahead of the curve with 53 years in the community, the timing was right to revive the tradition between these two old partners. “We hadn’t been doing anything for a while, and so it had kind of been like a winter period,” said Kaval, who met with Lustig and members of OBC’s board at his Coliseum offices soon after he had named team president in November 2016.

Kaval, who worked with the Major League Soccer team the San Jose Quakes before joining the A’s, then heard about OBC’s past collaboration with the Athletics. “I’m like – we’ve got to get this back going,” Kaval added.

Step one in renewing the partnership was hosting OBC Night at the A’s – a fundraiser for OBC’s Discover Dance program through the purchase of field-level tickets for a fireworks game. This summer will mark the third annual OBC Night at the A’s and tickets are already on sale for this year’s event – July 20, 2018, a fireworks game against the San Francisco Giants! Purchase tickets >

In September 2017, Lustig and dancers appeared in an A’s commercial filmed in front of the five-story mural of A’s mascot, Stomper, commissioned by the team and painted near OBC’s Paramount home at 19th and Webster.

OBC Dancer Calvin Thomas with Oakland A's

OBC dancer Calvin Thomas with Josh Phegly and Sean Doolittle.

“People gather around an entertainment, whether it’s ballet, whether it’s theater, whether it’s baseball,” said Kaval. “Those are really important things, I think, for the quality of life of a community.”

Under Kaval, the A’s have doubled down on their hometown, unfurling a Rooted in Oakland campaign in 2017 and honoring the team’s legacy in the city in naming its playing top for Hall of Famer and Oakland native Rickey Henderson.

For his part, Lustig, entering his ninth year as OBC Artistic Director, has similarly embraced Oakland. The company’s recent repertory always includes a local emphasis and is mindful of the diverse population of the community.

“I think being a ballet company in Oakland is a unique vantage point to this city,” said Lustig. “It feels as if the programming is resonating with the community in a way that’s so exciting,” he added. “That’s a terrific feeling – you don’t want to be doing your art in isolation.”

Oakland Ballet’s programs in recent years have included a significant expansion of Discover Dance, a program that, in collaboration with several East Bay school districts, brings educational dance programming to more than 15,000 students each year.

Rise of the Big 3

Even as the A’s and OBC look for new ways to team up, their reunion at the Paramount would have been incomplete without the Oakland Symphony. Music director and conductor Michael Morgan has held the baton for OBC’s presentation of the Nutcracker going on two decades.

“The best thing is that it shows the athleticism in ballet and there’s art to being an athlete,” said Morgan of the A’s and OBC pairing.

Like the A’s and OBC, the symphony has similarly noted its dedication to its home city, returning to its original name of simply Oakland Symphony after 26 years as the Oakland East Bay Symphony. The current season has featured many exciting concerts, including the March “Rooted in Oakland” concert – a collaboration with Oakland native Kev Choice.

The A’s will celebrate their 50th anniversary at the Coliseum with a completely free game to fans for the April 17 matchup against the White Sox.

With plenty ahead for OBC, Oakland Symphony, and the A’s, the city could be witnessing the rise of a new Big Three.

By Kate Fratar

Purchase tickets and learn more about all of Oakland Ballet Company’s upcoming performances and events at www.oaklandballet.org.

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Magic in the Multipurpose Room

On a Tuesday morning at ten o’clock, right before holiday vacation, the students of Howard Elementary in east Oakland streamed into the school’s multipurpose room for an assembly. They were excited because it was almost the holiday break. They were excited because it was almost Christmas. They were excited because they were out of class. On this morning in particular they were about to see a performance by four dancers of the Oakland Ballet Company – part of our Discover Dance educational program.

The costumed dancers started by giving a short history of ballet and telling the students about a day in the life of a working artist. Then, by turns, they told the story of that most famous of ballets – The Nutcracker.  As one dancer spoke the others performed short segments of the ballet. The kids were squirmy and a little chatty at first because, well, they’re kids. As the dancers progressed through the story and came to a pas de deux between Marie and the Nutcracker – performed by two of OBC’s principal dancers Ramona Kelly and Seyong Kim – the students began to gasp in awe in a way that made that clichéd reaction not a cliché. Ramona and Seyong transformed the small scuffed multipurpose room stage into a scene of magic with simply their sheer physical artistry.

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The spell didn’t stop with the kids. As a retired middle school teacher, I’ve sat through more assemblies than I care to count and as a ballet fan I’ve watched this sequence dozens of times, and yet I found myself on the verge of tears witnessing these students enthusiastically cheer each lift and turn. They didn’t notice the storage containers stacked to the side of the stage or that the trim was loose on Ramona’s costume or that Seyong was wearing black track pants instead of tights. They probably could not have put into words just how or why this dance was so special – they just knew that it was. They knew that on a cold Tuesday morning the Oakland Ballet brought magic to the multipurpose room.

By Carolyn Rinetti
Vice President, Oakland Ballet Company Board of Directors

 

About Discover Dance

Each season, OBC offers its Discover Dance educational program for East Bay schools spanning from Richmond to Livermore.  Discover Dance provides much needed access to the art of dance as well as educational arts programming for schools and serves more than 15,000 students each year through a mix of in school and in theater programs! To learn more about the Discover Dance program, host OBC at your school, find out about upcoming student matinees, or become a sponsor of this program, visit http://www.oaklandballet.org.

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Casting for Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker”

Ramona Kelly and Seyong Kim cast as lead roles in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. Sports legends join the cast for special cameo appearances.

Each year, Oakland Ballet Company holds auditions to hire company dancers – all highly trained performers possessing exceptional strength and versatility. Throughout the season, different company members are selected for the lead roles in Oakland Ballet Company productions. This December, Ramona Kelley and Seyong Kim, both who have been a part of the company for several seasons, will grace the stage as Marie and the Nutcracker in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker.

Ramona Kelley Brings Irresistible Charm to the Character of Marie

This past summer, Ramona was recognized by dance writer Carla Escoda in Dance Europe magazine in the category of “outstanding performance by a female dancer.” Ramona danced the lead roles in last spring’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Consort, and will dance the lead role of Marie in this year’s Nutcracker – her fourth year in this role. Ramona’s talent and elegance, combined with her irresistible stage presence, are perfectly suited for the character of Marie. Originally from Berkeley, Ramona holds a BFA in dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and has an wide array of dance experience outside of Oakland Ballet – most recently as a member of Twyla Tharp Dance. This is her fourth season with Oakland Ballet Company.

 

Seyong Kim Reprises His Role as the Nutcracker

With an MA in Dance Education from New York University and an MFA in Dance from Sung-Kyun-Kwan University in South Korea, Seyong Kim draws on years of experience for his performance as this year’s Nutcracker – his second year in this role. A well rounded performer, teacher, and choreographer, Seyong boasts an impressive ability to execute a highly technical performance with relaxed and effortless beauty. East Bay audiences will delight in watching this world class dancer take the stage again this December.

 

East Bay Sports Legends Appear in Special Cameo Performances

This December, OBC welcomes two exciting cameo guest performers – both from Oakland’s own baseball team, The Oakland Athletics!

Oakland A’s President, David Kaval and former A’s second baseman, scout, and current baseball analyst, Shooty Babbit, will both make special guest appearances in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker on Saturday, Dec. 23 at  the 1pm performance.

Dave works tirelessly to ensure the baseball team’s success as a sports franchise and community partner. It will be a treat to watch him assume a very different role in the ballet’s first act.

Shooty has had a long career in the baseball industry – first as a second baseman for the Oakland A’s during the 1981 MLB season, then as a scout, and currently as an analyst for pre- and post-game shows for Oakland A’s home games on NBC Sports California.

 

Be on the lookout for Dave and Shooty in the performance as guests at the lavish party in the opening scene.

Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker” will be performed at the Paramount Theatre on Saturday, December 23 at 1:00 and 5:00 pm and Sunday, December 24 at 1:00. Tickets are on sale now. Click here to reserve your seat.

Go Behind the Scenes of Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker”

Every December, Oakland Ballet Company dancers delight the East Bay community with performance of Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. When each performer dons a costume, wields a prop, or is transported to the magical Land of the Sweets via a giant hot air balloon, they are relying upon a very special group of individuals working diligently from the wings of the stage. Learn more about the important people behind the scenes who make each show possible.

Bat Abbit – Ballet Master

Bat Abbit has served as Oakland Ballet Company’s Ballet Master since 2010 – logging countless hours in and outside of the studio to ensure that performances are stage ready. Rehearsals begin about five weeks before the performances and, in the lead-up to Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker, Bat is in the studio up to 50 hours each week setting the choreography on our professional dancers and student cast members. With his extensive knowledge of Artistic Director Graham Lustig’s choreography (Bat originated the role of Fritz in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker!) he guides the dancers not only through the technical steps performed onstage, but also through the artistic qualities that make this production extra special. When not rehearsing, Bat also serves as Oakland Ballet’e Education Coordinator – planning and implementing “Discover Dance” educational programs and The Academy at Oakland Ballet.

 


Christopher Dunn – Costume Manager

Since 2014, Oakland Ballet Company has enjoyed the gorgeous contributions of Wardrobe Manager and Costume Designer Christopher Dunn. Each December Christopher is tasked with managing more than 150 costumes for our performances of Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker! He spends weeks fitting the colorful costumes (originally designed by Emmy and Tony award winning designer, Zach Brown) on both the professional and student dancers, updating any costumes that need a little extra sparkle, and organizing the costumes for educational and promotional events throughout the month of December. He makes sure that dressing rooms are assigned and that costumes are ready for the dancers when they arrive at the Paramount Theater for rehearsals and performances. Finally, after every performance he makes sure that costumes are mended, laundered, and ready for the next performance.

As resident Costume Designer, Christopher has created many original costumes for OBC – all combining stunning aesthetics with functionality. Growing up as a dancer in a studio owned by his mother, and currently still working as a professional dancer at Dance Theatre of San Francisco, Christopher has a first-hand understanding of how to craft a costume that is both visually appealing and makes the dancer feel comfortable and confident.

Fun fact – Christopher will also be joining the production as a Father in the Party Scene this year. Look for him on-stage this December 23 and 24!

 


Christine Dunaway – Production and Stage Manager

Coordinating the execution of countless technical tasks that enable a production like Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker is a massive undertaking. Fortunately, Oakland Ballet Company can rely upon the experience and professionalism of Production and Stage Manager Chris Dunaway (Dunaway Events). Chris brings her 17 years of experience to the Paramount Theatre every December to coordinate and schedule the backstage technical crew, manage the transportation and installation of scenery and lighting equipment to the theater, and finally, to ensure that every scenery and lighting change goes off without a hitch during performances!

 


Amy Ferrara – Props Manager

While the costumes and sets are an integral part of every performance, few ballets rely so heavily on props as The Nutcracker. Amy Ferrara has served as Oakland Ballet Company’s Props Manager since 2010, ensuring that every present, sword, and bon bon appearing onstage is in working order and performance ready. Dancers can trust in Amy to help them execute sometimes challenging transitions involving props backstage.

 

 

 

 

 


Michael Morgan – Oakland Symphony Music Director and Conductor

Oakland Ballet Company is truly privileged to dance to live orchestral accompaniment by the Oakland Symphony. Michael Morgan, the Music Director and Conductor for the beloved East Bay organization, brings to each performance his impeccable timing and decades of experience. Michael and his orchestra members make Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker” a truly magical event with their gorgeous interpretation of the Tchaikovsky score.

 


Don’t miss this magical holiday event! This year’s performances of Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker” will be held Saturday, December 23 at 1:00 and 5:00 pm and Sunday, December 24 at 1:00. Tickets are on sale now on-line or in person at the Paramount Theatre Box Office (Wednesdays from 11-3; Thursdays from 11-3; Fridays from 11-5:30; Saturdays from 11-3).

Photos:
Megan Terry as the Sugar Plum Fairy in Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. Photo by Dan Dion.
Damon Mahoney as Drosselmeyer. Photo by Dan Dion.

The Unique History of Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker”

The Nutcracker is a beloved holiday tradition for ballet lovers around the world. Every December, Bay Area residents flock to the historic Paramount Theatre in downtown Oakland to delight in the Oakland Ballet Company’s version of the classic tale. Internationally renowned choreographer Graham Lustig contributed his original work to the company’s repertory when he took the helm as Artistic Director in 2010.

Lustig’s version of The Nutcracker is based on the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann. In which a young girl named Marie receives a nutcracker doll from her Uncle Drosselmeyer. Overnight, her Nutcracker prince comes to life and battles overgrown mice. When The Nutcracker was first staged as a ballet, a second act was incorporated, set in a magical land of sweets. This fantasy is also included in Lustig’s version and is filled with colorful sets and costumes designed by Emmy and Tony award winning designer, Zach Brown.

Ramona Kelley as Marie. Photo by Dan Dion.

Lustig’s version was first performed at the American Repertory Ballet Theater in Princeton, New Jersey, where he served as Artistic Director from 1999-2010 and features unique variations on the traditional vignettes of the second act. In a nod to Chinese culture, an ornamental bird takes flight. Polichinelles dance in and out of the legs of a clown on stilts, as opposed to the more ubiquitous Mother Ginger character. Lustig wanted to retain the authenticity of the original story while creating innovative new characters.

Damon Mahoney and student cast members in the Polichinelle dance. Photo by Dan Dion.

Your Chance to See This Unique Production

Oakland Ballet Company will be presenting Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker, with live accompaniment by the Oakland Symphony and Piedmont East Bay Children’s Choir on Saturday, December 23 at 1:00 and 5:00 pm and Sunday, December 24 at 1:00 pm. On Friday, December 22, OBC invites more than 2,000 East Bay students to observe the dress rehearsal. (Learn more about our Discover Dance program and request tickets for your school.)

Tickets to this highly anticipated holiday event sell quickly, so be sure to purchase yours soon. Those who reserve their seats over the Thanksgiving holiday – November 23-30 – will receive 15% off the total ticket price.

Click here to purchase your tickets to Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker.

Tickets can also be purchased in person at the Paramount Theatre box office to save Ticketmaster fees.

Paramount Theatre Box Office Hours (beginning November 29):

Wednesdays: 11am-3pm
Thursdays: 11am-3pm
Fridays: 11am-5:30pm
Saturdays: 11am-3pm

Act I finale of Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. Photo by John Hefti.