OBC’s Discover Dance Program Creates a New Generation of Ballet Lovers

There are few experiences more thrilling to a small child than attending their first ballet. The elegant dancers, dramatic costumes, and soaring music inspire children to imagine worlds outside of their own and fill them with new hopes and dreams. Oakland Ballet Company (OBC) has long understood the positive impact that the arts can have on children and passionately pursues this goal through its Discover Dance educational program.

Every year, dancers from OBC visit schools throughout the East Bay to perform excerpts from upcoming ballets. A team of four dancers perform excerpts from upcoming performances, offer a short lesson on the history of ballet, and tell the students about what daily life is like as a professional dancer – such as their training regimen, diet, and how they maintain a healthy lifestyle. The dancers then engage the assembly of children in a live demonstration where volunteers from the audience collectively choreograph a dance on the spot.

 

The Discover Dance program started in 2010 and was the idea of Artistic Director Graham Lustig. When it began, the program revolved exclusively around The Nutcracker and brought the art of dance to approximately 5,000 children in Oakland Unified School District. Today, Discover Dance programming is currently offered in relation to the company’s Luna Mexicana, Nutcracker, and spring repertory seasons, and more than 15,000 students throughout eight East Bay school districts are exposed to the art of dance through in school assemblies and in theater student matinees each year.

 

 

Principals and teachers are delighted with the program, recognizing that the performances are often their students’ first exposure to ballet (or dance of any kind). OBC will continue to share this inspiring program with area schools in the years to come. In fact, the dancers are currently preparing to deliver Luna Mexicana and Nutcracker Discover Dance programs throughout the East Bay beginning October 18 through December 22!

To expose your little one to the magical world of ballet, purchase your tickets to on of OBC’s upcoming performances Luna Mexicana and Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker. If you’d like to learn more about the Discover Dance program, call 510-893-3132 or visit OBC’s website.

 

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Ballet and Baseball: A Match Made in Oakland

Two of the East Bay’s most beloved institutions are teaming up this Fall to bring you two opportunities to appreciate the community’s diverse offerings. Both Oakland Ballet Company and the Oakland A’s each recently celebrated their 50th year of contribution to the community of Oakland and will be collaborating to showcase both organizations in September.

Earlier this year, the professional dancers from Oakland Ballet Company donned baseball gear and pointe shoes to shoot footage for a commercial supporting the sports team. Last week, fans and spectators had two opportunities to enjoy the unlikely pairing of ballet and baseball in the Oakland Coliseum.

OBC Dance Calvin Thomas with Oakland Athletics Sean Doolittle and Josh Phegley.

On Saturday, September 23rd, fans, the Board of Directors, the staff and even a few of the dancers of Oakland Ballet Company cheered on their home baseball team, the Oakland A’s as they faced off against the Texas Rangers. Everyone attending enjoyed field reserve seats along with a special A’s t-shirt and Star Wars themed fireworks show. Plus, a portion of the ticket price was a tax deductible donation – supporting OBC’s “Discover Dance” educational program. Tickets for this year’s Night Out at the A’s sold out quickly so make sure you check our website for next year’s date!

This season, the company reprises Graham Lustig’s “Luna Mexicana,” a celebration of the Day of the Dead beginning October 27 through November 3 at theaters throughout the East Bay. OBC joined the A’s to honor Hispanic Heritage Month – offering a sneak peek of the “Luna Mexicana” program before the first pitch on Sunday, September 24.

For information about Oakland Ballet Company’s upcoming performances of “Luna Mexicana” or to purchase tickets, visit our website or call 510-893-3132.

Ballet Boot Camp Student Reflections

One of the many joys of providing dance and ballet training for young dancers is hearing about the impact that our training programs make on these young artists. Artistic Director Graham Lustig received this lovely, hand-drawn card from a Ballet Boot Camp student following the conclusion of this year’s program on July 28.

 

Dear Mr. Graham,

Thank you so much for a wonderful three weeks. I really enjoyed getting to learn about the stories of Coppelia, Raymonda, and Cinderella. I am so grateful that you helped me tap into my creative mind by having us choreograph dances.

You taught me how to let myself be one with the dance. I really liked how we were also able to name the dances we came up with. Thank you so much for being supportive of my ideas and helping me understand how to put dance to music.

Sincerely,

Roxy House
Ballet Boot Camp 2017 student

Making A Dance – Ballet Boot Camp 2017

A few dozen young dancers ages 7-17 gathered for three weeks in July for OBC’s annual Ballet Boot Camp summer intensive program at Hayward’s Ballet Petit studios. At the end of each week the students presented an “informance” – an informal showcase of what they had learned over the previous week during hours of dance technique and choreography classes.

As an audience member for two of the three “informances” I discovered that the students learned quite a lot in one week’s time. The lengthy and detailed choreography the students learned and created over essentially four and a half days was truly impressive!

Graham Lustig, Oakland Ballet’s Artistic Director, opened the showcase by recounting his days as a young dance student in his childhood home of West London. He described how his training included not just the rigorous drills in technique but also the creative challenge to “make a dance”. The challenge was not just one of devising choreography but also designing sets and titles. In other words, it was coming up with the whole package. Graham now passes this challenge on to the next generation of aspiring professional dancers and choreographers as an important part of the summer intensive program.

Stepping up to the “make a dance” challenge students performed dances they had both created and learned from that week’s featured repertoire – Raymonda – composed by Alexander Glazunov and choreographed by Marius Petipa for the Russian Imperial Ballet in 1898. Raymonda is the story of a Crusader knight seeking shelter, a young countess named Raymonda, and a mystical White Lady who warns the girl of impending danger. The danger soon appears in the form of Abderakhman who tries by charm, stealth and force to make Raymonda his own only to be thwarted by the Crusader knight (a disguised King Andre II of Hungary) and her beloved Jean de Brienne. It’s pretty standard nineteenth century ballet fare and was probably created to keep the legions dancers in the Imperial Ballet busy as it required a cast of hundreds. Today, Raymonda’s greatest hits are usually combined into a much shorter piece.

The Senior Level dancers were up first – performing the Cherry Blossom adagio, which required them to demonstrate fluid lines and graceful extensions. When asked post performance what was most difficult about the piece they unanimously said, “staying on one foot and staying together!”

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Next up the entire group – both Junior and Senior level students – performed a Czardas. The Czardas is a traditional Hungarian folk dance perhaps once used to entice young men into military service and now used to entice young dancers onto the stage with it’s slow start and quick whirling finish.

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The seniors returned with each dancer performing her own interpretation of a Raymonda solo. Mr. Lustig reminded us that young dancers – particularly women – are primarily taught to copy and replicate. The ability to put their own spin on a classic work represents these young women’s early steps as creative artists. These solos were followed by the showing of a piece choreographed by Oakland Ballet Company dancer, Coral Martin.

The junior group then premiered their funky fusion, which was just what the title implies – a fusion of traditional ballet and modern funk. This was, judging by the giggling that accompanied it, the week’s favorite.

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The afternoon ended with a question and answer segment. Q: What was the best part of the week? A: “the whole week!!” “everything!” “technique class”. Q: What was the most difficult? A: “hard on the feet” “lots of bandages”. Q: Why ballet? A: “It’s hard but it’s worth the work and effort it takes because ballet makes you feel so graceful.” “You are expressing yourself”.

By Carolyn Rinetti
Vice President, Oakland Ballet Board of Directors

Baseballet

And stand and squat and leap and jump. And stand and squat and leap and jump.

Split squad spring training workout or morning ballet class? The Oakland Athletics and the Oakland Ballet say why not both?

There is a reason beyond shared geography that the Oakland Athletics chose to film a broadcast commercial with the dancers of the Oakland Ballet Company. Yes, both are, to use the A’s slogan “rooted in Oakland”, but the team and the company have much more in common than just their East Bay urban home. Baseball and ballet share so much:

  • First, second and third base – first, second and third position.
  • Corp de ballet – Pitching corp.
  • Both demand agility, precise timing, strength and stamina.
  • Both require endless drill and are best performed by the young.
  • Both provide spectators with almost super human displays of speed, flair and coordination.
  • Both dancers and players push themselves to do something very, very physically challenging every single day they perform and to do it better each time. To hold the arabesque longer. To make the throw from right field faster and more accurate.  And the very best of them make it look so deceptively easy.
  • The careers of ballplayers and dancers are fleetingly short and both players and dancers are just one accidentally awkward landing, turn or slide away from a career ending injury.
  • Baseball and ballet both provide spectators with moments of sublime grace and scenes of high drama that are singular in their intensity.

The Oakland Ballet Company and the Oakland Athletics in particular have a lot in common. They both draw smaller crowds than their San Francisco counterparts. The players and the dancers are astonishingly talented, but they are not big names drawing big salaries. Most importantly, the ballet company and the team and their respective fans have tremendous spirit and enormous heart.

So you balletomanes go out and cheer the shortstop’s extension in turning the double play. You baseball fans come see “The Nutcracker” and watch the Cavalier execute a grand jeté that would snag a ground rule double  Let’s play baseballet!

By Carolyn Rinetti
Vice President, Oakland Ballet Board of Directors

Announcing The Academy at Oakland Ballet

On September 6th, Oakland Ballet Company will launch its expanded dance training program, The Academy at Oakland Ballet.

2014-07-26 OBC Boot Camp 004The Academy at OBC has grown out of an increased interest for ballet classes at a pre-professional level in the East Bay. For the past 3 years, OBC’s ballet training program has been limited to 3 levels of ballet instruction for ages 6-14, all on Saturday mornings. This fall, the staff at OBC is thrilled to be adding 3 additional levels of training to the program as well as offering classes 2 days/week for the upper levels!

This program offers a wonderful opportunity for dancers of all types to learn and practice the art of ballet – whether you are completely new to ballet, enjoy dancing merely as a recreational activity, or you are an aspiring pre-professional dancer looking to  train with one of the Bay Area’s leading professional dance companies.

DSC00119“At The Academy at OBC, students focus on learning and honing the fundamentals of classical ballet while also increasing self-confidence and expression through dance. It is important to us to provide a fun and nurturing environment with a lot of individual attention for each student,” says OBC Director of Operations, Leah Curran. “Many of our students also audition and are chosen to participate in OBC’s annual production of Graham Lustig’s ‘The Nutcracker’ at the Paramount Theatre. It’s is a wonderful opportunity for young dancers to work closely with OBC’s artistic staff and professional dancers and learn about all of the work that goes into presenting a professional dance production. It’s an opportunity I wish I would have had as a young dancer!”

Students will study with Miss Vivian Aragon, who holds a BFA in Dance from Purchase College, State University of New York and is a seasoned ballet instructor and dancer in the Bay Area.

Classes at The Academy are offered two days per week for aspiring dancers ages 3 and up. For more information on classes at The Academy at Oakland Ballet, please visit http://www.oaklandballet.org/wp/theacademyatobc/2014-2015session or email theacademy@oaklandballet.org.

 

 

 

Oakland-esque Spring Repertory Program: Four Choreographers Inspired by Oakland

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Oakland Ballet dancer, Stephanie Salts, working with Turffeinz dancer, Noh Justice

On April 7, 2014, ten dancers, from the Bay Area to New York City, converged in the heart of Oakland to begin preparing for Oakland Ballet’s spring repertory production, Oakland-esque. For nearly 9 hours each day, these talented artists have been vigorously rehearsing four world premieres that will debut on the Malonga Casquelourd stage this weekend, May 16-17. While each of the choreographers has their own individual voice and distinct style, they all share one common thread as they began creating for this exciting program. All of the works on this program have ties to, or inspiration from, Oakland’s local art scene. Read on for a teaser about the four Oakland-inspired works premiering May 16-17 in Oakland-esque.

Sonya Delwaide – Rocky Road:

Starting off the program is a work by local choreographer, Sonya Delwaide. While Sonya may be a native of Quebec, she planted her roots in the Bay Area in 1996 and is currently an Associate Professor in the Dance Department at Mills College. Her new work, Rocky Road, starts off the Oakland-esque program on the right foot, or in this case, wheel. Oakland’s very own AXIS Dance Company will be sharing the stage with OBC artists to perform Sonya’s piece – which is set in the era of the Great Depression. Using her quirky sense of fun, Sonya’s piece gives the feel of a silent movie, with a strong plot line that can speak for itself without using words. Incorporating the OBC dancers with AXIS Dance Company’s dancers’ sometimes wheelchair-bound vocabulary, this tasty treat has no boundaries. You will also enjoy the Jazz styling of longtime Oakland resident, Earl “Fatha” Hines, to coast you through this work.

Robert Moses – TIP:

The world premiere of Robert Moses’ TIP will be the second work in this program and his second creation for the company since Graham has taken over Artistic Directorship of Oakland Ballet. Robert’s piece is yet another example of his seamless work that can often be seen on the other side of the bay. While watching this dance, you experience a clear sense of relationship between the dancers. At the same time, you may also feel that this work can change direction at any moment. At one time, it may seem as if the dancers are working together. Then in the blink of an eye, this feeling changes to a sense of tension and explosiveness. TIP is accompanied by some great music created by Oakland-raised Bass Guitarist Larry Graham, Jr.

Molissa Fenley:

Molissa’s new creation, Redwood Park, is inspired by Oakland’s local park of the same name. Molissa, or Mo as the dancers affectionately call her, is another local choreographer and faculty member at Mills College. While Molissa has been recovering from a knee injury, she surely didn’t have any issues hiking around and gaining inspiration from this park that holds the largest remaining natural stand of coast redwood trees. Mo is known for her stamina works that are founded within her strong modern training. This work is no exception, as you will see four of OBC’s company men scaling this hilly, yet visually picturesque work. An extra treat to enjoy as you ascend into the hills will be live music created especially for this piece by local composer Joan Jeanrenaud, performed live by Mills Alumnus Nava Dunkelman and Anna Wray.

Graham Lustig:

While Graham may not be local to the Bay Area, he is no stranger to the community. As Oakland Ballet’s Artistic Director, he has been an integral part in assuring that the vast Oakland arts community continues to have a voice that includes dance. To round out this program, Graham has created a work that takes community to a new level. At the suggestion of Oakland Mayor, Jean Quan, OBC has partnered with several local artists to inspire, and take part in, his new dance creation. Two dancers with the YouTube viral, BART popular dance group, the Turffeinz, Gary “Noh-Justice” Morgan and Rayshawn “Looney” Thompson, have been the inspiration for this work, and will be sharing the spotlight alongside Oakland Ballet Company dancer. The Turffeinz specialty, “turfing,” is a locally cultivated style of dance and an acronym for Taking Up Room on the Floor. It originated as a way to represent the different “turfs” that each dancer is from. Throughout Turfland, you will hear songs that were created by Oakland artists and have a unique Oakland flavor. Costumes painted with vibrant colors by local artist Samuel Renaissance add to the experience. Expect to see some fluid footwork that often ends up on the tips of the artists’ sneakers and all of the dancers of Oakland-esque dancers taking up space on our stage.

The dancers have been working very hard rehearsing these works, collaborating with incredible artists, and performing at outreach events around the community. While some of the dancers are not local, it has been heartwarming to see everyone embrace and become a part of Oakland’s very important arts community. We can’t wait to see you this coming weekend to share what Oakland Ballet, and Oakland, is all about.

Performances are:

Friday, May 16th at 8 PM

Saturday May 17th at 2 PM & 8 PM

 

Interview with Patience Gordon, OBC Apprentice

Waltz of the Flowers_Graham Lustig's The Nutcracker_2013Patience Gordon is a young, Bay Area-raised, dancer trained at Ballet Petit in Hayward, CA. Following her participation in last year’s summer intensive workshop, “Ballet Boot Camp,”  Artistic Director Graham Lustig presented her with the opportunity to join our 2013 production of Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker” as an apprentice.  Patience rose to the occasion beautifully and we were proud to include her among the Oakland Ballet Company dancers appearing on stage at the Paramount Theatre this past December.  After the performances, Patience wrote the following letter to Mr. Lustig and we would like to share it with you. Following her experience, Patience realized that she wants to pursue a professional career in dance and is in the process of auditioning for various training programs around the country, including the Rock School for Dance Education and Ballet Arizona.  We wish her all the best in her future dance endeavors!

(Patience Gordon appears in the above photo – third dancer from the right. Photo by David DeSilva.)

Dear Mr. Lustig,

I really cannot begin to say how grateful I am for such an opportunity. Looking back, being a part of OBC has definitely helped me grow, not only as a person and dancer but also an artist.

The company dancers are all such beautiful and talented people. It didn’t take very long for me to see how much more experience they have, but after a couple of days it stopped being intimidating and by watching them, I started to work even harder.

Learning the choreography was an experience in itself. After performing in the same Nutcracker at Ballet Petit for the last 12 years, it was interesting to learn a different version. The various roles were all challenging in different ways, and I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to learn so many different parts!

One of the things that impressed me the most was the feeling of teamwork and the company’s culture of “no small dancers.” Even though I was the youngest and least experienced, I didn’t feel overlooked or ignored. I felt very included. We were a team, artists coming together to be a part of a magnificent show, and I think that is what’s so special about dance; it brings people together.

Thank you again for the amazing experience!

Sincerely, Patience

Behind Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker” – Spotlight on Valerie Lee Ow of J. Miller Flowers

Oakland Ballet Company is pleased to bring you: “Behind Graham Lustig’s ‘The Nutcracker’” as part of our “Behind Oakland Ballet” blog.  Throughout December, we will be posting interviews with professional dancers, staff, volunteers, and superfans!  Make sure to check out these fun, behind-the-scenes features and learn why Oakland Ballet Company is so loved by our community.  

flowersJ. Miller Flowers is a full-service floral company and have been located in Oakland for over 60 years.  They create distinctive flower arrangements, European bouquets, English garden baskets, exotic tropical displays and high-style arrangements for every occasion.  Valerie Lee Ow shares with us her experience of partnering with Oakland Ballet Company to provide our flowers.

How did you originally get involved with Oakland Ballet Company?
We grew up in the Bay Area and have attended the Ballet for over 30 years. I originally became involved through my parents who were long time supporters of the Oakland Ballet and Oakland Symphony.

How long have you provided the flowers for OBC’s Nutcracker production?
We take great pride in the fact that we have been designing and supporting the Oakland Ballet for over 35 years.

Why is OBC important to Oakland?
OBC is important to Oakland because it gives the community an appreciation of the arts, and a magnificent way for men , women and children to express themselves.

What is your favorite OBC ballet you have seen?
Without a doubt the Nutcracker has been a favorite for as long as can remember.  I attended as a young child, brought my children – who are now college students, and now they attend with their
friends.  Three generations of my family have enjoyed the Oakland Ballet at the Paramount Theatre. I look forward to designing the fresh flower bouquets that are presented at the end of each performance.  I take great pride in my work and knowing that they enhance my favorite holiday show.

Do you have any tips for ordering flowers for dancers during Nutcracker season – a favorite bouquet that you like to recommend to customers?
You may call and order flowers directly from us on Piedmont Ave in Oakland.  We are a family owned business celebrating our 44th year in business this year.  Additionally we offer balloons, plush animals  and chocolate for your favorite ballerinas and dancers.  You can pick up on Piedmont Ave or have it delivered directly to the Paramount  Theatre. 510-658-0613 or http://www.jmillerflowers.com

To see the J. Miller Flower arrangements that our ballerinas receive for Graham Lustig’s “The Nutcracker”, get your tickets here.