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.
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.
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.
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 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.