By Diane Claytor

Diablo Ballet turns 25 years old in March, 2019. From now until that auspices date, there will be periodic blog posts taking you from the very beginning, when this incredible company was a mere idea, to the gala celebrating this remarkable accomplishment. 


The dream to create a ballet company in the suburbs of San Francisco was about to become a reality. But first, there was much to do!

We know there are many companies that famously started in one room… the first Apple computer was developed in the Jobs family garage; Jeff Bezos created Amazon in his garage and Facebook began in Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard dorm room. Starting a non-profit ballet company is quite a different story. After all, dancers need to be interviewed, auditioned and hired; rehearsal and performing venues secured; costumes and music obtained; dances selected learned and paid for; and a marketing plan created and implemented. All of this takes time and money…funds Diablo Ballet didn’t have. Even though there was a name, an artistic director, a small board of directors and seed money by late 1992, there was so much more that needed to get done. And it took more than a year of hard, dedicated work before Diablo Ballet could debut as Walnut Creek’s very own professional ballet company.

To begin with, co-founder Lauren Jonas admits she had very few administrative skills. “I didn’t even know how to use a computer at that time.” she confesses. She was a professional dancer, and had been for many years. She had fallen in love with ballet at a very young age and was totally passionate about it. As she revealed in a 2017 interview, “I just wanted to dance more than anything.”

And dance she did. Starting right out of high school and continuing for more than 10 years, Lauren, who trained with Marin Ballet, danced with the Milwaukee, Oakland and Southwest ballets, and toured with the Moscow Ballet. So obviously she knew ballet…knew about ballet companies, knew how they work and knew how she’d want her own company to be (and, conversely, not be). 

Ash Habibullah, who started as Lauren’s student and quickly became her friend and staunch supporter now became her mentor, teaching her how to successfully run a company. 

Ash, 18 years Lauren’s senior, came to California in 1969 from his native Pakistan to go through the graduate engineering program at UC Berkeley. Several years after achieving this goal, he founded Computers and Structures, Inc. (CSI), a structural and earthquake engineering software company.

Gina Domenichelli Illingworth, one of Diablo Ballet’s original founding dancers

In late ’92-early ’93, CSI was a small company, but Ash had attracted people from all over the world to work for him, “the best of the best,” Lauren noted. So that became the philosophy of Diablo Ballet. “We would form a small company of 8-10 dancers,” Lauren said. “They would come from different parts of the world and all be experienced, having danced with major companies; we weren’t looking for young, inexperienced dancers just completing their training.

“I wanted the audience to get to know the dancers on a more intimate, personal level, and because it was a small organization, the audience could hopefully identify with them,” Lauren continued. She also wanted a positive working environment with “no drama. And I wanted the dancers to feel special. That was our premise then, as it still is today.”

Lauren acknowledges that Ash taught her just about everything when it comes to running a company. He taught her protocol, how to write grant proposals, how to be on a board, how to deal with people, how to lead an organization. 

Ash, whose business has grown considerably and today is a highly successful international company, has many employees who have been with him since the beginning. He mentored Lauren on how to be the kind of leader that others want to work with. Although Lauren reported that she innately knew how to work well with others, she said Ash “really taught me how to be a leader, how to put others first, how to deal with management and personnel issues. I know much of it is common sense,” she said, “but he really did teach me so much. I am completely indebted to him.”

“Basically,” Lauren commented, Ash “not only gave me a business education, but he taught me how to inspire people.”

Lauren believes you can have talent and you can have drive, “but I feel it takes somebody from a higher place to believe in you and take a chance on you in order for you to get to the next level. Ash did that for me.”

An ad, featuring Lauren Jonas, in the Feb. 25, 1994 Contra Costa Times announcing Diablo Ballet’s debut

The easiest part, Lauren said, was finding dancers. Having danced professionally for so many years, she, of course knew many dancers; once she started getting the word out that she was forming a company, “it was actually quite easy,” she reported. “People were really excited about getting involved in something new and, being a small company, dancers knew they would have more exposure than with many other larger companies.”

Lauren, Ash and Lawrence (Larry) Pech started meeting with local ballet schools, asking for advice and support. She and Ash designed and distributed posters, brochures and flyers, trying to “build the brand,” Lauren said. They bought ads for the back page of the Diablo Arts Magazine announcing ‘Diablo Ballet coming soon.’  “We were doing everything we could to build excitement,” Lauren noted.

Lauren Jonas and Lawrence Pech posing for marketing materials promoting Diablo Ballet’s premier performance. 

Along with Larry, who had been a principal dancer with the SF Ballet and was now serving as Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren picked ballets for their debut performance that “we thought would be exciting.”

They did and it was. As the Contra Costa Times wrote on March 12, 1994, two nights after the gala premier of Diablo Ballet, “Diablo Ballet debut delivers on the dream.”

Watch this space. In coming weeks, we’ll tell you about that very first performance — and many more details about this amazing company.

By Diane Claytor

Diablo Ballet will turn 25 years old in March, 2019. From now until that auspices date, there will be periodic blog posts taking you from the very beginning, when this incredible company was a mere idea, to the gala celebrating this remarkable accomplishment. 

At the Beginning…

Once upon a time, in a small suburban community, there was a fair maiden, a kind and generous fairy godfather/mentor, a dream that came true and a happily ever after. (Fortunately, there was no villain or evil stepmother, although there likely were some naysayers.)

Taking a few liberties, we all know that’s the basic premise of most fairy tales. Diablo Ballet is one of those fairy tales….only it’s real. The fair maiden is, of course, the much loved Lauren Jonas, co-founder and artistic director; Ashraf (Ash) Habibullah is the very kind and generous mentor. The happily ever after will be, in 2019, 25 years old. In today’s world of failing arts organizations and broken dreams, this silver anniversary is an accomplishment that can’t be applauded enough.

It was 1992. A gallon of gas cost $1.05; the top song was Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You; the biggest movies included Aladdin and Batman Returns; and MTV introduced The Real World reality TV show. Lauren, who had been dancing with the Southwest Ballet Company in New Mexico prior to its shutting down, returned to her Bay Area home and was teaching ballet and guest dancing with local companies.

Lauren Jonas, the dancer

Lauren was teaching an open ballet class in Berkeley.  Ash, who had founded his own tech company years earlier and is a true renaissance man who strongly believes in the arts, was taking jazz lessons. “It was suggested that I take a ballet class because it would improve my jazz,” Ash remembers. So he did. And as luck would have it, Lauren was his teacher. 

At the same time, Ash was pursuing photography as a hobby and was doing a lot of dance photography. Ash, the student, asked Lauren, his teacher, if she’d like some dance shots; she, of course, said yes. “All professional dancers need dance shots and they are typically very expensive,” Lauren said. She brought some other dancers with her on the day of the shoot. It was a win-win (obviously, in more ways than one). Ash got more experience photographing dancers and the dancers, in return, got beautiful — and free — photos.

Lauren Jonas and Ashraf Habibullah in the early days of Diablo Ballet

Lauren and Ash soon became more than teacher-student; they became good friends. Attending a performance together, watching dancers from the Moscow Ballet at Walnut Creek’s recently opened Lesher Center, Lauren and Ash saw how excited the suburban audience was to enjoy professional dancers in their own neighborhood. They didn’t have to travel to San Francisco; they could actually experience beauty and culture close to home. So Lauren and Ash started talking: wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a professional ballet company here in the suburbs.

The idea was cast. The talks continued. The dream was about to take flight.

Lauren brought in other professionals from the dance world to help formulate ideas: Lawrence Pech, at the time, a principal dancer with the SF Ballet; and Sally Streets, founder of the Berkeley Ballet Theatre and a mentor to Lauren. Ash provided seed money. He talked with Walnut Creek’s mayor, who was very supportive and offered some financial help from the city. (“With no years behind you,” Lauren explained, “you aren’t able to apply for grants. It’s really hard to raise funds.”) Paperwork to create a non-profit organization was filed. A small Board of Directors was formed. Potential names were tossed around. “We knew if the company was going to be embraced by the community, we’d need a name associated with the area,” Lauren noted. 

Diablo Ballet was created!  A dream was becoming a reality. But it would be more than a year before Diablo Ballet made its debut.

Watch this space. In coming weeks, we’ll tell you about that very first performance — and many more details about this amazing company.

By Diane Claytor 

For 24 years, Diablo Ballet has been bringing the wonderful and beautiful world of dance to audiences. And as the new season is about to start, audiences will again see what thousands of others have enjoyed over the years: incredible, athletic, mesmerizing dancers performing in both classical ballets that have been around for decades and new, innovative contemporary works that excite and thrill ballet lovers of all ages.

A Swingin’ Holiday

As it has for the past six years, Diablo Ballet debuts its current season and kicks off the festive holiday months all at the same time, with the annual favorite, A Swingin’ Holiday.

A Swingin Holiday was created in 2012 by Sean Kelly, formerly a principal dancer with the Houston Ballet, then a dancer/dance captain in several Broadway musicals and currently the Associate Choreographer/Resident Director of the first national tour of An American in Paris. In an interview with Sean back in 2012, when he was just beginning to create A Swingin’ Holiday, he expressed his excitement and hopes for this new dance. “I hope to include my classical background and using the beautiful classical training of the dancers, as well as melding a lot of the Broadway experience I’ve been involved with…take great music such as that played by Duke Ellington and use the swing style of movement combined with classical ballet…It should be great fun and include a lot of collaborative group energy.” It appears he succeeded!

A Swingin’ Holiday has been called “a wonderful fusion of styles (ballet, jive, social dance, jazz…”) by; it has also been referred to by as “a new holiday tradition.” The ballet is set to the exhilarating music of the 30’s and 40’s, with holiday favorites by legends Glenn Miller, Nat “King” Cole, and Wynton Marsalis, in addition to Ellington, as well as jazzy renditions of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Suite.” This upbeat music is performed by the sixteen- piece Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra under the Musical Direction of Greg Sudmeier.

Last month, Sean Kelly took time from his busy schedule in San Francisco while with the touring company of the Tony-winning Broadway musical An American in Paris and trekked out to Diablo Ballet’s Walnut Creek studio to introduce and teach a new section – the March from “The Nutcracker,” set to a swing arrangement — for this sixth annual performance. Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, was thrilled that he was able to do this. “It was so sweet of him to come out and create a new dance for us,” she exclaimed. “He had it all worked out and notated when he walked into the studio.”

As wrote, “The holidays are about memory and nostalgia; those favorite tunes, childhood dreams, family traditions….the holiday mood is amped up with impressive swing flips and aerials…A Swingin’ Holiday, with its cheerfulness and sweetness…” is the perfect way to kick off the holiday season.

Valse Fantaisie

Also included in the program is the classic masterpiece, Valse Fantaisie by George Balanchine, originally created for the New York City Ballet and set to a beautiful score by Mikhail Glinka. Called “a small gem,” in a New York Times review, Valse Fantaisie, the reviewer noted, is a “windswept pattern of pure dancing, attuned to the joyfulness of its waltz rhythms…With its dancers who never stop moving and who constantly run or leap in and out with great swiftness, Valse Fantaisie seems suddenly to distill the essence of Balanchine’s style: speed and momentum.”

Marina Eglevsky, a famous dancer in her own right who grew up backstage at the New York City Ballet and knew Balanchine quite well, is staging this ballet, as she did when Diablo Ballet first performed it in 1995.

Marina is the daughter of the famous dancer, Andre Eglevsky, who spent seven years dancing under Balanchine at the New York City Ballet. But according to Marina, her father and Balanchine were far more than simply colleagues, or dancer/ choreographer. “They were very close friends,” Marina said. In fact, when her father could no longer dance following a heartattack, Balanchine gave him a plethora of ideas. “Mr. Balanchine [as Marina refers to him] suggested my dad start his own company, open his own school, teach with Balanchine at his school.” When Andre Eglevsky took Balanchine up on his suggestions and opened the Eglevsky Ballet Company in New York, “Mr. Balanchine sent kids from his school, dancers from his company and even gave my father ballets to perform,” Marina said.

Often times, when her father was asked to stage a Balanchine ballet, Marina went with him and learned the art of staging. “Dancing and staging are very different,” Marina explained. When Balanchine passed away in 1983, Marina was asked by his Trust to stage some of his ballets, with Valse Fantaisie being one of them.

When asked to describe Valse Fantaisie, Marina’s love for this ballet is apparent. ”It’s abstract with a lot of beautiful, lyrical dancing,” Marina stated. “It’s very typical of the type of dancing Mr. Balanchine loved: continual movement with no breaks.” Marina explained that Balanchine didn’t like breaking up the dancing, so he wanted bows only at the end of a dance, not in the middle. She continued describing this ballet: “It’s a beautiful piece. The music is wonderful and, of course, his choreography is beautiful.”


According to, Valse Fantaisie in B minor, composed by Glinka, exists in three versions: “the initial piano version from 1839, the small orchestra version of 1845, and the large orchestra version of the score written shortly before the composer’s death in 1856. The formal outlines of the work are essentially the same in all three versions — a quiet start, an accelerating development, and an ecstatic conclusion — but the scope of the work grew larger as scoring grew richer. Glinka originally entitled the work Valse when it was a piano piece. As the work became larger and more opulent in its first version for orchestra, he called it Valse-Fantaisie, and as the work’s tempo increased in the second version for orchestra, he called it Valse-Scherzo. As with nearly all of Glinka’s larger orchestral works, the themes and orchestration are of crucial significance in the development of the piece; that is, Glinka does not so much develop the softly descending initial theme as he repeats it in ever-more-shimmering and voluptuous orchestral colors. The result is one of his most beguiling and enchanting larger orchestral works.”

Valse-Fantaisie New York City Ballet ©2010 Paul Kolnik

Marina said Balanchine “loved this music so much, he actually choreographed it four times and, if I remember correctly, wanted to do it again because he loved working with it. The first time he choreographed it, he didn’t like the result and canned it. I don’t think anyone knows that. So this version, which premiered in 1953, is actually the second one he created. Another version was done sometime between this one and the 60’s, but I don’t think many people know it.” The final version premiered in 1967. Two of the 4 versions are the ballets still performed today, although, as both Marina and Lauren Jonas noted, this one – which is danced by 3 women and 1 man — is typically performed less frequently. The more frequently danced version has 5 couples. “They’re totally different ballets,” Marina stated. “It’s the same music but because he loved it so much, Balanchine created different choreography.”

No One Does It Like You

Resident Choreographer Robert Dekkers was described on as a man with “an expansive personality, a broad smile and a million-plus ideas in his head.” One of those “ideas” — No One Does It Like You, originally created in 2009 for Arizona’s NovaBallet, will make its Diablo Ballet premier at this season opener. Robert said he created it for himself and Raychel Weiner, a dancer he worked with frequently. “It was a last minute addition to the program,” he noted. With time available in the NovaBallet program, Robert was asked if he could develop a duet. “I had been listening to an indie rock band, Department of Eagle, and was super motivated by their music.”

Robert describes this touching duet as romantic. “It’s about love, relationships, a slice of life. There’s a ladder, as if perhaps the couple had been painting the house that day. They go through what might be an argument, then on to a conversation and then to rekindling their love for one another. Basically, it’s about love.”

This is only the third time No One Does It Like You will be performed and the first time it will be performed by Diablo Ballet dancers. “It’s fun to see other dancers make it their own,” Robert said.

Ballet vs. Swing

Many dance aficionados may be surprised to see one program featuring both ballet and swing dancing, let alone one ballet showcasing both. After all, these two dance forms are just about as different as night and day:

  • Ballet originated in Renaissance Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries and was developed in France, Russia and England. Swing dancing began in the 1920’s when the Black community in Harlem, NY used African dance moves to create the Lindy Hop to contemporary jazz sounds.
  • Ballet, typically performed by companies, is centered on the dancer. It is a more individualistic art form. Swing, which is one of many dance forms that fall under the umbrella of Ballroom Dancing, is always performed by couples.
  • Ballet is all about the art and requires considerable discipline in the way dancers train for years to develop their abilities. Swing, while it absolutely has its own defined steps, is far more improvisational and stylistically flexible.
  • Ballet is most often performed to classical music; Swing is performed to modern music, such as jazz and the big band sound.
  • Ballet is typically a performance dance, revealing a story and performed in theaters and concert halls. Swing is far more social and danced in nightclubs, parties and dance halls.
  • Ballet dancers typically have upright posture, with arms lifted upward and feet raised on toes; Swing dancers move all parts of the body in an exaggerated manner and typically flatten their feet.  According to, “One similarity between the two forms of dance is their popularity. Both attract enthusiastic participants and are practiced worldwide. Furthermore, the skills of ballet and ballroom dancers are similar in some ways. In order to be successful, both require highly developed senses of timing and rhythm, as well as the kinesthetic awareness that allows them to keep track of the movements of other dancers.”

For tickets to Diablo Ballet’s November program, A Swingin’ Holiday and More, please click here.

by Diane Claytor

The outside temperature may give no indication that autumn is right around the corner, but stores are touting Halloween products and colder weather clothing, reminding us that it, will, indeed, be here before we know it. And with the fall season, comes more – and better — adult entertainment options: new TV shows, movies for audiences that don’t include young children and, perhaps the best yet, more cultural events to warm the soul and bring beauty back into our lives.

A Swingin’ Holiday photo: Bilha Sperling

Amongst those wonderful entertainment choices is Diablo Ballet’s 24th season, set to open its curtain on Nov. 10. Audiences will once again have the opportunity to “Experience the Power of Dance” while they cheer A Swingin’ Holiday and More, the perfect way to kick off the holiday season.  This program, performing at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theater, features three stunning ballets, including Diablo Ballet’s very popular, A Swingin’ Holiday by Broadway choreographer Sean Kelly, currently Resident Director of An American in Paris. (In fact, Kelly, in the Bay Area for the San Francisco run of his very popular play, set a new dance for this 2017 rendition of A Swingin’ Holiday.) Dancers will perform while the 16-piece Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra plays lively music from the 30’s and 40’s, as well as jazzy versions of holiday favorites as well as music from The Nutcracker. This will definitely get audience members in the mood for the winter season and all the excitement and beauty that come with it.

Valse Fantaisie

Also included in the program is the classic masterpiece, Valse Fantaisie by George Balanchine, originally created in 1953 and set to a beautiful score by Mikhail Glinka. Called “a small gem,” in a New York Times review, Valse Fantaisie, the reviewer noted, is a “windswept pattern of pure dancing, attuned to the joyfulness of its waltz rhythms…With its dancers who never stop moving and who constantly run or leap in and out with great swiftness, Valse Fantaisie seems suddenly to distill the essence of Balanchine’s style: speed and momentum.”

The third repertoire in Diablo Ballet’s season opener is the touching duet, No One Does It Like You, choreographed by Resident Choreographer Robert Dekkers, set to music by Department of Eagles.

Performances are Friday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 11 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. Each performance is followed by a complimentary dessert and coffee reception where audience members can meet, mingle and talk with the incredibly talented dancers.  Tickets may be purchased online at

The rest of Diablo Ballet’s 24th season is equally stunning and electrifying.

Once the holidays are over and you’re able to relax and refresh, you can begin the New Year with Harmonious Beauty, the second program of the season. Val Caniparoli’s romantic Ballroom Pas de Deux from A Cinderella Story, set to the music of the prolific Richard Rogers, will transport you to a magical time and place. A 2015 review in the San Francisco Chronicle called this ballet “genuinely charming.”

Royal Winnipeg Ballet performs Cinderella’s Ballroom Pas de Deux

Danielle Rowe, who danced with the Australian Ballet for 10 years as a principal before joining the prestigious Nederlands Dans Theater, is creating a new and exciting ballet for Diablo Ballet, which will debut during the Feb. 2-3 Harmonious Beauty program. Also being presented, back by popular demand, is the award-winning film Libera by Walter Yamazaki, described as “a short film examining the dancer in two worlds – the world of constraint and the world of infinite freedom – and how they must strive to find balance between the two…” wrote about Libera, stating, it “introduced the dancers in a far more intimate and personal way – an explorationof identity, of life purpose, of BE-ing and dance-ness.”

Robert Dekkers’ Milieu photo: Berenger Zyla

Finally, Mileu, the exotic and mysterious ballet by Robert Dekkers, set to a live performance of a Daniel Berkman-commissioned score, will be performed. A review of Mileu on said Diablo Ballet’s dancers displayed “fearless athleticism as well as drop-dead chic,” and stated that “there is a humanity and biting wit to Dekkers’ work that sets it apart from others in a similar genre.”

Ray Tilton and Amanda Farris perform the Black Swan Pas de Deux photo: Aris Bernales

A Gala 24th anniversary celebration is set for March 22, 2018 at the Lesher Center for the Arts. This program features the Marcus Petipa’s Black Swan Pas de Deux and Coda from Swan Lake, described by the Royal Opera House as “an iconic moment from a ballet that has come to define the art form.” The celebration will continue with the dramatic Solas by Salvadore Aiello, former Royal Winnipeg Ballet dancer and choreographer, with music by Heitor Villa-Lobosa, considered by many as the “single most significant creative figure in 20th century Brazillian art music.” Award-winning Canadian choreographer Sonya Delwaide’s Trait d’union, Robert Dekkers’ From: Now On and a new film by Walter Yamazaki in collaboration with composer Justin Levitt, round out this incredibly festive evening.

Celebrated Masters concludes this incredible 24th season May 4-5, 2018 with a world premier of Robert Dekkers’ The Red Shoes, an imaginative interpretation of the timeless fairy tale; the stylish Quartet from Val Caniparoli’s Stolen Moments; and the lyrical Norwegian Moods by Lew Christensen, set to the music of Igor Stravinsky and originally commissioned for the San Francisco Ballet.

Every performance of Diablo Ballet features live music and is followed by a complimentary dessert and coffee reception where audience members can meet, mingle and talk with the amazingly talented dancers.

Tickets for individual performances may be purchased by going online to, calling 925-943-7469 or going to the Lesher Center ticket office in Walnut Creek. Or better yet, become a Diablo Ballet Subscriber, receiving reserved tickets for each of the four different repertoires, invitations to the popular Subscriber Lounge, open studio rehearsals and working rehearsals and a very special VIP card, giving you terrific offers to local restaurants and businesses; The VIP Card also provides special offers to attend performances of Broadway tours presented by SHN at the Orpheum Theatre and Golden Gate Theatre in San Francisco. To become a Diablo Ballet Subscriber, call 925-943-1775.

By Diane Claytor

Las Lomas High School (Walnut Creek) graduating senior Caroline Fuller recently wrote her senior paper on this very topic. A former volunteer with Diablo Ballet, Caroline interviewed Lauren Jonas, the Ballet’s co-founder, as she researched her paper. When asked, Lauren said she “loves what Caroline wrote” and does, indeed, agree with much of Caroline’s conclusions.

“It’s an interesting time in ballet companies,” Lauren noted. “Getting people to spend their precious dollars on a new work, an unknown repertoire, something other than classical ballet, can be challenging.” But Lauren also believes that New York Ballet’s Misty Copeland and other dancers that are bringing more athletics to the dance form are bringing a new awareness of ballet to younger audiences. Caroline, who will be attending Occidental College in Southern California in the fall, represents the audience we’re trying to cultivate, Lauren said. Below is Caroline’s excellent senior paper.

Pointe Shoes and Tutus: A Fashion of the Past?

By Caroline Fuller

A man and a woman stand onstage. The music rises and the woman lifts her weight onto a single toe. With a paradoxical mix of grace and strength, the two, soon joined by others, leap and turn. As a dancer’s pink satin-clad foot reaches toward the sky and her muscular lower leg touches the side of her face, my own body aches. Hamstrings, feet, shoulders, and brain scream in protest of something that they know should not be humanly possible and yet is made to look so effortless. At the same time, my heart yearns with the dancer’s plight, the story she is telling with only her body.

Although I have never taken more than a beginner-level ballet class, I feel an intrinsic connection to ballet. Whether it is a longing for grace of my own or an admiration of ballet’s finesse and grandeur, the art form speaks to me on a personal level. Still, I have often downplayed my love of ballet in fear of judgment from my peers. For as much as I love ballet, I realize that there are large numbers of people who either know nothing about it or turn their nose up at it in disdain.

Because of this, I began to wonder whether ballet was a fashion of the past. A fellow teenager’s reaction upon hearing that I had taken a hip-hop class contained genuine awe and intrigue, while my telling of the ballet class I had attended was received politely, yet with distinctly less interest. Even in the dance world itself, ballet seems somewhat passé. Young dancers-in-training act as though ballet class is a chore, necessary for technical training, but unexciting and much less preferred than contemporary or jazz. Over and over again, I was confronted with ballet’s tribulations in modern society, leading me to my question: Is classical ballet a dying art form?

Dancer Marie Taglioni, about 1850.

When starting my research, I was pleased to find an explanation for my feeling of society’s increasing discomfort with ballet. In the 18th century, Louis XIV linked ballet to aristocracy and class while helping it grow into a full-fledged art form with distinct conventions and technique. Since then, ballet has retained many of its aristocratic ideals, but perhaps these ideals are contributing to its modern unpopularity. Louis’s airs and manners of the high court are no longer as esteemed as they once were. Hence, Jennifer Homans, author of Apollo’s Angels: A History of Ballet, explains that ballet has become associated with “dead white men and society ladies.”

Today, equality is touted as society’s aim, and ballet, an art of competition, is struggling to keep up. Traditionally, aspiring dancers go through years of intense training before they fight for coveted professional positions. However, there is a growing belief that dancers with specialized training should not cause those with more limited resources to be overlooked. What Homans terms the “we are all dancers now” mentality may be hurting the level of professional dance. However, I believe that this push for equality can only benefit ballet’s appeal in mainstream culture. A mesh of history, grandeur, and modern day ideals of equality will allow ballet to be more widely accepted.

On a rainy afternoon, I entered a business complex in downtown Walnut Creek to meet with Lauren Jonas, Diablo Ballet’s artistic director. Jonas opened her office door with a kind smile, welcoming me into the cozy room. Past and future performance posters and flyers lined the walls around our two comfortable chairs…Jonas sat down to talk with me, stating her belief that now, more than ever before, ballet and dance as a whole are at the forefront of mainstream society.

American Ballet Theatre’s Misty Copeland

For example, Misty Copeland, American Ballet Theatre’s first African-American principal dancer, is a well-known public figure. Her contribution to ballet’s diversification is lauded all over the media. Following her signing as ABT’s first black principal in the prestigious company’s history, Copeland could be found on talk show interviews and magazine covers. Most notably, she poses as the central female model for Under Armour, a sports clothing brand, alongside NBA player Stephen Curry. A 2014 commercial entitled “I Will What I Want” shows Copeland dancing in Under Armour attire over a monologue track of a girl reading a ballet academy rejection letter. The letter states that the girl is too old and that her body type is inapt for ballet. Clearly, the commercial shows that Copeland’s hard work allowed her to defeat the odds and the naysayers, a story that resonates with many. In the near future, I find it likely that diversity in ballet will only grow.

According to Gia Kourlas in a 2015 article for the New York Times, greater diversity in a company’s dancers leads to greater diversity in its audience members, which could combat the decreasing audiences from lack of faith in the art form’s ideals. In my opinion, diversity in performers is one of, if not the, primary cause of diversity in audience members. Generally, I believe that people enjoy seeing a reflection of themselves and their own culture in a performance, and are more likely to enjoy ballet if able to do this.

Kourlas noted that the lack of diversity and equality in ballet education is something that many companies are working to change with outreach programs sprouting up all over the nation. The schools at American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and Miami City Ballet, among others, have instituted programs to recruit minority dancers at young ages.

Specifically, Miami City Ballet’s program “Ballet Beyond Borders” provides scholarships to Central and South American dancers. Mayumi Enokibara, a Brazilian girl, left her home and family behind at age 14 in exchange for a scholarship at Miami City. If she had stayed in Brazil, Enokibara said, she would have gone to college due to the lack of arts opportunities. Instead, after four years in training, Enokibara achieved her dream of getting a contract with Miami City Ballet and now tours worldwide with the company.

Miami City Ballet’s Brazilian dancers, Mayumi Enokibara and Luis Fernanco-Silva Photo: Mitchell Zachs

Efforts like these to foster diversity in the art form will ideally counteract the inability for students with limited resources to get top-level training and subsequent professional careers. Although it may take time, I believe that the significantly increased number of outreach programs gives hope for a diverse future in classical ballet.

In all my research, one quote stuck with me: Alastair Macauley wrote in The New York Times in 2011, “Ballet had a beginning… it may well therefore have an end.” Since its birth in the Renaissance, classical ballet has been transformed many times by people and culture. Artistic masters from Russia to Western Europe to America have contributed their ideas and visions to the canon. But now that the 20th century masters, most notably the Russian-born New York City Ballet choreographer George Balanchine, are gone, some argue that ballet has entered a steep decline.

Contrary to what I had assumed, however, Homans reports that the supply of ballet dancers is as large as ever. Ballet continues to be a competitive field in which up-and-coming dancers vie for company contracts. What may be decreasing, on the other hand, is innovation. Many companies appear to be caught up in the 20th century. After Balanchine’s death, his repertoire became controlled by a trust which rents his works out to companies that apply to stage one of his shows. As a result, Balanchine’s ballets are seen across the world as much as they are in his native New York, and the focus on restagings and revivals is not limited to this one choreographer. Major companies are struggling to preserve the classics of the 20th centuries, bringing in more reconstructors, notators, and directors than they are hiring original choreographers.

Additionally, technology has greatly influenced repertoire preservation. Complicated traditional notation systems are unnecessary when dances are able to be recreated from film. However, this may be more detrimental to ballet’s innovation than suspected. In her book, Homans compares use of film in dance to watching a movie before reading the book. The artists are unable to detach themselves from the version they have seen on film, and the ability for reconstructions of previous ballets to be reinvigorated by new interpretations and unique styles is lost.

Diablo Ballet’s Robert Dekkers

In between his rehearsal times, I was able to speak about this with Robert Dekkers, the resident choreographer for Diablo Ballet, who explained the advantages of restagings, which constitute approximately half of Diablo Ballet’s performances. Oftentimes, he said, companies are faced with limited funds. The choreography, music, costumes, and multiple other expenses required for new works make restagings more realistic and common. While volunteering at a Diablo Ballet performance, I helped sell wine bottles, decorative pointe shoes, and other items post-show. It was clear that the company works in every way it can to acquire funding.

When faced with these facts, it is impossible for me not to see the pessimistic view of ballet’s future. A lack of forward movement, in this case related to a longing to retain history and a financial inability to foster new works, is rarely a good sign. For an art form such as ballet, these symptoms often signify a decline and eventual coming to a close. However, Jonas said the common classic works such as The Nutcracker,  Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty are selling as much as ever.

A New York City Ballet performance of Swan Lake

During our interview, Jonas helped me understand the nature of ticket sales. Mixed repertoire shows, she said, which consist of both classical and contemporary pieces, are more difficult to sell. Casual ballet viewers more commonly attend classical works because they are familiar and known while mixed repertoire shows require the ticket buyer to take a gamble.

With respect to this, Ballet Austin, Texas’s largest ballet company, recently conducted research to address the question of ticket buyers’ hesitancy to attend new productions. The company created focus groups of ticket buyers and gathered over 1500 responses to a survey regarding viewer preference. Similarly to Jonas’ beliefs, Ballet Austin found that many people were wary of attending a show to which they would have an unsure reaction.

From this research, I was able to see that ballet’s inability to detach from the past is related not only to the performers and innovators within the art form itself, but also the audience members. Perhaps companies are fearful of leaving the famous works behind in favor of new works because they do not want to risk the loss of ticket sales. Could ballet be dying because society is unable to allow it to grow?

In response to this question and the aforementioned research, a recent audience survey conducted by Diablo Ballet showed that an equal number of audience members prefer classical and contemporary pieces. This implies that ticket buyers are not opposed to unknown work. With audience education, it is likely that new works would sell as well as the classics.

Ballet Austin has started multiple programs to address the gap between new works and viewer uncertainty. The company has found that there are two key elements in relation to a performance: a social connection and an intellectual and emotional one. More than anything, the intellectual and emotional connection suffers when ticket buyers are uncertain about what they are seeing onstage. Ballet Austin’s initiatives to strengthen this connection are focused on providing audience members with greater ballet knowledge.

First, the company began filming dance rehearsals and live-streaming them online, allowing people to see a sort of preview of the performance or an idea of what to expect. Additionally, Ballet Austin began a program called “Ballet-O-Mania,” a pre-show exhibit designed to educate and excite ticket buyers. The interactive exhibit allows ticket buyers to talk to company personnel, attempt dance moves, and generally learn more about the art form and what they are about to watch. As a whole, the initiatives are intended to give audience members a greater understanding of ballet. After instituting these programs, Ballet Austin surpassed its ticket-sale goals for two subsequent mixed repertoire shows.

This research makes me optimistic for ballet’s future. It shows that with effort to connect to and educate viewers, companies may be more likely and able to extend their repertoires past the well-known classics. However, this does not mean that the classics will ever be completely dead because, as Amanda Farris, dancer for Diablo Ballet, stated in an interview, “People want the pointe shoes and tutus.” Rather, my research has allowed me to envision a near future in which ballet’s past and present are able to coexist and to be appreciated equally by ticket buyers with the help of a small amount of audience engagement and education.

A scene from the English National Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker

In some cases, this vision is already more of a reality than not. The English National Ballet recently put on a full-length production of The Nutcracker with new choreography, but the original musical score. The Birmingham Royal Ballet did the same with Cinderella, and both ballets were well received by critics and audiences alike. Thus, tradition meets innovation, giving audiences the comfort and familiarity of a known work while still allowing innovation and creativity to flourish.

The Tea Party from the Royal Ballet’s production of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

Similarly, in 2011, the Royal Ballet premiered Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, its first entirely new full-length work in 16 years. Unlike new works which scare off ticket buyers with unfamiliarity, this work was aided by its commonly known narrative and was widely praised. Clearly, companies are finding ways to foster new works without alienating ticket buyers, leading me to believe that classical ballet is in no way dead or dying.

From humanity’s beginning, movement of the body has served as a manner of expression and communication. There is no reason why ballet, one of the oldest and richest forms of this movement of expression called dance, should have to die now. The simple fact that my central question—is classical ballet a dying art form?— is a topic of debate in the dance world itself is a reason for hope. Growing awareness of ballet’s adversities in the modern world can only mean that its supporters are ready to wake it from its current slumber.

However, this process, along with the process of diversification and the resurfacing of classical ballet in mainstream culture, will no doubt be arduous. I do not believe that we can expect ballet tomorrow or even next year to be the societal phenomenon that it was in its heyday. Rather, classical ballet’s ideals, with the help of outreach programs, will catch up with modern society’s, and the inspiring stories of dancers such as Mayumi Enokibara and Misty Copeland will seep into our hearts until we are able to fully embrace the art form again.


By Diane Claytor

Diablo Ballet’s spectacular 23rd season comes to an end with it’s final performance at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre May 5-6. And like all the shows before, this Celebrated Masters program promises to be filled with both classical and contemporary repertoires, incredible artistry, gracefulness and simply beautiful dancing. As Bryn Namavari of wrote following a recent performance, Diablo Ballet’s “Artistic director Lauren Jonas continues to curate programs with the impetus that everyone can ‘experience the power of dance’ – even those, she asserts, who do not think they like ballet….Her artistic sensibilities are at the core of Diablo’s continuing success. The company proves over and over that their dancers and programs are world-class.”

Celebrated Masters features the playful duet from Gustav’s Rooster by master dance maker Val Caniparoli; the exquisite Trey McIntyre piece, The Blue Boy; and Fault Line, another collaborative and thought-provoking world premiere choreographed by Diablo Ballet’s Robert Dekkers. Here are some interesting facts about all three upcoming works:

The Blue Boy

 Born in Wichita, Kansas, Trey McIntyre, who has created more than 100 original dance pieces over the past 25 years, has been called one of the world’s most innovative choreographers. Trained at the North Carolina School of Arts and Houston Ballet Academy, Trey was appointed Choreographic Apprentice to the Houston Ballet in 1989, a position created especially for him. Trey admits he was ready to quit dancing when he first joined the Houston Ballet Academy, but once there, he learned to dance

The Blue Boy Photo: Aris Bernales

from his “joy and sense of artistry” and he experienced a “renewed excitement from their summer choreographic program.

“Dance is physically spectacular,” Trey, a United States Artist Fellow and recipient of numerous awards, recently wrote on his blog. “It connects us with our own wild spirit and inner heroic…An original partnering move that seems to come from out of nowhere wakes up our childlike creativity and belief in magic.”

Trey premiered The Blue Boy in 2007 for his dance company, the Trey McIntyre Project (TMP), with one reviewer at the time noting that “musicality and craft are…hallmarks” of the piece, “along with McIntyre’s acute visual sense…the choreography becomes a visualization of Beethoven’s sensuous melodies.” The piece is Trey’s homage to the 18th century Gainsborough portrait, The Blue Boy, and is set to the rhapsodic second movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concert No. 1 from that era.

It is one of Lauren’s “most beloved ballets,” she said. “The way Trey uses the Beethoven score and infuses his incredible musicality to enhance his classical and contemporary feel is heaven.” First performed by Diablo Ballet in 2013, the Huffington Post called The Blue Boy a “delicate, neoclassical” piece, different from many of Trey’s other more athletic works.

Four years ago, it was announced that TMP would expand its artistic vision and focus on not only dance, but film, photography and writing. Since then, Trey has become a renowned photographer, with photos featured in numerous publications, including the New York Times and Sunset Magazine. He was also commissioned by the U.S. Forest Service to create a series of photographs commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and he is currently working on a photography book.

Gustav’s Rooster

It’s been many years since Lauren first met Val Caniparoli, now one of the most sought after American choreographers. “I was 16 years old, dancing at Marin Ballet and Val was choreographing there,” she remembers fondly. A year later, Val created a new work on Marin Ballet and Lauren had a solo. Lauren’s been a fan ever since!

Photo: Marin IJ

“Val’s work is so rewarding to dance and it really challenges the dancers,” Lauren notes. “I’m so appreciative of him and his wonderful generosity in allowing Diablo Ballet to perform his works. He’s a master dance maker and I’m thrilled that our audience and dancers get to experience his ballets.”

Born in Washington State, Val studied music and theater at Washington State University. He joined the San Francisco Ballet in 1973 and has been dancing with them ever since; he also continues to occasionally create works for the company, as well as for many others. He is the recipient of numerous choreography grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as many awards for both his dancing and choreography. According to Wikipedia, Val’s work has been described as ‘rooted in classicism but influenced by all forms of movement: modern dance, ethnic dance, social dance and even ice skating.”

A fan of all types of musical compositions, Val has become known for his use of widely diverse music as a foundation for his choreographic work. His Gustav’s Rooster, created in 2003 for the Tulsa Ballet and being performed now by Diablo Ballet for the second time, is a prime example of this.

Seeing a KT Nelson dance using a Swedish rock tune – and loving the music – Val began researching Swedish music, purchasing a myriad of CDs. But he kept returning to the music heard in the KT Nelson piece, written by Hoven Droven, a Swedish folk band that specializes in instrumental hard rock arrangements of old Swedish folk tunes. He created a ballet to the music and, after reading that the album was dedicated to the pet rooster of Gustav, one of Hoven Droven’s band members, decided to name the piece Gustav’s Rooster. “Only it was all a joke,” Val explains. “I sent a DVD of the ballet to the band. They loved it but laughingly told me that while they thought it was great, it was also very funny. Gustav apparently never had a pet rooster. Which actually makes me like the title even more,” he continues. “I love the fact that it’s based on a joke.”

Gustav’s Rooster Photo: Ashraf 

Performed by the Milwaukee Ballet in 2009, a reviewer called Gustav’s Rooster “wonderfully witty, structurally brilliant and endlessly inventive.” The San Jose Mercury News, in 2011, said it was “a deliriously playful piece…”

Robert Dekkers’ Fault Line

Robert Dekkers takes a lot of time before naming a piece. “I’ve learned from experience that sometimes naming a work before it’s fully developed can cause some confusion for me,” Diablo Ballet’s Resident Choreographer explained. He’s occasionally changed the name of a piece once it’s finished, so has learned “it’s just easier to wait.” So he did. He waited until he had the perfect name for his piece premiering at this year’s final performance: Fault Line.

Diablo Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, Robert Dekkers

As of this posting, Fault Line is definitely close to being finished, but Robert, known by all who work with him as a master collaborator, rarely finalizes a piece without the input of his dancers. “Collaboration is at the core of my creative vision,” he explains. “It’s really hard for me, as a choreographer, to build material without the dancers.” He talks with them, gets their ideas and asks them to create movement phrases, which he then puts together to form a base phrase of movement. From there, he uses the base to create duos, trios. “It’s almost like painting, drawing in pencil first and then letting the colors in to shape the final product,” Robert said. “This also allows the dancers to feel more connected to a piece.

“I wanted to go into creating this without too many preconceived notions, which is fun but also can be somewhat frightening,” he continued. “I’ve definitely had a few moments of thinking that I need to figure out the storyline and narrative. But then I figure no, I need to fight that urge and focus on building a lot of material.”

He’s working with Dennis Aman, a local composer who is, Robert states, “like a mad scientist of music. He constructs a lot of his own instruments (once using a go-cart that was modified into an instrument) and really thinks outside the box when composing. His generous personality makes him an ideal collaborator.” The music will be played live by The Living Earth Show, a guitar and percussion duo.

“Dennis’ music for this piece has different sounds than many of his other compositions,” Robert said. “It has a lot of texture and elements that even by his standards, are non-traditional. That’s really complementing the ideas and materials I’ve been developing. We’re looking at a work where we’re almost creating our own fictitious world based very heavily on reality.”

Robert noted that he and Dennis have been discussing books, poetry and things that are on their minds as they collaborate on this piece. They’ve been talking about topics currently being covered in today’s world, specifically about ‘the other,’ that fear of not understanding someone and realizing it’s just a lack of experience with whatever ‘the other’ may be. “We’ve also discussed that feeling of being invisible, of going through life without ever really being seen,” Robert stated. “I’m interested in exploring that and possibly using it as an inspiration.”

Robert’s works were recently described by The Huffington Post as “often cerebral, cutting-edge creations – works that never seem to tread the same ground twice.” Named “25 to Watch” by DANCE Magazine several years ago, his works are always greatly anticipated and highly acclaimed. There’s no doubt that Fault Line, which will be danced by the full Diablo Ballet company, will be equally praised.

If you’ve already gotten your tickets for 23rd season finale, we look forward to seeing you there. If not, don’t wait another minute! Go to or call 925-943-7469.


by Diane Claytor

Diablo Ballet’s latest performance, Body and Soul, is February 3-4 at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre (1963 Tice Valley Blvd.) This soulful program features the romantic duet from Mercurial Manoeuvres, by Broadway’s “An American in Paris” Tony award- winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon; the classically spirited 2nd Act Pas de Deux from Don Quixote; a World Premiere by award-winning Canadian choreographer, Sonya Delwaide, Trait d’union; and the Diablo Ballet premiere of When in Doubt, an ensemble piece driven by spoken word choreographed by Robert Dekkers and set to Jacob Wolkenhauer’s hypnotic score.

Below is some wonderful information on each of these upcoming repertoires.

Mercurial Manoeuvres

Last April, when Christopher Wheeldon was interviewed on the venerable 60 Minutes, reporter Lesley Stahl called him “one of the most celebrated choreographers in the world today; turning the tradition-bound dance form into something athletic, sensual and edgy.” Diablo Ballet audiences will have the opportunity to experience that incredible talent during their upcoming show, “Body and Soul.”

Christopher Wheelcon, choreographer of Mercurial Manoeuvres

Christopher Wheelcon, choreographer of Mercurial Manoeuvres

Born in England, Wheeldon began dance lessons at 8 years old; from age 11-18, he trained at London’s Royal Ballet School. According to his listing in the Encyclopedia of World Biography, even in those early days, “hints of his future as a choreographer shone through. ‘I enjoyed being the center of attention, being bossy,’” he told the Washington Post. At 17, Wheeldon, a Gold Medal winner at the international dance competition, Prix de Lausanne, joined London’s Royal Ballet Company.

An injury two years later presented Wheeldon with a life-changing opportunity. According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, “While recovering…, Wheeldon was lying on his sofa with a bag of frozen peas on his ankle…, watching endless hours of television. A commercial promising a free plane ticket to New York City for everyone who bought a Hoover vacuum came on. Wheeldon bought the Hoover and claimed his ticket.” Healed, Wheeldon took the trip, visited the NYC Ballet Company and was invited to join; in 1998, he was promoted to soloist.

As much as he enjoyed dancing, Wheeldon found that he was equally passionate about choreography. In the spring of 2000, Wheeldon, only 28 years old, quit dancing to focus his energies on choreography. Peter Martins, director of the NYCB, created a position for Wheeldon, naming him the company’s first artist in residence. His first choreographed ballet in this role had its world premier in January 2001. It received excellent reviews as well as the London Critics’ Circle Award for Best New Ballet. Following his choreography for Variations Serieuses later that year, Anna Kisselgoff, considered the dean of American dance critics, wrote in the New York Times, “No ballet choreographer of his generation can match his imaginative use of the classical vocabulary.” And that is what the budding choreographer became known for: his ability to modernize the classical ballet

Diablo Ballet dancers Mayo Sugano and Ray Tilson photo:Bérenger Zyla

Diablo Ballet dancers Mayo Sugano and Ray Tilton in Mercurial Manoeuvres    photo:Bérenger Zyla

without sacrificing its strength and beauty. Wheeldon credited his training. “I feel quite…grateful for growing up in the environment of theatrical story ballets and a very solid, very old tradition in ballet,” he said. He won countless awards for his many ballets, and more than one New York critic called him “the best thing to happen to ballet for 50 years.”

Wheeldon created Mercurial Manoeuvres for the NYCB Diamond Project festival of new choreography; it was the last work he created while still dancing with the company. According to a 2011 review in the New York Times, in this “witty and cheerful” piece, Wheeldon’s “command of stage space, group formations and dance vocabulary keep the eye constantly satisfied and stimulated. He does so in intelligent, sensitive response to his music. His control of intersecting verticals, horizontals and diagonals is masterly.” NYCB’s Tyler Angle, who danced in Mercurial Manoeuvres in 2014, noted that Wheeldon is very specific. “…He likes the arms to carve certain shapes through the air, he knows very well how to keep very complex movement organized that allows the audience to see it simply…the music (Dmitri Shostakovich’s Concerto in C minor) sounds very serious,…the scale of the work is there but I don’t think it takes itself too seriously. I think you can see that in Chris’ choreography.”

Wheeldon, now in his early 40s, has created over 90 works, many for the world’s major ballet companies. He also won a Tony award for best choreography in 2015 for the Broadway production of “An American in Paris.”

Don Quixote

Don Quixote was first a book, written by Miguel de Cervantes in 1605. It regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published, and has even been called the “best literary work ever written.” With its experimental form and literary playfulness, Don Quixote has been referred to as the first modern novel. According to, the book has had enormous influence on a host of writers, from Fielding and Sterne to Flaubert, Dickens, Melville, and Faulkner. The story has influenced painters, illustrators and sculptors and over the years, has been turned into a musical (Man of LaMancha,) a movie, an opera, a tv movie, and, perhaps most famously, a ballet.

Marius Petipa, 1898

Marius Petipa, 1898

Legend has it that the first ballet production of Don Quixote dates back to 1740 in Vienna by Franz Hilverding. In 1869, Marius Petipa, often considered to be the most influential ballet master and choreographer in ballet history, choreographed Don Quixote to the music of Ludwig Minkus for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow. This was the beginning of a long and fruitful collaboration between the two men. Aware of the worldly tastes of the Moscow audiences, Petipa incorporated several Spanish folk dances and some theatrical scenes and elements into his production. Two years later, Petipa and Minkus revised the ballet in a far more expanded and elaborate edition for the Imperial Ballet, knowing this audience’s tastes were more sophisticated. They refined the Spanish character of the ballet and placed much greater emphasis on pure classical dancing.

In 1900, budding ballet master Alexander Gorsky staged another variation, this one again for the Bolshoi Ballet. According to, Petipa, then 82 years old, was greatly displeased. He described Gorsky’s alterations as “meaningless innovations and changes” and accused him of seriously lowering the quality of his production. “The main change Gorsky made was to heighten the dramatic expression…He scattered the dancers over the stage, thus breaking with the strictly symmetrical lines and patterns of his predecessor. As he explained to a journalist prior to the Moscow premiere, he hated symmetry.”

It is uncertain which aspects of later productions of Don Quixote come from Gorsky and which have been preserved from Petipa’s original production. Today’s productions of the ballet often combine symmetrical scenes in the first act with asymmetrical choreography in the dream scene, which supports the view that present-day versions of Don Quixote bear the hallmarks of both choreographers.

Rudolph Nuryev and Lucette Aldous in Don Quixote, 1973

Rudolph Nuryev and Lucette Aldous in Don Quixote, 1973

The ballet was brought from Russia by Anna Pavlova’s company in 1924 in an abridged version of Gorsky’s production. The famous Grand Pas de Deux from the ballet’s final scene was staged in the West as early as the 1940s, given first by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo.  The first full revival of the original production in the West was 1962; in 1966, Rudolf Nureyev staged his version for the Vienna State Opera Ballet, with Minkus’ score adapted by John Lanchbery.  George Balanchine famously created a modern version in 1965 for the New York City Ballet to the music of Nicolas Nabokov, with Balanchine himself appearing as Don Quixote and Suzanne Farrell as Dulcinea. In 1973, Nureyev filmed his version with the Australian Ballet with Robert Helpmann as Don Quixote. Mikhail Baryshnikov mounted his own version in 1980 for American Ballet Theatre, a production that has been staged by many companies, including the Royal Ballet. Today, the ballet is considered to be among the great ballet 51njipv59hlclassics and, according to, “the ultimate romantic comedy.”

Over the years, many dancers have contributed to the fame and glory of the characters. writes that, “They are some of the most challenging roles in the classical ballet repertory. The ballerina needs incredibly strong pointe work technique, her partner has to be able to pirouette endlessly, and light-hearted nonchalance and explosive jumps are demanded of them both. A new standard was set for the role of Kitri in the fifties and sixties by the Russian ballerina Maya Plisetskaya, and this was followed by outstanding interpretations from Gelsey Kirkland from the United States, Sylvie Guillem from France, and Diana Vishneva from Russia, among others.

A 2016 review in the LA Daily News states that Don Quixote is known for its “nonstop bravura dancing.” Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, calls Don Quixote “one of my favorite ballets to dance and I’m looking forward to staging the 2nd act Pas de Deux for our company.”

Trait d’union
The world premier of Trait d’union by award-winning Canadian choreographer Sonya Delwaide will entertain Diablo Ballet audiences at its Body and Soul program. And, if all goes according to Delwaide’s image of the dance, it may also cause those in attendance to think about the world in which we live and, perhaps, how we can make it better.

The original idea for this piece came from the music, Elegie, written by the French composer Gabriel Faure in 1880. According to Wikipedia, the work features “a sad and sombre opening and climaxes with an intense, fast-paced central section, before the return of the elegiac opening theme.” Delwaide calls it intense, but says “it gets lighter as you go along. It’s real.”

Delwaide’s daughter, a 14-year-old cellist, played this piece years ago and Delwaide “fell in love” with it. “I knew I had to choreograph it,” she said. “I had a really clear image of what the music was telling me. I got so attached to it.” And that’s how it all began.

Diablo Ballet dancersOliver-Paul Adams and Jamar Goodman working with choreographer Sonya Delwaide

Diablo Ballet dancers Oliver-Paul Adams and Jamar Goodman working with choreographer Sonya Delwaide

Through the music, Delwaide began thinking about our world today and why there is such a major divide in our country. Why are we where we are now, she wondered. “And these are the ideas I’m exploring through dance,” she explained.

Two men and a woman are dancing in Trait d’union but, for Delwaide, the female is more than just a woman. “She’s more the positive force between two people who have differences. What do we have in common? What are our differences? How can we build, move forward, even though we have all these differences. The woman represents the commonality,” she continued. Working on this choreography, Delwaide admits, has created more questions, which she hopes may come through: why are our differences so much more powerful than our similarities? Why can’t we build on whatever we have in common rather than become more divided based on our differences?

Describing the repertoire, Delwaide explained that it begins with the two men who seem to be testing their boundaries. When the woman appears, the partnering moves to a new level, reigniting what they have in common and making the men realize they share similarities and can work in unison. “If we keep taking risks with each other, “Delwaide asks, “can we trust and can we then build on that trust?”

Of course, Delwaide is fully aware that the audience may take a different story away with them. “As a choreographer,” she said, “you can think of all these images and all these messages but the bottom line is that the audience makes their own story.” And that’s what’s most important to her. “If they create a story out of what is presented – even if it’s not my story, then I feel I’ve succeeded. For me, it’s important that the audience has an experience and gets something out of what they see.”

Delwaide left Canada for the Bay Area 20 years ago and has been a Professor of Dance at Oakland’s Mills College since 2003. This is her second world premier for Diablo Ballet, the first being Serenade pour Cordes et Corps two years ago and again inspired by a piece she heard her young cellist daughter play. called it an “enjoyable melding of contemporary and classical…enough contemporary for those who like that…enough classical for those of us who lean that way.”

When in Doubt

Diablo Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, Robert Dekkers, will premier his When in Doubt, an incredible piece driven by the spoken word and set to Jacob Wolkenhauer’s hypnotic score, at the February Body and Soul Program.

Dekkers is well known to Diablo Ballet audiences and dance enthusiasts throughout the Bay Area. Nominated for an Isadora Duncan Award for “Outstanding Performance-Individual” for his 2012-13 season with Diablo Ballet, Dekkers was also named by DANCE Magazine as a “25 to Watch” artist. He has created six new works on Diablo Ballet since joining the company in 2011. In 2015, the Huffington Post wrote, “Dekkers partners to realize his often cerebral, cutting-edge creations – work that never seems to tread the same ground twice.  He has always juggled his roles as dancer, choreographer, teacher, and director of his own small but highly visible company with seemingly superhuman energy.”

Diablo Ballet's Resident Choreographer, Robert Dekkers

Diablo Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, Robert Dekkers

When in Doubt is the third collaboration between Dekkers and Wolkenhauer. According to Dekkers, Wolkenhauer was inspired by a Bertrand Russell quote, essentially stating that love is wise, hatred is foolish and we all need to coexist. And this is how When in Doubt begins. This piece was originally presented in 2012 at Post:Ballet, Dekkers San Francisco-based ballet company. At the time, Dekkers told the San

Roebert Dekkers rehearsing When in Doubt for Post:Ballet in 2012

Robert Dekkers rehearsing When in Doubt for Post:Ballet in 2012

Francisco Chronicle, “We started with the question of faith. How do we know what we know…what we believe.” With the divisiveness the world is experiencing now, Dekkers felt it was important to bring this work to Diablo Ballet at this time. “We have that need to live together, understand each other. We’re all trying to process how to live the belief that we need to coexist. It sounds great when you say it, but how do you actually do it on a day to day basis,” Dekkers said. Wolkenhauer recorded each of the dancers talking and spliced it together, interspersing it with his score. “It’s really interesting what he did with the score,” Dekkers stated. “It’s an interesting use of vocals the way he used the ‘ums’ to make percussive sounds. There’s a feeling of intimacy with the dancers and there’s also an abstraction to it.

“The goal is to explore the question: When in Doubt, that feeling that we can all share” Dekkers continued. Wolkenhauer told the SF Chronicle in a 2012 interview, “I hope these snippets, although used in an abstract way, will capture that moment when you stand up for what you believe. The ballet is about that process of opening your mouth and taking a risk, whether you’re right or wrong.” Each time the ballet is performed, the new dancers comments are recorded and added, which are then woven in to the existing score. “It’s a wonderful tapestry of thoughts and ideas,” Dekkers noted. “It just gives it so much more depth; each time the piece is done it grows and matures.” posted about Dekkers last year: he…. “is constantly inventing and scheming up new ways to give audiences an immersive and thought-provoking experience.” No doubt, When in Doubt proves that yet again.

If you’ve already gotten your tickets for this wonderful performance, we look forward to seeing you there. If not, don’t wait another minute! Go to or call 925-943-7469.

by Diane Claytor

On May 26, 1971, Lew Christensen’s Airs de Ballet made its debut at San Francisco’s Palace of Fine Arts. Created for the San Francisco Ballet, choreographed for and danced by New York City Ballet principal dancer Violette Verdy, the ballet was described by the San Francisco Chronicle as a “whirlwind of non-stop dancing and bliss, innocent grace and an expression of joy.” While the ballet remained in SF Ballet’s repertory for many years, it hasn’t been performed for quite some time. And, research indicates that, surprisingly, Airs de Ballet has likely never been performed by any other ballet company either.

Gina Ness and Alexander Topciy in Airs de Ballet (1984). Photo by Marty Sohl.

Gina Ness and Alexander Topciy in Airs de Ballet (1984). Photo by Marty Sohl.

On Fri., Nov. 11, this light and playful ballet makes a glorious return when Diablo Ballet opens their 23rd incredible season at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre. Artistic Director Lauren Jonas said, “I last saw Airs de Ballet when Joanna Berman (Diablo Ballet’s Regisseur) danced it for the San Francisco Ballet. When she suggested it for our holiday program, I was extremely excited. Its musicality, fast footwork…it’s a wonderful, joyful ballet.”

Joanna performed in this ballet many times as a former principal dancer with the San Francisco Ballet. “As soon as I heard the music again,” Joanna said, “all the steps came flooding back to me. I could see my friends on stage dancing it. This ballet is so musical, your body just remembers the steps. It’s a total pleasure to dance. It’s joyous. It’s pretty. It’s clean. It’s simply the joy of dance. And it’s perfect for the Diablo Ballet dancers.” She and Lauren are working together to coach the dancers.

Also working with the Diablo Ballet dancers is Leslie Young, who retired as a soloist with the San Francisco Ballet and now stages Lew Christensen’s works around the country. She echoed Joanna’s thoughts when describing Airs de Ballet: “It’s so musical. You just can’t forget it.” She, too, is so excited that it’s going to be performed again after all these years. “It’s a sweet and beautiful ballet. Dancers have told me that once they dance it, they remember it always.”

Lew Christensen was born into a musical family in 1909; his grandfather taught dance and both his brothers were dancers – in fact, all three young Christensens danced with the SF Ballet after its founding, by William Christensen, in 1935. The three boys formed a vaudeville act and all three also performed in a Broadway musical, The Great Waltz. In 1935, Lew and Harold joined the Metropolitan Opera’s American Ballet Ensemble. Lew joined the SF Ballet and was named associate director in 1949; he co-directed the company with brother William in 1951 and was promoted to director in 1952, a position he held until his death in 1984. It is said that Lew transformed the SF Ballet to an internationally recognized company, creating more than 50 ballets, choreographing over 110 pieces, and introducing them to the world through highly acclaimed national and international tours. His ballets are known for their craft, musicality and wit.

One early review of Airs de Ballet stated that, “Christensen sees to it that every action of the dancers’ joints and limbs is stimulated by a musical prompting…the light flinging patterns and sizzling beats give the impression that the dancers are skating on air.” Another, from a 1975 performance, referred to Airs de Ballet as a “poem in true romantic vein.”

A Swingin' Holiday     photo: Bilha Sperling

A Swingin’ Holiday                                   photo: Bilha Sperling

As wonderful and exciting as Airs de Ballet is, it’s only one of the three amazing and uplifting ballets in Diablo Ballet’s 2016-17 premier. The show also features A Swingin Holiday, said to be “a wonderful fusion of styles (ballet, jive, social dance, jazz)…” by heather This fifth annual edition of A Swingin’ Holiday is again staged by Broadway choreographer Sean Kelly, and set to the music of Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, and jazzy renditions of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite, all performed live by the Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra. Rounding out this holiday program is Happy Ending by Resident Choreographer Robert Dekkers, first introduced to Diablo Ballet audiences in 2012. Robert described his ballet as “a quirky and whimsical work that wryly alludes to our never-ending search for happiness. It’s set to a playful score by Australian composer Pogo and will definitely put a smile on everyone’s face.”

Raymond Tilton and Amanda Farris dance in A Swingin' Holiday                      photo: Bilha Sperling

Raymond Tilton and Amanda Farris dance in A Swingin’ Holiday                             photo: Bilha Sperling

There’s no better way to kick off the holiday season than a trip to Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre (1963 Tice Valley Blvd.) to enjoy another phenomenal and spirited Diablo Ballet performance. Performances are Nov. 11 at 8 p.m., Nov. 12 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Nov. 13 at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online by going to or or by phoning 925-943-7469.





by Diane Claytor

Smoked trout salad on a peppered crostini with red pepper jam!

Spinach and feta spanakopita!pic0oYNQu

Bay shrimp gazpacho!

Ahi Tuna Poke Bites!

Wines from Jacuzzi Family Vineyards!logo

Is your mouth watering yet?  Are you wondering why we’re teasing you with the thought of these delectable gourmet treats while you’re sitting at your computer with nothing more exciting to eat than a tuna sandwich or last night’s leftovers?

The Walnut Creek Yacht Club is a popular Gourmet Gallop participant

The Walnut Creek Yacht Club is a popular Gourmet Gallop participant

We don’t mean to tease. But we do mean to entice. These wonderful sounding — and no doubt even better tasting — culinary dishes are just a few of the incredible foods and wines you’ll be able to sample when you sign up for Diablo Ballet’s 6th annual Gourmet Gallop. With 13 Walnut Creek restaurants offering delicacies to nibble and/or drink, the Gourmet Gallop is a fun — and yummy — way to spend a warm summer Thursday evening (so much better than working or watching reruns). And not only will you end the evening with a happy palate and full stomach (and perhaps a few new restaurants you want to return to), you’ll know that you helped raise funds for Diablo Ballet’s PEEK Outreach programs for underserved children and the PEEK Extension program for teen girls incarcerated within the Juvenile Justice System.

Dancer Rosselyn Ramirez at We Olive

Dancer Rosselyn Ramirez at We Olive

This is an evening to Sip, Sample and Stroll.  You’ll enjoy the tastes and views of beautiful downtown Walnut Creek. Maybe you’ll purchase an incredible olive oil from We Olive while you’re enjoying the Cold Corn Chowder they’re serving. Or pick up a bottle of wine from Buon Vino while sampling the wines they’re pouring.

The August 11 evening begins at 6 p.m. at Massimo, where you’ll check in and nibble on their incredible Pasta with Pesto. You’ll receive a map of the participating restaurants and then you’re off….to 1515 Restaurant & Lounge; Buon Vino; Cinco De Mayo; Lark Creek; Opa!; Peet’s Coffee & Tea; San Francisco Creamery; Silk Road; Steinway Piano Gallery; Sunol Ridge; Walnut Creek Yacht Club; and We Olive.

Dancer Amanda Farris and PEEK Associate Director Edward Stegge  checking in at Massimo

Dancer Amanda Farris and PEEK Associate Director Edward Stegge checking in at Massimo

One Yelp reviewer called the Gourmet Gallop “a  great way to experience a taste of Walnut Creek,” while another said “Great date night…strolling through WC and grabbing small bites along the way is a fun event.”

You — and your friends — can be part of this incredible evening. Tickets, which may be purchased online at or by calling 925-943-1775, are $45. Come with 9 friends and they’re only $30 per person. It’s a night you won’t forget.  Your stomach will thank you.  Diablo Ballet and their PEEK programs will thank you. And your tv, which will not have to show one more rerun of Scandal, will thank you for a night off.



by Diane Claytor

Lights! Camera! Action! OK. You might not actually hear these words when Diablo Ballet again presents their very popular Dance on Film Series.  Instead, more descriptive words you may hear (or even say) are incredible, fantastic, beautiful, amazing, groovy, awesome and fascinating.

For the fifth consecutive year, Diablo Ballet is teaming up with the Lafayette Library to present this very successful – and very fun and entertaining – film series that always has audiences dancing in their seats and humming (or singing) as they walk out. And this year, as a special addition, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, an international platform for the presentation and development of dance-based films, is joining in by screening highlights from their amazing 2015 celebration of dance on camera.

Cover Girl

cover-girl-posterMost of us probably weren’t around when the first Dance on Film movie was made. And if we were, we were likely too young to know anything about movies, dancing or the film’s stars – Rita Hayworth and Gene Kelly. So, while 1944’s “Cover Girl,” being shown on July 21, is truly an old classic, this could be the first time many of us have had the opportunity to see it.

In addition to stars Hayworth and Kelly, other cast members’ names that might be familiar to older movie-going audiences include Phil Silvers, Eve Arden and Lee Bowman.  And while the songs might not be as recognizable as those in some other classic musicals, Cover Girl was the first film collaboration of Jerome Kern and Ira Gershwin, won the 1944 Academy Award for best musical scoring, and features the popular song, Long Ago and Far Away. The movie, a story of a chorus girl given a chance at stardom when she’s offered an opportunity to be a highly paid cover girl, was also Columbia Studio’s first Technicolor musical.09a calls the movie lavish and notes the positive chemistry between Hayworth and Kelly; the site also says that one of the movies’ pleasures is Eve Arden, in one of her “best performances…her acid wit and perfect timing keep the over the top glamour in perspective.” Tony Thomas, author of “The Films of Gene Kelly,” wrote “…Cover Girl marks a major turning point…at which the long-familiar concept of the movie musical as a string of songs strung together by a skimpy plot gave way to a broader concept in which the musical sequences would form a part of the plot.” A movie-goer, reviewing the movie on states “What a treat it would have been if Gene Kelly and Rita Hayworth had been allowed by their studios to become a dance team…they make a delightful duo.”

Saturday Night Fever

Many of us remember when polyester ruled, the disco ball provided sparkle and a very young John Travolta was king of disco dancing. Saturday Night Fever, being shown on Aug. 18, premiered in Dec. 1977 and it is unquestionably a classic dance film.

saturdaynightfeverA huge commercial success, Saturday Night Fever contributed greatly to the popularity of disco music and, according to, made Travolta a household name. Not to mention that the movie’s soundtrack, featuring disco songs by the Bee Gees, is one of the best selling soundtrack albums of all times — remaining at the top of the charts for 24 weeks. If you didn’t dance to the music in the 70’s (or even if you did), you’ll certainly feel like moving your feet after seeing the film now. Some of the better-known songs include Stayin’ Alive, How Deep is Your Love, More Than a Woman and You Should Be Dancing.065ffaae-0e65-4dc0-8309-21aa4f4ef3d8

Other than Travolta, most of the cast was unknown; and in spite of the film’s immense popularity, the majority of names are still unfamiliar. The story is about a young Italian-American man who doesn’t have much going for him in his dead end job or at home, living with his parents. But he lives for the weekends when he goes to a local Brooklyn disco and dances the night away. There he’s king of the dance floor, which helps him temporarily forget the negatives of his life. When a big dance competition is announced, he convinces a beautiful and talented dancer to be his partner. And, of course, they start to fall for each other.

With glowing reviews, Saturday Night Fever was regarded by many critics as one of the best films of 1977.  In fact, the late film critic Gene Siskel said it was his favorite movie (he reportedly watched it 17 times) and, referring to Travolta’s energetic performance said, “Travolta on the dance floor is like a peacock on amphetamines. He struts like crazy.”  It’s reported that Siskel even bought the famous white suit Travolta wore in the movie. Film critic Pauline Kael, also a huge fan, wrote a gushing review in The New Yorker: “These are among the most hypnotically beautiful pop dance scenes ever filmed…At its best, though, Saturday Night Fever gets at something deeply romantic: the need to move, to dance, and the need to be who you’d like to be.” And states, “Boasting a smart, poignant story, a classic soundtrack, and a starmaking performance from John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever ranks among the finest dramas of the 1970s.”SNF1_L

For this Aug. 18 showing at the Library, everyone is encouraged to drag their disco clothes out of the closet and wear them — bright colors, sequins, bellbottoms, spandex, platform shoes, leisure suits, halter dresses, loud patterns, dancing shoes — and, of course, polyester!

Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, and Edward Stegge, Associate Director of the Ballet’s PEEK Outreach Program, will present interesting and often little known facts and humorous stories about each film before the showing. And, you never know – maybe, with a little coaxing, in August they’ll teach you the hustle. After all, as the Bee Gees sang in the movie, “You Should Be Dancing.”

Rare Birds

rarebirdsOn August 4, the San Francisco Dance Film Festival will show highlights from their 2015 festival, including award-winning screen dance shorts and the documentary Rare Birds, about the epic undertaking of choreographer Alexander Ekman’s 2014 A Swan Lake for the Norwegian National Ballet. Rare Birds is an intimate look at creativity. Following Ekman during production of A Swan Lake, the film tracks dance creation from ideas to hard reality.  The Festival’s Executive Director, Judy Flannery, will introduce the film.

Each of the 3 evenings of unparalleled entertainment begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Lafayette Library and Learning Center, 3491 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette.  The cost is $5 per film or $10 to enjoy all 3 — and yummy treats are included! For ticket information, go to


Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director

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