by Diane Claytor

If you’re reading this Diablo Ballet blog, you probably already know that a pas de deux is a dance performed by two dancers. If you live in the Bay Area, you can experience Diablo Ballet’s PAWS de Tutu, a fun-filled beautiful June morning, replete with a dog PAWrade, costume comPAWtition, music, celebrities, prizes and a stroll around the picturesque Lafayette Reservoir.

Dancer Amanda Farris and her dog Nina will be participating in Saturday's PAWS de Tutu PAWrade photo: Bilha Sperling

Dancer Amanda Farris and her dog Nina will be participating in Saturday’s PAWS de Tutu PAWrade         photo: Bilha Sperling

On Sat., June 18, dogs and their human companions are invited to the Lafayette Reservoir stage at 10 a.m. to walk the red carpet and kick off the PAWS de Tutu event, which benefits Diablo Ballet’s PEEK (Performing Arts Education and Enrichment for Kids) outreach programs. Charley Kayle, KOIT radio personality and self-professed dog lover, will emcee the PAWrade of pups and the costume comPAWtition which follows.

“People are encouraged to think ‘outside the box,’ perhaps even be a little outrageous,” said Kerry Silverstone, event chair and former Diablo Ballet board member. While costumes are certainly not required – even dogs are not required – “we’re hoping to have an incredibly visual spectacle of creative costumes. People can – and hopefully will — go a little crazy” when coming up with costume ideas, Silverstone added. Her dogs, Ricky and Lucy, will be there and “you can guess how they’ll be dressed,” she stated, with a twinkle in her eye.


Dogs belonging to Fran Baskin & Corinne Petric of Oakland are getting ready for the PAWS de Tutu PAWrade and comPAWtition.

“We plan to start promptly at 10 a.m.,” Silverstone explained, and suggests participants arrive at the Reservoir by 9:30 a.m. to check in and get ready to PAWrade in front of the judges.

Judging the comPAWtition will be Renel Brooks-Moon, public address announcer for the SF Giants (and baseball’s only female public address announcer); Pam Kessler, Publisher, Walnut Creek Magazine; and Scott Ostler, SF Chronicle sports columnist for the last 25 years. Prizes will be awarded, with the grand prize winner receiving a $500 VISA gift card and $250 gift basket from Pet Food Express. Refreshments will be available and all human participants will receive a t-shirt and goodie bag.

Following the comPAWtition, everyone is invited to take a walk around the Reservoir before returning to the stage area to learn which innovative and adorable canines get to take home one of the three PAWards.

Coordinated by Diablo Ballet’s Teen Board with input and help from Silverstone and Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, this unique fundraising event benefits PEEK, the only arts education program of its kind offered by a local professional dance company. PEEK provides in-school movement curriculum & free dance performances for students & families in under-served areas; last year it began a program within the Contra Costa County juvenile justice system bringing creative movement classes to incarcerated young women.

Diablo Ballet's Teen Board members filling goodie bags for the upcoming PAWS de Tutu

Diablo Ballet’s Teen Board members filling goodie bags for the upcoming PAWS de Tutu

Teen Board president Marissa Lapointe is so excited about PAWS de Tutu. “Everyone loves dogs,” she noted. “Who isn’t going to want to watch dogs in cute costumes and then walk around the Reservoir on a summer morning?” This feeling is echoed by Isabella Gravano, secretary of the Teen Board and a Miramonte sophomore. “It’s a beautiful venue, a fun and unusual event with fantastic prizes and PEEK, which makes a huge difference in the community, will benefit,” Gravano said. “It doesn’t get much better.”

Don’t PAWS another minute.  To register, go to The cost is $30 for adults, $20 for those 17 and under. You’ll have a PAWsitively wonderful day and at the same time, will be supporting PEEK, an important and extremely worthwhile outreach program.

by Carol L. Stefan

We’re all familiar with Shakespeare’s “To be or not to be” speech in Hamlet, but the character in the play who is often overlooked and under-appreciated is Ophelia, Hamlet’s true love, one of only two women in this tragedy.

Val Caniparoli, internationally acclaimed dance maker, has righted that wrong by creating a poetic, exquisite pas de deux, Hamlet and Ophelia, danced to the stunning music of Bohuslav Martinu, a Czech composer of the last century. The role of Ophelia was originated by Joanna Berman, an audience favorite of the San Francisco Ballet, at the world premiere in 1985, which was a brilliant addition to her repertoire and gave a major boost to her career.

Says Joanna, “Hamlet and Ophelia” is special to me for so many reasons. The fact that Val chose and trusted me to dance this role when I was so new to the Company, was not only a huge privilege but it also opened so many doors for me at San Francisco Ballet. I love this pas de deux because it’s so expressive and satisfying to dance. I learned so much from Val and the other dancers that I worked with during the choreographic process because I was new and young and was working with such established and generous artists.”


Joanna Berman in San Francisco Ballet’s Hamlet and Ophelia         Photo Credit: SF Ballet


Caniparoli is considered an American Master for his unique style, blending classical, modern, ethnic, and social dancing. He has done productions for ballet, opera, and theater for over forty-five companies world-wide, including Joffrey Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, and Israel Ballet. His career as a choreographer carried on even as he continued dancing with the San Francisco Ballet, which he joined in 1973 and where he was appointed principal dancer in 1987. Caniparoli has thrilled audiences with numerous works performed by Diablo Ballet, including the recent Tears from Above, which was originally created for Diablo Ballet 2011.

Martinu, a prolific composer, has written at least eleven operas, several symphonies, and a number of ballets and orchestral works that have thrilled audiences for decades.

In the passionate Hamlet and Ophelia, we see our tragic heroine’s increasing madness and isolation, as she and Hamlet interact. In the end, as Hamlet walks upstage, his cloak seems to turn into a river where it appears Ophelia will drown, in a doleful and pitiable Shakespearean moment. As we watch the dance performed, to quote the Bard, “What dreams may come.”


by Berenger Zyla


Hamlet and Ophelia is part of Diablo Ballet’s Celebrated Masters production at the Del Valle Theatre in Walnut Creek, marking the finale of the 2015-2016 season. The production also includes Carnival of the Imagination, choreographed by our own Robert Dekkers, and Mythic Place, choreographed by Gary Masters.

Performances are May 6 at 8pm, May 7 at 2pm and 8pm. Call 925-943-7469 for more information.


by Diane Claytor

In less than a month, Diablo Ballet will bring down the curtain on its very successful 22nd season. The final show – Celebrated Masters, featuring a new production of Carnival of the Imagination, the breathtaking Hamlet and Ophelia, and  the world premier of Mythic Place – will be enjoyed on May 6 & 7 in Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre.

If you are one of those fortunate enough to have been mesmerized by a previous Diablo Ballet performance, you already know what’s in store for lucky audience members at this final show: elegant movements; bold, innovative and creative pieces; amazing artistry; powerful classic and contemporary dance; and talented, flexible, strong, fluid, beautiful dancers. But don’t just take my word for it.

Jackie McConnell, Aidan DeYoung, Rosselyn Ramirez, Christian Squires in Val Caniparoli's Tears From Above photo: Berenger Zyla

Jackie McConnell, Aidan DeYoung, Rosselyn Ramirez, Christian Squires in Val Caniparoli’s Tears From Above photo: Berenger Zyla

The most recent performance, Diablo Ballet’s 22nd Gala Celebration, received glowing reviews. Some of the comments written by Grier Cooper, who describes herself as a “writer in a dancer’s body,” should entice you to attend a future production: “Diablo Ballet has a lot to celebrate: This year the company marked twenty-two successful seasons… and the company has never looked better…Diablo Ballet brings an eclectic offering of dance to the stage and beyond into the community through its PEEK Program…”

Raymond Tilton in Sonya Delwaide's Serenade pour Cordes et Corps photo: Berrnger Zyla

Raymond Tilton in Sonya Delwaide’s Serenade pour Cordes et Corps photo: Berenger Zyla

Describing one piece in the program, Cooper writes, “The dancers’ technique was gorgeously fluid, yet they held nothing back as they undulated, leapt, and turned wildly… Diablo Ballet’s 22nd gala was a wonderful retrospective for the company, with something old, something new, and even something blue (the costumes in Serenade). It’s easy to see why they’re still going strong.”

On, Bryn E. Namavari wrote, “A host of Bay Area dance icons filled the auditorium, signaling that the company holds a significant presence on the arts scene… Making a strong showing of not only the company’s talent but also its artful collaboration with local musicians and artists, most of the pieces were performed with live music. Artistic Director Lauren Jonas has built the company’s reputation both on the resurrection of historical material and the fostering of new and innovative pieces…”

Describing the film, “We, Divine” featured during the March gala performance, Namavari noted “the dancers’ sterling grace and athleticism.” And with the concluding sentence of the review highlighting the final repertoire in the show, Namavari wrote, “the final piece of the evening, La Fille Mal Gardée (choreographed by Jonas after Marius Petipa) elicited the proper audience gasps for this revived classic’s seemingly unending and radiant leaps, lifts and turns. There was much applause for the merry and lively choreography that tested the dancers’ versatility in its combinations — saying much for their strength and for Jonas’ expertise.”

Amanda Farris & Jamar Goodman in La Fille Mal Gardee   photo: Berenger Zyla

Amanda Farris & Jamar Goodman in La Fille Mal Gardee photo: Berenger Zyla 

You can read the two reviews in their entirety by clicking on the following links: or

But even better, if you’re in the Bay Area, you can purchase tickets to next month’s show and “experience the power of dance” yourself.

To get tickets to Celebrated Masters, go to or call 925-943-7469.

by Carol L. Stefan

They say it started with a painting! The 18th century choreographer, Jean Dauberval, was amused and inspired by a work of art by Pierre Antoine Baudouin called La Réprimande/Une Jeune Fille Querellée Par Sa Mère. He created a dance, originally called Le Ballet de la Paille (Ballet of the Straw), relating the story of a young village girl, Lise, who tries to trick her widowed mother into letting her marry a farmer named Colas, whom she loves, and not the man her mother has chosen for her, dim-witted Tom, son of a rich countryman.

mal gardee

The ballet was first performed in Bordeaux, France in 1789. It is a comedic piece and is one of the oldest still performed today! It has gone through many versions over the years—in staging, music, and title. It is now called La Fille Mal Gardée (The Badly Guarded Girl) and was first staged with that name in London in 1791.

In 1885, choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov decided to bring the dance to the Imperial Ballet in Russia, where it stayed in repertoire until the Russian Revolution in 1917, accompanied by the music of Peter Ludwig Hertel. A more modern version was choreographed by Alexander Gorsky but based on the work of Petipa and Ivanov. Another rendition, commonly performed today, was choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton.


As part of their 22nd Season Celebration Performance and Gala Dinner on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, Diablo Ballet will be performing the pas de deux and finale from La Fille Mal Gardée. Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director, has staged this ballet based on the work of Petipa and Ivanov.

It will be performed along with Tears from Above, by renowned choreographer Val Caniparoli, and accompanied by two cellos; Sonya Delwaide’s Sérénade pour Cordes, a marvelous mix of contemporary and classical dance set to Ernö Dohnányi’s Serenade in C major for String Trio, performed by a trio of musicians; Pitch Pause Please, created and danced by Robert Dekkers; the solo from Gary Master’s Diablo Opus; and finally an exciting World Premiereby Robert Dekkers, Diablo Ballet’s resident choreographer, collaborating with film-maker Walter Yamazaki. In 2011, Dekkers was named a “25 To Watch” artist by DANCE Magazine and called a “mad genius” by the Huffington Post. He founded his own San Francisco dance company in 2009: “Post:Ballet.” Diablo Ballet is thrilled to welcome Dekkers back to the stage after an injury last March kept him sidelined.


Christian and Amanda classical

The 22nd Anniversary Performance begins at 6:30 p.m. Then, the celebration continues with the Gala at Scott’s Garden at 8:00 p.m., with a wine tasting, an auction, and dinner with the dancers—tickets for the performance and the dinner are sold separately.

For tickets, go to or call (925) 943-1775 for information.

by Diane Claytor

Looking for something fun to do? Want to try a new restaurant, visit a new museum, enjoy a new performing art? How about a round of golf, a Bay cruise or soaring over the scenic beauty of San Francisco in a private plane? Do you live in the San 1-301-36.aerialviewggb.mFrancisco Bay Area but are getting tired of the same old activities? Or maybe you’re planning a trip to the area and are looking for something different and interesting to do. Wouldn’t it be great to know that while you’re having a fun time, you’re also doing something really good, bringing joy and happiness to thousands of underserved children in the Bay Area? Diablo Ballet is offering you both. But it’s for a short time only so you’d better start your search now!

Piedmont Adoptaclassgroup photo 5.14Twenty-two years ago, when Lauren Jonas co-founded Diablo Ballet, one of her goals was to offer programs for local children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience dance. In fact, the Ballet’s Mission Statement includes this as a listed purpose: “To support youth by using the arts to teach in-school lessons of self esteem, group process and, most profoundly, the joy of artistic expression.” Diablo Ballet’s PEEK program (Performing Arts Education and Enrichment for Kids) has successfully accomplished this, reaching over 65,000 diverse school children throughout the local community with its in-school movement classes and free dance performances, as well as teenage girls incarcerated within the California juvenile justice system. These programs are funded through a myriad of sources, one of which is the annual auction, conducted in conjunction with the Diablo Ballet’s anniversary gala, this year scheduled for March 17.

Some wonderful items are being auctioned off – meals, lodging, theater, museum passes, fitness activities, sightseeing trips, even a new hairdo or a day at Disneyland — and all monies go to the PEEK program. So get busy. Go to bidding-for-good

( Find something fun to do and know that you’re helping young children experience something extraordinary.

Does any of this sound like fun? Something you want to do?

  • dislandhappiestplacePark Hopper Tickets for both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park.
  • How about museums: You can find tickets to the Exploratorium, California Academy of Sciences, Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa and Hiller Aviation Museum.
  • Museums aren’t your thing? Well, what about tickets for a performance at 42nd Street Moon Mainstage; Eureka Theatre in San Francisco; ACT (American Conservatory Theater); BATS Improv Theatre; Beach Blanket Babylon; or The Lamplighters production of the comic and cheerful “The Mikado.”
  • Need a little more culture? You can get tickets to Marin Shakespeare Company; Marin Symphony; the 2016 Merola Grand Finale, which is the culminating event of the Merola Opera Program; San Francisco Ballet; or San Francisco Symphony’s performance of Beethoven’s Symphony #2.
  • Looking for something with a little more action? That’s available too: 2 bicycles or one tandem bike to ride through Sonoma and Napa Valley Bike Tours; tickets to NASCAR at Sonoma Raceway; golf at Little River Inn; or skiing at Sugar Bowlsugar_bowl_skiing
  • Want to take the kids out for a fun time? How about admission to Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park; Happy Hollow Park & Zoo; family membership to the Lindsay Wildlife Experience; Walt Disney Family Museum; or jumping fun at Rockin’ Jump, an enormous arena of stretchy trampolines, elastic arenas, and soft foam blocks.
  • There are relaxing getaways: Atlantis Casino Resort Spa in Reno; Healdsburg’s Camellia Inn; Garden Court Hotel in Palo Alto; Walnut Creek’s Marriott; Hotel Triton in San Francisco; Hyatt Regency in Sacramento or Hyatt House in Pleasant Hill; Napa’s Meritage Resort; Renaissance Club Sport.
  • How about enjoying the beauty of the Bay Area on a Blue and Gold Fleet bay cruise or a private San Francisco Bay Tour from the air!
  • Think about pampering yourself – or someone you love. Get a style consultation from C2 Style Consulting; workouts at Curves or Forma Gym; new hairdo from diPietro Todd Salons; pilates training at Fit Studio; portrait photography from Thomas Fallon; or a luxurious body treatment at SkinSpirit Skincare Clinic and Spa or The Studio.
  • lsAnd finally, since no one should go hungry, there are delicious food items from We Olive, Amici’s East Coast Pizzeria, Buckhorn Grill, Kerry’s Cookies, Neiman Marcus, Sunol Ridge, San Francisco Creamery and SemiFreddi’s

New listings are being added frequently. You don’t want to miss your opportunity to bid on the items you want. The auction closes at 11:59 p.m. on March 15 so time is running out. Act quickly. Go to and put in your bid for the items you want. And then check back frequently to see what’s new.




by Diane Claytor

On Feb. 5 and 6, Diablo Ballet will again dazzle and inspire audiences with its second program of the 2015-16 season. “Precision and Balance” will feature My Way, choreographed by beloved Diablo Ballet alumna Tina Kay Bohnstedt (who, in 2010, the SF Chronicle called “one of the Bay Area’s hidden dancing treasures”) and set to music by Frank Sinatra; Milieu, staged by resident choreographer Robert Dekkers and set to a live performance of a commissioned score by Daniel Berkman; and George Balanchine’s masterpiece, Apollo, a perennial favorite of the ballet world.

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra

My Way will feature Sinatra’s music, arranged by Greg Sudmeier, Diablo Ballet’s music director, and performed live by a cellist and pianist; the cellist had actually played with Sinatra many years ago. In Milieu, Dekkers explores our evolving relationships with the world, ourselves and one another in a rapidly changing environment. The music is not only an original composition by Berkman, a Bay Area electronic musician, composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer, but will be performed by him as well.

Apollo, originally titled Apollon Musagète, was created for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes; it premiered in Paris in 1928 and was Balanchine’s first major collaboration with composer Igor Stravinsky, often acknowledged as one of the great 20th century composers. (According to, Stravinsky actually was commissioned in 1927 “to compose a ballet for a festival of contemporary music to be held the following year at the Library of Congress, Washington. It was specified that this work should require only six dancers and last not more than half an hour, but he was given a free choice of subject. Stravinsky apparently had for some while been thinking of writing a ballet on an episode in Greek mythology and decided to center it on Apollo, leader of the muses.” The Washington premiere, said to be unsuccessful, was choreographed by Adolf Bohm; the first European production in Paris was choreographed by Balanchine.)

A young George Balanchine

A young George Balanchine

With this dramatic and powerful ballet, which created a sensation when it was first performed, the 24-year-old Balanchine achieved international recognition and began his long-term collaborative partnership with Stravinsky. The 1928 premiere of the ballet featured sets and costumes by French painter André Bauchant; the following year, new costumes were created by Coco Chanel.

Apollo depicts the young god as he is inspired into adulthood by the muses of poetry, mime, and dance. The three muses, wearing brilliant white costumes, dance solo variations before Apollo dances a pas de deux with the muse of dance., the website of the Royal Opera House, said that “Balanchine’s choreography is perfectly in tune with Stravinsky’s music, which moves between dynamic playfulness and moments of solemnity.” It’s also said that Balanchine took cues from Stravinsky’s music, writing that when he heard the score, all he could see was pristine white. “Dancing is music made visible,” Balanchine stated. reports that Balanchine said “I look back on Apollo as the turning point of my life. In its discipline and restraint, in its sustained oneness of tone and feeling, the score was a revelation. It seemed to tell me that I could dare not to use everything, that I, too, could eliminate.”

Serge Diaghilev, the Ballets Russes’ great impresario, who, watching a rehearsal one day before the premiere, is said to have remarked about Balanchine: “What he is doing is magnificent. It is pure classicism…” In her book, “Balanchine Variations,” former dance critic Nancy Goldner wrote about Apollo, stating “It remains a reference in the field of 20th century classical dance: sobriety combined with fantasy; rigour combined with liberty and abstraction combined with expression. All this is expressed in just a few minutes.”

In 2011, reported that “As Balanchine’s ballets are so often described, Apollo is pristine. Balanchine’s inventive, neoclassical steps evoke an entirely classical setting but small, intimate gestures are recognizable to the modern viewer…It remains one of the best and most important, enduring ballets.”

Rosselyn Rameriz and Raymond Tilton dancing in "Apollo"

From George Balanchine’s “Apollo,” Diablo Ballet’s Rosselyn Ramirez and       Raymond Tilton                   photo by Berenger Zyla

Finally, almost 10 years ago, Dede Barfield, former principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet, said, “The choreography is so incredibly musical, so pure…the choreography tells you everything. The greatest challenge . . . I’d have to say, is to give the music everything it deserves . . . to really give credence to the music, to become the music.”

Diablo Ballet Artistic Director Lauren Jonas agrees with all of these accolades. One of her favorites, Diablo Ballet first performed Apollo in 1998. “Every time I watch it, I am reminded of George Balanchine’s genius. His use of musicality is masterful and the Ballet is absolutely timeless. You can’t tell where the music is coming from – the musicians or the dancers,” she said. “It’s such an honor to perform this and the company is as excited as I am.” Lauren is also thrilled to have Christopher Stolwell, an old friend and former artistic director at Oregon Ballet Theatre, staging this ballet for the company. “Watching Christopher in rehearsals is an education in itself,” she commented. “His knowledge is amazing.”

Apollo, My Way and Milieu will be performed on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 5-6 at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theater. Following each performance, there will be an interactive Q&A session with the dancers and choreographers; after that, audience members are invited to enjoy a complimentary dessert reception and meet Diablo Ballet’s world-class dancers. For tickets, call 925-943-7469 or go to We sincerely hope to see you there!



by Diane Claytor

Robert Dekkers and Tetyana Martyanova in "A Swingin' Holiday" Photo by Beringer Zyla

Robert Dekkers and Tetyana Martyanova in “A Swingin’ Holiday” Photo by Beringer Zyla

When the music starts, the lights dim and the curtain rises on Friday, Nov. 13, Diablo Ballet will begin its 22nd electrifying season, filled with elegance, movement and incredible dancing. There’s something for everyone – from the latest edition of the fun and popular A Swingin’ Holiday to the classical Tchaikovsky Dances duet by Norbert Vesak to the reprisal of Robert Dekkers’ stunning AnOther. And that’s just the company’s first repertoire!

In addition to an exciting and diverse program, Diablo Ballet is delighted to introduce its three new remarkable dancers who will be making their debut on this first weekend of the new season. In an article published last year on, writer Terez Rose wrote “Artistic director Lauren Jonas is very picky about whom she selects for the company. She hunts down strong, seasoned dancers who are gifted in both ensemble and soloist work…” And the new company members certainly fit that description.

Jackie McConnell

Diablo Ballet audiences may recognize our first new dancer: Jackie was a guest dancer with Diablo Ballet during its anniversary performance last year. Born and raised in Salem, OR, Jackie was a “typical girl dancer,” she reported, starting ballet classes at 6 years old at “a very small, tiny ballet school. Basically, I did it because my friend did it,” she said laughingly. Her friend stopped after a few years but Jackie didn’t. “I wasn’t one of those ballet girls that trained like crazy,” she said. “But I liked it and kept at it.” When she was 13, she went to Seattle for the summer, training with Pacific Northwest Ballet School; she continued training there over the next several summers.

As a senior in high school, Jackie wasn’t quite sure what she wanted to do or in which direction she wanted to go. Acceptance to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts gave her the opportunity to go to college, take academic classes and major in dance. Once there, Jackie decided she wanted focus on modern dance. She started working with a contemporary ballet dance company and loved it. “I was like, oh, modern dance in pointe shoes. It doesn’t get any better than this,” she said.

Offered a position with the Nevada Ballet Theater, Jackie packed everything up and a week after graduating from NYU, headed west and back into the classical ballet world. Although it was a good experience, after a year Jackie realized it just wasn’t the right fit for her. This time she headed northwest, spending the next year in Seattle, dancing with a small company attached to a school and doing freelance dancing and guest roles. Again, Jackie realized that this wasn’t exactly what she wanted either.

Jackie McConnell dancing in Beautiful Maladies. Choreography by Charles Anderson

Jackie McConnell dancing in Beautiful Maladies. Choreography by Charles Anderson

California appealed to her so she sent a video to Company C, a contemporary ballet company located in Walnut Creek. She was invited to join their company and loved it. “I got to become an artist,” she said. “I was given lead roles that were more emotional. I really got to take on a role, figure it out on my own.” Four years later, Company C shut its doors.

While at Company C, Jackie kept her toes in the classical world, dancing in Oakland Ballet’s Nutcracker every holiday season. “I secretly love the Nutcracker,” she admits, and still looks forward to dancing it every year.

A year in San Francisco dancing with Post:Ballet, the San Francisco Opera and Menlowe Ballet came next. She took a class with Diablo Ballet and then had the opportunity to guest dance in the anniversary performance. “I knew about the company, liked the dancers, liked the environment. But there were no openings at the time. I kept checking in with Lauren. ‘Now?’ I’d ask. ‘How about now?’ I’d ask again. Finally, Lauren came to me and said ‘now’,” Jackie happily exclaimed.

Raymond Tilton

Timing is often everything and Raymond Tilton, another new Diablo Ballet dancer this season, is living proof.

Born and raised in the San Diego area, Ray is one of 7 kids; at one time, all 7 were dancing and 4 are still professional ballet dancers: 2 of his brothers dance with Ballet West in Salt Lake City and one of his sisters is with Arizona Ballet.

Timing is what got Ray to being where he is: His older sister, like many young girls, decided she wanted to be a ballerina. “My brothers and I were all into sports, soccer especially,” Ray explained. “We’re hanging out at the studio with our mom one day, waiting for our sister to finish her class, when one of the instructors comes out, sees 4 boys and announces that they give free lessons to boys. Our parents didn’t push it, but hey, it was free.” Or, as Ray’s father told a San Diego newspaper in 2006, “it fit our budget.” So the 4 boys started taking dance classes, “all forms of dance – ballet, jazz, hip hop and tap – but after a few years, it appeared that ballet was the one I was decent at,” Ray said. He was 10 years old at the time. A year later he moved to San Elijo Dance Academy, where he trained until he was 18; he then moved to San Francisco with his younger brother and twin sisters where they all trained at the San Francisco Ballet School.

Ray Tilton performing in Sleeping Beauty

Ray Tilton performing in Sleeping Beauty

After 2 years, Helgi Tomasson, SF Ballet’s Artistic Director, offered Ray an apprenticeship with the company. He danced with SF Ballet for five years, taking on many principal roles and unfortunately enduring several serious injuries. With his injuries curtailing his ability to perform as much, it was decided that he should take time off from dancing and focus his energies on recuperating.

Several months later, feeling healthy and strong again, Ray was trying to decide what his next move should be. He was committed to staying in the Bay Area since he had married fellow SF Ballet dancer, Jordan Hammond, in July.

Again, timing being everything, Jordan heard that Diablo Ballet was looking for a tall, male dancer. Ray traveled across the Bay to take a class. He talked with friend and famed choreographer Val Caniparoli, who gave him a great rundown on Diablo Ballet – about the company, the environment and the dancers. “The more I heard, the more I thought this sounds like such a great company,” Ray said. “After taking a class, I noticed that the atmosphere is so encouraging, so uplifting, everyone is there for each other.”

SF Ballet is one of the larger dance companies, so being with a small company “is definitely a new experience,” Ray continued. The dancers with SF Ballet were close, he said, “especially for such a large company. But with Diablo Ballet, there’s just a different feeling with the dancers, the ballet master, the choreographers. And the coaching – it helps you transform into the dancer you know you can be, enables you to express yourself more. The whole atmosphere is less stressful and more encouraging.” He feels healthier and stronger now – both physically and mentally and is looking forward to dancing with his new family.

Jamar Goodman

Jamar’s early years were spent in Hartford, CT. Through the City’s Youth Program, The School of the Hartford Ballet went to schools throughout the city, selecting 2 kids from each to participate in their Dance City Youth Scholarship program. “Our classroom teacher threatened to keep us after school if we didn’t try out and I certainly didn’t want to have to stay, so I got up, held my arms out, touched my toes and then got a letter saying I’d been accepted,” Jamar said. He started dancing that summer when he was 8 years old and “I loved it. It was like camp.” He continued during the school year, attending the School of the Hartford Ballet and training in classical ballet, modern, jazz and tap dancing. He started getting roles with Hartford’s Ballet Company and began focusing his training more on ballet.

In 1998, Jamar was 16 years old and the School of the Hartford Ballet folded. “I was supposed to be an apprentice the following year and now it was gone. I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he reported. The assistant artistic director of the former Hartford Ballet took Jamar to New York to audition for the American Ballet Theatre. He was accepted into their studio company and worked his way up. Although his body was young enough to still be molded, ABT didn’t have a school affiliated with it “so there was no real foundation for us kids. Not enough emotional support,” he said. He tried going back and forth to Hartford to attend high school but it just got to be too difficult. “I decided to focus totally on dance,” he said. And it was great. “I was living my dream.”

Jamar Goodman enjoying life in NYC.

Jamar Goodman enjoying life in NYC.

After 5 years, Jamar started wondering “What other styles could I dance?” So he decided to leave ABT and join the Pennsylvania Ballet, where most of their repertoires were Balanchine pieces. “I loved it. But after 2 years I thought, ok, this not what I’m looking for.”

Considering himself a diverse dancer, Jamar decided to go a different route: he joined the entertainment crew at Carnival Cruise Lines, appearing in Broadway/Vegas style shows. “It was such fun,” he remembers. “Again, I got to tour the world. It was like a paid vacation and we felt like celebrities. I thought, ok, this is more the type of thing I want to do.” After a year of cruising and enjoying the production-type performing, Jamar moved back to Hartford to be with family, finished high school, attended junior college, got my associate’s degree, and tried to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” he said.

While still in junior college, Jamar started working as a paralegal, a job he really liked. He continued dancing, serving as a guest artist with ASEID Contemporary Dance Company in New York. He moved back to New York, transferred to the New York office of his company so he could continue his paralegal career; transferred to Brooklyn College to continue working on his degree, all while still taking vocal lessons and auditioning for Broadway shows. And he was happy. But again, he felt there was somewhere else he wanted to be.

Mayo Sugano, Diablo Ballet dancer and Rehearsal Assistant, as well as a long-time friend, suggested that the west coast in general, and Diablo Ballet in particular, should be Jamar’s next move. He wanted to get back to dancing professionally so he agreed. Jamar looks forward to working with other artists dedicated to giving under-served, troubled kids the same color and opportunities he was given as a young boy. He wants them to experience dancing, singing, poetry, and music. “I want them to understand that dancing isn’t something you only do at a party. It’s something you can do – and love – for the rest of your life and be compensated for it. It’s my mission to touch, move, and inspire them.” Diablo Ballet’s PEEK Outreach Program “really inspires me. I can’t wait until I can go out to the schools with Lauren and Eddie.”

Diablo Ballet dancers in Robert Dekkers' AnOther photo: Tiffany Bertolami-Fong and Michael Malerba

Diablo Ballet dancers in Robert Dekkers’ AnOther
photo: Tiffany Bertolami-Fong and Michael Malerba

All 3 of these new dancers will perform in A Swingin’ Holiday Nov. 13 -15, which is set to 30’s and 40’s music by legends Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller, Nat “King” Cole and Wynton Marsalis as well as jazzy renditions of Tchaikovsky’s  Nutcracker Suite, all performed live by the Diablo Ballet Swing Orchestra; Jackie and Jamar will also dance in a reprisal of Robert Dekker’s stunning AnOther, set to Yann Tiersen’s music from the film, Amelie, and praised by the Huffington Post as showcasing “the tremendous versatility and style of Diablo Ballet.” Ray will be seen in the Diablo Ballet Premiere of the
 classical Tchaikovsky Dances duet by Norbert Vesak,
 set to Tchaikovsky’s score from the opera, Eugene Onegin,
 and made famous by the internationally-adored duo Cynthia Gregory and Fernando Bujones.

You won’t want to miss meeting these incredible new company members or seeing the other fabulous Diablo Ballet dancers. Tickets are still available for the opening of Diablo Ballet’s 22nd season and may be purchased by calling 925-943-7469 or visiting

by Diane Claytor

It’s been 22 years since Diablo Ballet began. All those years ago, Lauren Jonas, the Ballet’s co-founder and Artistic Director, had big dreams. She wanted to bring a world-class professional ballet company to Contra Costa County; she wanted the company to enrich, inspire, enlighten and educate children and adults through the art of dance; she wanted the company to become an integral and supportive member of the local community; and she wanted the organization to offer programs for underserved children living in the area. She — and Diablo Ballet — have succeeded in all four lofty endeavors.

Diablo Ballet’s PEEK Program (Performing Arts Education & Enrichment for Kids) is the only arts education program of its kind offered by a professional dance company in the Bay Area and it has reached well over 65,000 diverse school children since its beginning. PEEK provides in-school movement curriculum and free dance performances to students and families in underserved areas who typically have few opportunities to participate in the arts.

New NEA Logo“I’m so passionate about these programs,” Lauren recently said. “We go into schools in both Alameda and Contra Costa counties. We don’t teach them ballet, we teach them self-esteem and how to put their emotions into movement. We are one of the few dance companies in Northern California that are supported by the California Arts Council’s ‘Artists in Schools’ Program and through this support, I sincerely believe we are changing the lives of these children.”

And this past summer, Diablo Ballet’s PEEK Extension, with funding through a new California Arts Council grant program – Juveniles Utilizing Massive Potential Starting with Arts (JUMP StArts) – took on a new and exciting challenge: teaching movement classes to 21 at-risk incarcerated 15-17 year old girls at Mt. McKinley, a Court School Program located in Juvenile Hall and operated by the Contra Costa County of Education.New CAC logo

JUMP StArts supports quality arts education and artists-in-residence programs for at-risk youth within the juvenile justice system. In its second year, 33 organizations applied for JUMP StArts funds; Diablo Ballet was one of only eight organizations receiving awards for this highly competitive and limited-funds grant program.

When told that Diablo Ballet had been chosen for this funding, Lauren exclaimed, “I am so honored that we were one of the organizations chosen for this special grant. Working in a Juvenile facility with the Ballet’s PEEK Extension has always been a wish of mine.”

ArtLvrThe residency program began in mid-July. Lauren and Edward Stegge, PEEK’s Associate Director, go to Juvenile Hall each week to work with the girls in a classroom. Both Lauren and Eddie admitted to being nervous before their first session, not really knowing what to expect. They were screened and fingerprinted; they were given a list of things they could and could not do; they were told what colors they should not wear, questions they could not ask. They have to be admitted by guards. They were warned that some of the girls may have difficulty expressing themselves, may start fights.

And then the program started. After just one session, Lauren and Eddie knew they had found a new passion. They both said it has been one of the most rewarding experiences they’ve ever had and Lauren is already searching for additional grants in the hope of keeping the program going.

Although some of the girls displayed a negative attitude that first class, “walking in with a tough, skeptical look on their face,” Lauren said, they quickly warmed up. These are kids that haven’t had arts education at Mt. McKinley; they’re more accustomed to lectures and discussions about issues surrounding self-improvement. In that first class, Lauren and Eddie talked about themselves and each girl introduced herself. “We asked them to show a facial expression about who they are or what their name is,” Lauren explained. “Then we asked them to get up and, without words, use movement to act out their name or feeling.” Eddie noted that several of the girls passed, stating they didn’t want to participate. But when he told them that their facial expressions were interesting and didn’t actually look like they didn’t want to join in, “well, that warmed them up and just about everyone has participated since,” he said.

Lauren explained that each 45-60 minute session has been different. “We worked on ‘emotions into movement’ one time, then a ‘book into movement’ where we read a story, had the girls form small groups and continue the story using movement, not words.” There was a choreography session where the girls listened to music and then created a story to accompany it; again using movement, not words. They’ve seen and discussed videos of Diablo Ballet performances. “They always have such great questions,” Lauren noted.

They developed movement stories, which, according to both Lauren and Eddie, were really interesting and creative. Topics included going to court, peer pressure and dating. Five stories were selected. The girls again formed small groups, chose one piece of music after listening to 3 and each group performed their story for the rest of the class. Lauren proudly stated that the girls “really got into it.”

Gabriel Navia, a Bolivian guitarist who performed with the Ballet earlier this year, made a special appearance with Lauren and Eddie. He talked about rhythm, beat and improvisation with the girls. Then he played for them and, Lauren said, the girls asked smart, incredible questions. “It was magical,” Lauren continued, “watching the girls get up and improvise movement while Gabriel played.”

Diablo Ballet dancers Amanda Farris and Christian Squires photo: Berenger Zyla

Diablo Ballet dancers Amanda Farris and Christian Squires
photo: Berenger Zyla

Amanda Farris, one of Diablo Ballet’s dancers, joined one of the sessions. She is on the cover of the Ballet’s 2015-16 brochure and, according to Lauren, “the girls were so excited. They had a celebrity in the room. They couldn’t believe it, commenting, ‘OMG, you’re on the cover of this magazine and now you’re here with us.’”

Eddie noted that the girls have really opened up since that first class. Some have even asked if they could attend a Diablo Ballet performance when they’re done with their incarceration. Lauren has assured them that if they contact her, she will get them a free ticket.

“You tend to forget they’re incarcerated,” Eddie said. Lauren expanded on that, noting that “you’re in a room with these kids, they’re engaged, happy, sweet, normal 15 to 17 year olds. When the class is over, the girls are told to stand in a single file with hands behind their backs. And then you remember – they can’t leave the facility.

“This has given me an opportunity to experience something I have never experienced before,” Lauren continued. “It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. You can really see a difference in the girls, just in their participation and how they’re not holding back so much.” Eddie agreed, noting that the girls really seem to be more involved.

Sydney Mulkey, a history and earth sciences teacher at Mt. McKinley, agrees with that assessment. As a staff member that sits in with the class, she has observed that many of the girls “act a little differently when Lauren and Eddie are here. They’re more social. They open up a little more, seem to talk a little more personally, more about feelings. The main thing I’ve noticed is that many of them definitely seem more invested,” she said. “They want to actually get to know Lauren and Eddie. They just seem more interested in learning about them as people and what they do. It’s really nice to see.”

The residency is slated to end this year. Everyone would love to see it continue. “It’s been great and I think it’s nice for the girls to have something that’s a little out of the ordinary,” Sydney said. “It makes them feel special and gives them something to look forward to. Many have asked me if Eddie and Lauren are coming this week.”

Diablo Ballet's Erika Johnson, Lauren Jonas and Eddie Stegge receive a

Diablo Ballet’s Erika Johnson, Lauren Jonas and Eddie Stegge receive a “Thank You” poster from their Mt. McKinley students.

“I really hope we can find additional funds to continue this program,” Lauren said. “I’m just so sad to see it end so I’m continuing to look for funding to keep it going,” she stated, noting how quickly the time has gone. In fact, she said, she’s going to ask if she can stop by occasionally, just to see the girls. “It’s been a wonderfully rewarding experience. I hate to see it end. The girls are sad too.”

by Diane Claytor

Imagine: it’s a beautiful Thursday night in mid-August. The weather is warm but not too hot. Maybe there’s even a hint of a breeze. The week has been busy and you’re anticipating another boring night of TV reruns. Or maybe you’re considering going to a movie but, let’s face it, it’s August and all that’s playing are animated movies geared to the kids or sci-fi films – and neither of those appeal to you right now. If you live in the Bay Area, you have another option. And it’s way better than a Grey’s Anatomy rerun or sitting in a dark theater with hundreds of loud pre-teens. JPG_Gallop2015_poster1

Diablo Ballet’s 4th annual fun – and very successful – Gourmet Gallop is taking place in downtown Walnut Creek on Thursday, August 13 from 6-9 p.m. During those 3 hours, you’ll be able to sip, sample and stroll your way around beautiful Walnut Creek, an area that said has “earned a place in many foodie hearts.” It is indeed known for its outstanding dining choices. (OK, the shopping’s not bad either.) You’ll enjoy delicious food and drink and excellent company. And what’s even better, you’ll know that you’re supporting Diablo Ballet’s PEEK Youth Outreach Program, the only arts education program of its kind offered by a professional dance company in the Bay Area. PEEK provides in-school movement curriculum and free dance performances to students and families in under-served areas who have few other opportunities to participate in the arts. The Walnut Creek Yacht Club, about which one Yelp reviewer wrote, “omg! by far the best scallops ever! the swordfish – best ever!” is one of 13 restaurants participating in this year’s Gourmet Gallop. Massimo, with its Northern Italian inspired cuisine specialties, is another. Opa!, which proudly states that all of their “meals are prepared daily in the homemade traditions and spirit of our Greek families,” is also a participant. And then there’s Buon Vino, whose mission is to “change the way American’s enjoy wine,” offering wine tasting; Lark Creek, described on as “one of those restaurants that doesn’t seem to go

From last year's delicious Gourmet Gallop

From last year’s delicious Gourmet Gallop

out of style – the food is consistently good;”Lottie’s Creamery, featuring hand made ice cream that’s made in small batches using organic and seasonal ingredients; Peet’s Coffee and Tea, famous as a gathering place for coffee devotees and a “magnet for artisan food crafters;” Silk Road, offering mouth-watering Mediterranean specialties such as kabobs and gyros; Sunol Ridge, a 2015 Diners Choice winner; San Francisco Creamery, where they “make all their own ice cream, hot fudge, chocolate syrup, caramel and

butterscotch, the old fashioned way;” We Olive, with its oil and vinegar tasting bar where over 50 varieties can be sampled, along with tapenades, mustards, olives, spices and a wine bar offering local artisan wines; 54 Mint Il Forno, described by one Yelp reviewer who said “I lived in Italy for a few months and I have to say I flashed back to it just eating this food. Amazing and authentic quality using local ingredients.” And last, but certainly not least, Gourmet Gallop participants will have the opportunity

Justin Leavitt and David Glass   photo: Bilha Sperling

Justin Leavitt and David Glass
photo: Bilha Sperling

to enjoy wine tasting by Las Positas Vineyards at Steinway Piano Gallery, while listening to beautiful music played by concert pianist Justin Levitt.

imagesWe may not be able to tell you WHAT delicacies you’ll be savoring, but we can guarantee that whatever it is, it will be delicious! One Diablo Ballet supporter and devoted Gourmet Gallop participant said it’s the perfect way to spend a warm summer night with friends, “sampling delectable delights from favorite restaurants” and being introduced to some new, unfamiliar eateries. It doesn’t get any better than that! And this year, there’s even going to be a Gourmet Gallop After Party. Pyramid Ale House, where you’ll find a “world of extraordinary tastes waiting to be explored on draft, including their year-round beers, rotating seasonals and a few unique Pyramid offerings you won’t find anywhere else,” is inviting Gallopers to continue the evening by sitting on their beautiful outside patio, sipping specially priced 6 oz. beer tasters and listening to R&B and blues music presented by Mario & Friends. Is there a better way to spend a lovely summer evening? For only $39 per person (before July 31; $45 after), you, too, can stroll through beautiful downtown Walnut Creek, enjoy fine food and drink, and know that you’re helping kids who may never be exposed to the arts if it weren’t for Diablo Ballet. To make sure you’re one of the many gallopers this year, go to or call 925-943-1775.

by Diane Claytor


San Francisco Bay Area movie buffs – and those who love to watch extraordinary dancing – have the special opportunity to sit back, relax and relish in the days of yore. When movies were movies, as my father used to say, and didn’t cost billions of dollars to produce. That’s because the Dance on Film series – the very popular collaboration between Diablo Ballet and the Lafayette Library – is back for the 4th consecutive year. This year’s showings will really take viewers back – in fact, most of us weren’t around when these movies made their debut. Maybe you’ve never even seen them (although no doubt you’ve heard of them). But that won’t stop you from dancing in the aisles and whistling those familiar tunes as you leave the library.anchors-aweigh-movie-poster-1945-1010427634

On Wednesday, June 17, you’ll have the opportunity to see a very young and very dapper Gene Kelly alongside an even younger and very handsome Frank Sinatra as they play two sailors on leave in Anchors Aweigh, a 1945 musical comedy directed by George Sidney. According to Wikipedia, it was the first of “three buddy pictures teaming the cocky dancing Kelly with the (against type) shy singing Sinatra.” (The other two were Take Me Out to the Ballgame and On the Town, both in 1949.)

fd5be2bc0d66d3a95478b00422f0f853Also starring Kathryn Grayson, the movie won the Academy Award for Best Musical Some of the more familiar songs featured in Anchors Aweigh include the title song, “If You Knew Susie” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily.” The picture was also nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Gene Kelly), Best Cinematography, Best Music, Best Song (for Jule Styne (music) and Sammy Cahn (lyrics) for “I Fall in Love Too Easily”) and Best Picture.

The movie is famous for a musical number where Gene Kelly dances seamlessly with the animated Jerry Mouse. Originally, Wikipedia says, the producers wanted to use Mickey Mouse for this segment. Some sources claim Walt

Gene Kelly and Jerry Mouse

Gene Kelly and Jerry Mouse

Disney initially agreed to loan out Mickey, but Roy Disney rejected the deal. According to Thomas’ book on Roy Disney, the studio was in debt after World War II and they were focusing on trying to get their own films out on time. According to Roy, they had no business making cartoons for other people.

Anchors Aweigh was made on a budget of $2.58 million. (Compare that to the budget for the recently released Pitch Perfect 2, which was $29 million!)

A review in the July 20, 1945 issue of the New York Times calls Anchors Aweigh a “humdinger of a musical” where “that agile young fellow, Gene Kelly…proves himself to be the peer, if not the superior…of Fred Astaire.” The reviewer refers to Kelly as a marvel of the piece, “dancing, singing and performing in a delightfully…graceful style,” while Sinatra contributes to the “general fun and youthful charm of the show.”

Inserting a local connection, long-time Moraga resident and local actress, Kathy Ferber’s mother, Pamela Britton, had a feature role in the movie, playing the Girl from Brooklyn. Kathy will be joining us at the Library, sharing photos from the making of the movie that her mother gave her. She will also offer up some fun facts that her mother had shared.

On Wednesday, July 14, you can go back another 10 years to 1935’s Top Hat, starring the incomparable Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers (watch carefully and you’ll see Lucille Ball in a bit part as the flower shop clerk). Two of the songs, all written by Irving Berlin — “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” and “Cheek to Cheek” – have become American song classics. Wikipedia says that “Top Hat was the most successful picture of Astaire and Rogers’ partnership (and Astaire’s second most successful picture aftertop_hat_ver2_xlg

Easter Parade), achieving second place in worldwide box-office receipts for 1935.” Astaire’s tap solo in “Top Hat, White Tie and Tails” is often referred to as his most celebrated.

The film was nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award, as well as for Art Direction and Original Song (Irving Berlin for “Cheek to Cheek”). In 1990, Top Hat was selected for preservation in the US National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The film ranked number 15 on the 2006American Film Institute’s list of best musicals.

370921.984fredastaire_origAccording to, Top Hat is “one of the great 30s dance musicals, and possibly the best, most characteristic and most profitable Astaire and Rogers musical ever, with wonderful, magical dance and song numbers (with straight-on, full-length views of the dancers without a lot of camera cuts or unusual camera angles). “

In 2005, film critic Roger Ebert wrote, “There are two numbers in Top Hat where the dancing on the screen reaches such perfection as is attainable. They are by Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers for ‘Isn’t This a Lovely Day?’ and ‘Cheek to Cheek.’ Because Astaire believed that movie dance numbers should be shot in unbroken takes that ran as long as possible, what they perform is an achievement in endurance as well as artistry. At a point when many dancers would be gasping for breath, Astaire and Rogers are smiling easily, heedlessly. To watch them is to see hard work elevated to effortless joy: The work of two dancers who know they can do no better than this, and that no one else can do as well.”04_top10moviedancescenes says, “Top Hat is one of the finest musicals starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers…the comedic dialogue is sharp, the performances are wonderful, Irving Berlin’s music is splendid, and the dance numbers are simply stunning.” And the August 30, 1935 review in the New York Times said, “When Top Hat is letting Mr. Astaire perform his incomparable magic or teaming him with the increasingly dexterous Miss Rogers it is providing the most urbane fun that you will find anywhere on the screen.”
Both movies – Anchors Aweigh on June 17 and Top Hat on July 14 – will be shown at the Lafayette Library & Learning Center starting at 6:30. Each evening is preceded by a brief presentation by Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, and PEEK Associate Director, Edward Stegge, who will regale attendees with behind the scenes facts about the movies and offer a dancers’ perspective.

These are evenings not to be missed if you live in the area. And if you’re reading this from afar, well, you can no doubt rent these wonderful movies so you, too, can spend an evening clapping your hands and humming along.

Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director

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