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.

by Diane Claytor

Time certainly does fly! In only a few short weeks, Diablo Ballet will close its 21st season. This year’s grand finale, performing on May 8 and 9, will celebrate masters of dance, featuring

  • Just –Diablo Ballet’s Premiere of the thrilling duet by celebrated choreographer Trey McIntyre
  • The exciting duet from Book of Alleged Dances by renowned dance maker Val Caniparoli
  • The romantic wedding pas de deux and finale from Coppelia


  • Do Be: Double Happiness, a new spellbinding work by Robert Dekkers, set to an original score by composer Chris Cerrone –a 2014 Pulitzer Prize finalist in music — and performed live by guitarist and percussion duo, The Living Earth Show
Resident Choreographer Robert Dekkers

Resident Choreographer Robert Dekkers

Robert, Diablo Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, is very excited to be presenting Do Be: Double Happiness, a whole new piece – and concept – for Diablo Ballet. In addition to dancing with, and choreographing for, Diablo Ballet, Robert, once named a “25 To Watch” artist by DANCE Magazine and called a “mad genius” by the Huffington Post, founded his own San Francisco dance company in 2009: “Post:Ballet. In 2013, Robert was approached by The Living Earth Show’s electric guitarist Travis Andrews and percussionist Andy Meyerson. This twosome, referred to as “The most unique ensemble to come out of the San Francisco Conservatory,” and “energetically provocative” by the SF Examiner, has earned a reputation as one of the most versatile and virtuosic contemporary chamber groups on the west coast. Travis and Andy said they had a project in mind – they wanted to produce a full-length dance performance with a quintet of original scores, which they would perform live. And they wanted Robert to choreograph the entire production. Robert had never met these musicians and initially, he said, he wasn’t sure he wanted to do it. “So I put it on the back burner” he admitted. A month later, he attended an event where The Living Earth Show was performing. “They were incredible,” he noted, “their performance was fantastic and I knew that I definitely needed to reconsider my original response.

The Living Earth Show's Andy Meyerson and Travis Andrews

The Living Earth Show’s Andy Meyerson and Travis Andrews

“They are amazing, highly trained musicians and are commissioning exciting composers, providing a platform for composers to create new works,” Robert said. He loves the instruments Travis and Andy use – percussion and guitar, which, he continued, “are traditionally associated with rock music so putting them into a concert hall context is very similar to my vision as a choreographer. I love to take my classical dance training and infuse it with things that are relevant to me and our world.” Soon, a very innovative year-long collaboration was born. And Diablo Ballet is a beneficiary of the amazing efforts of these extremely talented artists. Determining that it was a lot of work to put together a full length piece in a short amount of time, Robert and The Living Earth Show decided to produce five chapters – each of which can stand on its own yet is related to the others. “It’s sort of like a transformer,” Robert stated. “Separately each is strong. Together they make a super piece.” According to Robert, the theme behind the full production is the search for balance, explaining “I heard a philosopher once talk about how, in our western culture, we do, do, do, exhausting ourselves to where we then just want to be, be, be, shutting ourselves off. He suggested that a much healthier way to live is to find balance, to do be, do be, do be.” Within Do Be, there are five scores written by five different composers. Four of the chapters will be performed by Robert’s Post:Ballet company but when he talked to Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director Lauren Jonas about the project, Robert told her there was one score he thought would be perfect for Diablo Ballet; it was agreed that Chapter 3, Do Be: Double Happiness would premier at the end of Diablo Ballet’s 21st season. Chris Cerrone, the composer for this third chapter, has been described by The New Yorker as a “rising star;” his recent opera, Invisible Cities, was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. “This score, which Chris named Double Happiness, is particularly beautiful,” Robert said. “It’s going to be a great fit for the Diablo Ballet dancers.” In keeping with the Finding Balance theme of the full-length production, Robert said this third chapter piece is about “letting go of the past, not letting things that have happened define who we are. I spoke to Chris about his inspiration for his composition and he used the word ‘melancholy’ for the first section. So I started talking to others about what melancholy means to them and someone said it describes the feeling one has when there are regrets that can’t be changed; it lingers. So, to me, the whole idea of balance is learning to let go, let go of expectations, let go of shame, let go of the past.” The second part of the score, according to Robert, sounds liberating, like rebirth, being set free; and the final section deals with bliss, “the kind that happens when everything is balanced, lined up just right, where everything is peaceful,” Robert said. And this is the outline he’s using when choreographing the piece.

Diablo Ballet dancers rehearsing Do Be:Double Happiness

Diablo Ballet dancers rehearsing Do Be:Double Happiness

Because of nerve damage, Robert, unfortunately, isn’t able to dance right now. This is the first major piece he’s ever put together without being able to dance and demonstrate his ideas. So he’s using a lot of “movement vocabulary” created with the Diablo Ballet dancers. “It’s interesting to see how each dancer creatively interprets certain movement phrases,” Robert noted. “They all know me and what I like, which they clearly kept in mind when creating their own movements, but it’s also been great to see what their natural inclinations are, the way they instinctively move.” Robert is, admittedly, nervous about how this is all going to come together with his own current limitations. Lauren, on the other hand, is not at all apprehensive. “I am so excited about this piece,” she stated. “The music is incredible and I have no doubt that the piece will be special and very well received.” The first chapter of Do Be was performed at Post:Ballet late last year and the second premiered at Post:Ballet’s March fundraiser; chapters 4 and 5 will be presented in the summer and fall, respectively. And Robert is so delighted that he’s able to produce the middle chapter for Diablo Ballet. “Diablo Ballet is such an important part of who I am as an artist,” he said, “I am so linked with Diablo Ballet and it’s only fitting that a part of this very unique collaboration be with them.” You, too, won’t want to miss this very special production. To see for yourself how Robert, Chris, The Living Earth Show and Diablo Ballet’s incredibly talented dancers define Do Be: Double Happiness, be sure to get your tickets for the May 8 or 9 show at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theater. Go to or call 925-943-7469.

Mikhail Baryshnikov as Harlequin & Patricia McBride as Columbine w. the corps de ballet in a performance of the NYCB production of "Harlequinade"

Mikhail Baryshnikov as Harlequin & Patricia McBride as Columbine with the corps de ballet in a performance of the NYCB production of “Harlequinade”

by Diane Claytor

Maria Tallchief and André Eglevsky. Oleg Ivenko and Kristina Andreeva. Patricia McBride and Edward Vilella. Mikhail Baryshnikov. Anton Korsikov. George Balanchine. Diablo Ballet’s co-founder and Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas. These incredible dancers have all, over the years, performed in Harlequinade, a ballet in the commedia dell’arte style. And on February 6 and 7, Diablo Ballet’s Derek Sakakura and Rosselyn Ramirez will join this illustrious list when they perform George Balanchine’s Harlequinade Pas de Deux at Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre.

George Balanchine's Harlequinade Pas de Deux Dancers - Rosslyn Ramirez and Derek Sakakura Photo Credit: Aris Bernales

George Balanchine’s Harlequinade Pas de Deux
Dancers – Rosslyn Ramirez and Derek Sakakura
Photo Credit: Aris Bernales

Continuing Diablo Ballet’s 21st season, the playful Harlequinade Pas de Deux is one of several show-stopping performances included in “Enticing Beauty.” Other repertoires are a Diablo Ballet premier of the dreamy duet, Sea Pictures Pas de Deux, by Christopher Wheeldon and originally commissioned for the SF Ballet; Robert Dekker’s visually stunning cares you know not, set to an original score by Samuel Carl Adams; and Serenade pour Corde et Corps, a world premier by the dynamic award-winning Canadian choreographer Sonya Delwaide.

When Lauren co-founded Diablo Ballet in 1994, one of her goals was to keep classical ballet alive; she believes that showcasing Balanchine pieces is an excellent way to do this.

Alexander Shiryaev costumed as Harlequin in the Drigo/Petipa Les Millions d’Arlequin

Alexander Shiryaev costumed as Harlequin in the Drigo/Petipa Les Millions d’Arlequin

The original Harlequinade, which was actually called Les Millions d’Arlequin, was not a Balanchine production; it was choreographed by Marius Petipa (said to be his last successful ballet) with music by Italian composer Riccardo Drigo and first presented by Russia’s Imperial Ballet in 1900. According to, the audience for this first performance included the Russian Emperor and Empress as well as the whole Imperial court. “Within moments of the final curtain, the typically subdued courtly audience erupted into thunderous applause. The composer received a tumultuous reception…and was mobbed by several Grand Dukes who tripped over one another in their enthusiasm to congratulate him.” (Note: Drigo’s score spawned the popular repertory piece known as Serenade, which has since been arranged for just about every instrument – particularly the violin and piano. Also, according to, Les Millions d’Arlequin continued a Petipa tradition “in which the choreographer liked to insert a popular song into the scores of his ballets. Drigo obliged with a French song about the Duke of Marlborough, which we know today as ‘For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.’”)

In 1933, Ballet Master Fyodor Lopukhov restaged the ballet as Harlequinade for the Ballet of the Maly Theatre of Leningrad. However, audiences are likely most familiar with Balanchine’s revival, which he staged for the NewYork City Ballet in February 1965 in honor of the original ballet’s 65th anniversary. (An interesting note: as a student, Balanchine danced in Les Millions d’Arlequin.) When reworking the classical ballet,Balanchine, who referred to Petipa as his primary influence, reportedly said he “attempted to remain faithful to the spirit of Petipa’s dances” and followed the tradition of the commedia dell’arte, which was popular in Italy and France from the 16th to 18th centuries and was filled with humor, slapstick and mimicry. Balanchine’s piece has been described as “offering something for every dancegoer: a charming story with the moral of prevailing love….fanciful and funny characters, vivid sets and costumes.”

Harlequinade Pas de Deux from Ballet Clássico de Repertório

Harlequinade Pas de Deux from Ballet Clássico de Repertório

When describing dance, states that Balanchine wrote, “…dancing is one of the great arts. The important think in ballet is the movement itself…a ballet may contain a story, but the visual spectacle, not the story, is the essential element….the choreographer and the dancer must remember that they reach the audience through the eye…”

Lauren said she chose to include the Harlequinade Pas de Deux because it demonstrates Balanchine’s musicality; contains great classical music, which will be performed live by concert pianist Roy Bogas; and because it showcases the originality and technical caliber of Diablo Ballet’s outstanding dancers.

Tickets are still available for “Enticing Beauty”, which will be performed at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 6 and at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 7. Tickets may be purchased at or by callilng 925-943-SHOW. You don’t want to miss it!


by Diane Claytor


Have you ever been sitting in a theater, waiting for the lights to dim, the music to start and the performance to begin? As you sit there, comfortable in your seat, looking around at the other 350+ people also waiting to be entertained, do you ever think about money…like how much you spent on these tickets and why is everything so expensive and boy, they must be raking in the dough if each of these people spent $40 or $50 or $80 or even $100 to see this one show? And would you be shocked to realize th2008-2-11-nyc15_audience_clapping2at even if all those people did spend all that money, it doesn’t come close to covering the cost of this production you’re waiting to see?

A recent review of several different West Coast ballet companies and symphony organizations indicate that their ticket sales account for 38% – 48% of their costs; only 20% of Diablo Ballet’s expenses are covered by the ticket sales.

Hiromi Yamazaki and Edward Stegge dancing in Swingin’ Holiday Photo:Tiffany Bertolami Fong and Michael Malerba

How can that be, you may wonder. Diablo Ballet charged $44 for a single ticket for its November Swingin’ Holiday show at Walnut Creek’s newly renovated Del Valle Theater. With approximately 350 people attending, that totals an income of more than $15,000. That should cover the costs, one might assume. But, according to Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, Lauren Jonas, that assumption would be incorrect.To begin with, there are so many behind-the-scenes expenses…costs the average audience member would likely never think about. Sure, you know the dancers get paid, the costumes can’t be inexpensive and the theater must charge a rental fee. Maybe you even consider that the program you’re holding in your hand wasn’t free to print. But there are many more costs, and even though Diablo Ballet operates on a “shoestring budget,” according to Lauren, those ticket prices don’t come close to covering what is spent on each production.

Using November’s Swingin’ Holiday show as our example, here are some of the estimated costs involved in a typical Diablo Ballet production:SwingOrza1

  • Renting the Del Valle Theater for 5 days was close to $10,000. That doesn’t include the cost of renting studio space for 5 weeks of rehearsing.
  • The approximate salary cost for the dancers for the five-week period, which included rehearsals and performances, was $35,000.  Dancers also receive assistance towards their health insurance; and, of course, as with any business, workers’ compensation and liability insurance has to be paid.
  • Ballet uses both recorded and live music in its shows; the live music cost for the November show was $9,500.
  • Production expenses, which include costumes, lighting, a production team and a stage manager, were approximately $8,000.
  • Choreographic royalties and fees totaling more than $7,000 were paid; this includes costs incurred by having an out-of-state expert set Tolstoy’s Waltz.
  • Shoes – both ballet slippers and pointe shoes – just for Tolstoy’s Waltz cost several hundred dollars. Costume rental for this one number was $300 and a royalty of $75 was paid to the original costume designer.
  • Lights had to be rented at an additional cost. Typically, a royalty fee is also paid to the original lighting designer but, for this performance, this fee was waived.
  • Programs and direct mail promotions cost about $2,500.
  • Additional monies were paid for the extra people who helped out – the ones who load everything in and out of the theater; the woman who stands backstage with needle and thread in hand, waiting to fix that loose button or sew up the small tear in the costume.
hoto by Tiffany Bertolami Fong and Michael Malerba

Mayo Sugano and Robert Dekkers                                  Photo: Tiffany Bertolami Fong and Michael Malerba

So the next time you balk at the high price of those tickets, think about all the costs associated with producing a high-quality, standing ovation-deserving show and know that you’re getting what is often called a big bang for your buck – a wonderful afternoon or evening of amazing talent and outstanding entertainment.

Coming up next for Diablo Ballet: Enticing Beauty – February 6-7, featuring George Balanchine’s Harlequinade Pas de Deux; Christopher Wheeldon’s Sea Pictures; Robert Dekkers’ cares you know not; and a world premier by Sonya Delwaide. For more information or to purchase tickets, please go to


by Diane Claytor


unnamed-1 Diablo Ballet opens its 21st season on November 14, with performances on both the 14th and 15th. And when the curtain goes down after the final show, the Diablo Ballet audience and dancers alike will no doubt be feeling a little sad, perhaps a little teary-eyed. That November 15th show will be Edward Stegge’s last time on stage with this Company. The beloved dancer, described by Artistic Director Lauren Jonas as an “audience favorite and adored by his fellow company members” will retire. “It’s just mytime,” the 45 year old said.

With the average retirement age for a ballet dancer being only 32, Eddie has performed far longer than most. “I realize I just can’t do some of the things I used to do,” he noted. “Even though I still love it, my feet really ache at the end of the day and I don’t want to end up hating to dance. I’ve had an amazing career and I certainly never thought I’d dance this long.”

Eddie, who began taking classes at 6 years old, has been dancing with Diablo Ballet for 12 years; he spent the previous 10 years with the Colorado Ballet, dancing soloist and principal roles. He was also a guest artist with the Minnesota Dance Theater and danced with the Peninsula Ballet Theatre, Oakland Ballet and San Francisco Opera Ballet. He received his training at the San Francisco Ballet as well as New York’s School of American Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet.unnamed-2

The San Francisco Chronicle recently wrote that Eddie “is known for his scene-stealing performances as mischievous characters: a little red devil in “Magic Toy Store,” as an evil stepsister in “The Tale of Cinderella” and his mesmerizing solos with just the right touch of camp in “Once Upon a Ballroom” and “Making Love With Your Socks On.”

Lauren commented that “Eddie has made an incredible impact and he is a gift to all who know him and watch him dance.” And his Diablo Ballet colleagues couldn’t agree more.

Dancer Derek Sakakura said that “Eddie is one of the kindest, most humble people I know. His presence, both on and off the stage has been something I will always cherish. He has taught me much about how to persevere and what it means to be a good person.” Tetyana Martyanova share’s Derek’s feelings. “Eddie is one of the kindest guys on the planet. No, really!! He is just so open and generous,” she said. “He will always listen and put forth his very best efforts to anything you ask – whether it’s just trying a step together one more time, changing an approach to a dance lift or anything else. He’s got such a big heart and I feel lucky to share the stage with him.” And David Fonnegra added that “it’s always been a pleasure to work with that ‘kid’, Eddie, a dancer full of many emotions and the desire to always do everything right. I admire him for who he is as a person, friend and coworker. He gives without expecting anything in return.”

As Eddie recently told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I love expressing myself to other people, and I don’t feel that I’m so good with words, but through ballet you get to communicate to everyone in the audience.”

unnamedEddie definitely has mixed feelings about his retirement. “I don’t know how I’m going to feel at that final performance,” he said. “I think every dancer feels like they’ve lost their identity when they finish dancing. But once a dancer, always a dancer. I’m so grateful and feel so lucky. And in a way, I’m kind of excited. I know when it’s over, I won’t get notes, won’t get any corrections. It’s just this chapter that will be over.”

Eddie may be stepping off the professional stage, but he certainly isn’t tossing out his ballet shoes just yet. And he won’t be sitting around on a rocking chair either. Additionally, his Diablo Ballet friends will still have the opportunity to see him.

As the Ballet’s PEEK (Performing Arts Education and Enrichment for Kids) Outreach Assistant, Eddie will continue working in underserved classrooms, teaching movement classes to help children learn to communicate their emotions through music and without words. He will also continue teaching ballet to budding middle and high school dancers through a partnership between Diablo Ballet and Walnut Creek’s Civic Arts Education and even performing with the students at their annual winter gala. And finally, Eddie will continue taking classes. “Maybe not every single day,” he said, “but regularly. The physical aspect of peek_2a_1070dancing is such a part of me. It’s food for the soul, it centers me.

“I am so honored to have been a part of Diablo Ballet for over 12 seasons,” Eddie said. “This is my family.”

If you would like to send Eddie your thoughts or good wishes, feel free to send us your comments; we’ll make sure Eddie gets them.


By Diane Claytor

Diablo Ballet kicks off its 21st season (as well as the 2014 holidays) on Friday, November 14th with A Swingin Holiday. This year’s edition of A Swingin’ Holiday (the third annual for Diablo Ballet)Jennifer and Robert 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.

It’s doubtful that you have ever thought you’d see one show featuring both ballet and swing dancing. After all, these two dance forms are just about as different as night and day:

tag tutu• 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 must 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 you’ll find it 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.”

The Beginning of Swing states that Swing Dancing “owes its start to Jazz, which is considered to be the only art form to originate in America…It’s partner dancing where the man literally ‘swings’ the lady through a series of dance patterns.” says Swing, often called the All AmeriHiromi and Eddie Snap  A Swingin' Holiday-2can Dance, is more commonly known as a group of dances that began in the African-American community with the swinging style of jazz music in the 1920s. The most famous of these dances is the Lindy Hop, which is actually a fusion of many dances, including jazz, tap, breakaway and the Charleston.

Legend has it that in 1927, the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem was a very successful 2-story dance club, with two bandstands and over 10,000 square feet of spring loaded, wooden dance floor. (The floor had to be replaced every three years because of its tremendous use. The Savoy, which became known as the “Home of Happy Feet,” could accommodate 4,000 people, attracted the local Black community as well as the most famous Black bands. One night, a local man named “Shorty George” Snowden was enjoying his evening at the Savoy. A reporter, watching the dancers doing jumps, leaps and somersaults, asked Shorty Georglindy_hope what they were dancing. Shorty George, seeing a newspaper on a nearby table with the headline “Lindy Hops the Atlantic” (a story on the successful flight of Charles Lindbergh), told the reporter they were dancing the Lindy Hop. The name stuck!

In the 1930s, a bouncy six beat variant of the Lindy Hop was named the Jitterbug by band leader, Cab Calloway.

Duke Ellington is actually given credit for naming the Swing Dance style with his hit song, “It Don’t Mean a Thing If You Ain’t Got That Swing.”

Following this, Dean Collins, who had been dancing at the Savoy for many years, moved to Los Angeles and altered the Savoy Swing by adding his own style and movements. Thus was born the West Coast Swing, which was danced to blues, R&B, Pop and Funk music, and is now considered the official dance of California. Collins won numerous dance contests and taught the West Coast Swing to dancers, dance teachers and movie stars; he also choreographed for and danced in several Hollywood films in the 1930s.

Apparently, the first impression of the Lindy Hop, and the Swing movement, was not terribly positive. Dancing societies and dance teachers looked down upon the style, calling it a “degenerated form of jazz whose devotees are the unfortunate victims of economic instability;” older generations thought Swing dancing was too sexual and vulgar.

Diablo Ballet’s choreographer, Sean Kelly, knows both his Ballet and his Swing. After many years dancing with the Houston Ballet, Kelly entered the world of musical theater where he joined the touring cast of the Tony-nominated musical Swing, serving as both a swing dancer and dance captain.Rosselyn with big candycane

Three years ago, Lauren Jonas, Diablo Ballet’s Artistic Director, approached Kelly, saying she thought it would be fun to create a piece combining holiday music classics played in big band fashion and pairing it with swing-style dancing. Kelly obliged. In 2012, the San Francisco Chronicle said, “what made Swingin Holiday so endearing were the dancers’ clean attacks and lack of self-consciousness in recreating a vital era of social dance history.” Last year, called the choreography a “wonderful fusion of styles (ballet, jive, social dance, jazz)…”

For your chance to watch Diablo Ballet’s dancers perform both ballet and swing, all in one evening, get your tickets by going to or calling 925-943-7469.

Amanda Farris headshot

by Diane Claytor

Approximately 20 years ago, Amanda Farris was an 8 year old girl living in a small town nestled in the foothills of California’s central valley, asking her mother to please let her take ballet classes. Today she is the newest member of Diablo Ballet’s highly acclaimed dance company.

“We lived in a very small town and it wasn’t easy to find a dance studio,” Amanda remembers. But her mother, who was a violin teacher, had danced as a teenager and even trained with the San Diego Ballet for a short time, did as her daughter asked. After all, Amanda explains, “I loved anything having to do with dancing, classical music, dressing up in what I thought ballerinas would wear. I was all over it.” For the next 7 years, Amanda attended a small dance studio in the central valley. “The teacher there eventually pushed me out and said I needed to go train somewhere else, at a real ballet training school.”

Amanda began training at Juline School of Dance in Modesto at 15, for the first time taking classes every day. It was very intense and “many days I’d come home from a late class in tears because I could see how much further I needed to be for my age and my level,” she said. But she also knew it was what she really wanted and was willing to work as hard as she could to catch up.

The Juline School had a pre-professional program, Central West Ballet, and Amanda auditioned for – and was immediately accepted into — the program. “They did 4 or 5 productions a year which was a totally new experience for me. I really hadn’t experienced anything like this before and I loved every bit of it,” she noted. “Because I got into that environment later, I was more fascinated with everything that had to do with actually performing classical ballets than the other students.” Up to this point, Amanda had never even seen a live professional performance, let alone been featured in one. She still remembers the first time she saw a professional ballet performed live. “I was 17, it was Midsummer Night’s Dream and it was the most beautiful, amazing thing I had ever seen.”

photo by Richard Calmes

photo by Richard Calmes

She auditioned for Boston Ballet’s summer program and spent two summers there. “They must have seen raw talent in me – not just training – because I still had so much catching up to do,” she said.

Upon high school graduation, Amanda attended Cal State Long Beach on a full academic scholarship. She graduated with a BA in Cultural Anthropology and says, “I’m not exactly sure why I decided on that but I loved the subject, loved the world view of what people do. And I guess I wanted to do something completely different than dance.” Not that she didn’t continue dancing. She was very active in the university’s dance program, taking classes and performing. “I was exposed to a great faculty in a very nurturing environment.” She sped through her last semester at school because “I really wanted to dance.” Amanda admits that she wasn’t ready to join a professional company right out of high school, like many dancers do, but now, finishing college, she was more than ready.

Zippora Karz, a former NYC Ballet dancer, came to Cal State as a guest choreographer to set Balanchine’s Serenade, which featured Amanda as a soloist. She spent a lot of time with Amanda, rehearsing her, encouraging her and mentoring her. It was Zippora who recommended that Amanda audition for the Georgia Ballet Company upon her college graduation.

Amanda with Robert Dekkers Photo by Richard Calmes

Amanda with Robert Dekkers
Photo by Richard Calmes

By this time, Amanda was married to her husband, Joshua, also from California, and together they decided to give Georgia a try. For the next 7 years, Amanda danced with the Georgia Ballet Company, a small regional company located in Marietta, Georgia. She started in the corps de ballet and quickly worked her way up to principal dancer. “It was a wonderful company and I had great opportunities,” she said. “Had I been with a larger company, I don’t know if I would have performed as much, been seen as much or had as much individual attention.” Gina Hyatt-Mazon, the company’s artistic director and a former principal with the Hamburg Ballet, worked very closely with Amanda. “She worked on refining my technique, improving my presence on state. She worked on all the little details – precisely how I stepped, exactly how I reached my fingers.” She also allowed Amanda to set several pieces, “something I’m not sure I would have been able to do in a bigger company.”

Amanda thoroughly enjoyed being able to choreograph pieces and finds that she likes working on more contemporary pieces. “I love classical ballet,” she said, “but as I was creating movement I found that contemporary movement comes more naturally when I’m listening or expressing music.”

Georgia Ballet also performed a lot of community outreach with shows for seniors and children, as well as going into the schools and teaching dance to second graders. As Amanda became more involved in this, she found that she loved it. “As a kid, I went to public schools and never had this exposure to classical dance.”

As the years went on, Amanda and her husband realized that although Georgia was great, they were ready to return to California. Amanda learned about a possible opening with Diablo Ballet and, as they say, the rest is history. She will make her debut with the opening of Diablo Ballet’s 21st season on November 14 in their new home – Walnut Creek’s Del Valle Theatre.

Photo by Richard Calmes

Photo by Richard Calmes

Amanda is very excited about joining Diablo Ballet’s family; she’s equally excited about being active in the PEEK (Performing Arts Education & Enrichment for Kids) outreach program. “This program is so important,” she stated. “Had my mother not been a dancer when she was younger, I would have had no exposure to any classical dance as a kid. It’s so exciting to have programs like this in the schools.”

Amanda also loves teaching and just began teaching several classes at a dance academy in Dublin.

And what about that degree in cultural anthropology? Amanda knows she won’t be able to dance forever and figures she may put the degree to use when that time comes.

To meet Amanda and see her, as well as all the other incredible dancers in the Diablo Ballet company, perform, be sure to get your tickets to the first shows of the 21st season. A Swingin’ Holiday and More 
debuts on November 14 at 8 pm; additional shows are on November 15 at 2 pm & 8 pm at the Del Valle Theatre in Walnut Creek. For tickets, call 925-943-7469 or go to

Lauren Jonas, Artistic Director

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