Bevies of dancers that defy gravity with impossible reaches and soaring leaps provide proof of spring’s arrival in Laguna Beach. Beginning next Thursday, their presence will entice dance aficionados to performances of the Laguna Dance Festival, April 12-15 at the Laguna Playhouse.
This latest iteration in its seventh season showcases two dance companies, Ballet X and River North Dance Chicago, a constellation of stars plucked from other several others and choreography by the festival’s founder, Jodie Gates.
The renowned ballerina retired from dancing to settle in Laguna Beach in 2006 after years of globetrotting. She envisioned a festival to reintroduce dance into the visual art-saturated community. Today, Laguna Dance Festival lures dance lovers from as far as New York City, according to Gates.
Her brainchild matured swiftly, guided by Gates’ eye for growing audiences by presenting engaging programs featuring first-rate emerging, established and highly prestigious artists. “I look for athleticism and grace in dancers, and for dance companies with eclectic repertoires,” she said.
To whet appetites for next weekend’s fully staged concerts, during Laguna’s First Thursday Art Walk dancers from the UC Irvine-based troupe Bare Bones Dance Theater were to perform at the Laguna Art Museum and Seven-Degrees. Their repertoire included an excerpt from “Mein Zimmer,” (my room in German) a work choreographed by Gates for UCI’s dance department, where she is a professor.
As part of the festival, its dancers also teach several master classes, open to high school dancers and older. “We reach out to all dancers, from San Diego to Pasadena,” she said. As always, she said that she aims for diversity in programing. “I would not bring, for example, two ballet companies at the same time. It’s important to offer a potpourri of material that will engage a variety of audiences.”
This year, she spotlights River North Dance Chicago, directed by Frank Chaves. Their program will include “Train,” choreographed by Robert Battle, currently artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Sections of the River North program also offer glimpses into Cuban dance culture.
Ballet X, a Philadelphia company that Gates has been closely affiliated with, will perform her newly choreographed “Delicate Balance.” “It’s intense choreography without a narrative, but conveys the idea of imbalance or delicate balance–humanity is in a delicate balance,” she explained.
April 14 and 15 features Stars of Dance including Tiler Peck and Joaquin DeLuz, a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet for the last seven years. Before that, the Spanish-born virtuoso had spent nearly as long with the American Ballet Theater, which he joined inspired by the choreography of George Balanchine and the virtuosity of Mikhail Baryshnikov.
“I trained in Madrid but my dream was to come to America,” he said.
DeLuz danced at the Laguna Dance Festival four years ago and considers Laguna a surrogate home. “I have lots of friends here and always have a good time. California is closest to my own country,” he said, referring to Spain’s similar topography and climate.
Besides showing his talents in Laguna, he danced at Costa Mesa’s Segerstrom Center for the Arts, performing twice a year with the American Ballet Theater. DeLuz also surfs. “Sometimes I pack my board. I love being on the ocean,” he said.
As she surveys past seasons, Gates feels emboldened to introduce new, cutting-edge companies and repertoires. “I feel I’ve lived in the community long enough to push the envelope,” she said. “So far, every year has been a success and, despite economic stress, we have endured. We count our pennies and maintain excellence,” she said.
All performances at Laguna Playhouse, 609 Laguna Canyon Road, adjacent to Festival of the Arts grounds. Tickets $50, $35 students; April 14 gala reception not included.
Thursday, April 12, Meet the Artist Talk, 6:30 p.m., River North Dance Chicago performace, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, April 13, Meet the Artist Talk, 6:30 p.m., Ballet X performance, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 14, Stars of Dance, New York City Ballet, Colorado Ballet and Smuin Ballet, 7:30 p.m. (VIP fundraising reception follows)
Sunday, April 15. Meet the Artists Talk, 1 p.m.; Stars of Dance performance, 2 p.m. matinee. Dancers include: Colorado Ballet’s Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov, and New York City Ballet’s Tiler Peck and Joaquin DeLuz.
Laguna Dance Festival Master Classes: April 11, 6-8, Laguna Playhouse; April 14 and 15, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Laguna Beach High School Dance Studio. Master Class $25, audit class $10. Sign up: 949-715-5578