Dance Fest Soars With Diversity


By Daniella Walsh | LB Indy

American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland performs with New York City Ballet’s Gonzalo Garcia during the Laguna Dance Festival, Sept. 11-14.
American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland performs with New York City Ballet’s Gonzalo Garcia during the Laguna Dance Festival, Sept. 11-14.

With performances beginning next week, Laguna Dance Festival vaults into its tenth season, the equivalent of a grand jeté – where a ballet dancer leaps to perform a split jump — in terms of its longevity.

That young history doesn’t shake the certainty of its founder, prima ballerina Jodie Gates, who retired from the stage in 2004 and settled in Laguna Beach, intent on turning the town into a dance mecca.

Since then, the festival’s main performances now take place at Laguna Playhouse rather than the Artists’ Theatre and those free to the public have drifted from Main Beach to art galleries, hosting dancers and choreographers during the First Thursday Art Walk on Sept. 4. (See sidebar)

What remains unchanged is Gates’ curation, emphasizing diversity and striving for balance between novelty and history, entertainment and education.

For example, this year features the premiere of “Ekphrasis” with choreography by Bernard Gaddis, founder of The Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater, and music composed by Alan Chan, performed by the Los Angeles-based string ensemble Argus Quartet.

Ticketed Playhouse performances, Sept. 11-14, include Ballet Memphis embodying Julia Adams’ “Devil’s Fruit,” Trey McIntyre’s “In Dreams” and Matthew Neenan’s “Party of the Year.”

Los Angeles-based Bodytraffic will perform Richard Siegel’s “o2joy” and Barak Marshall’s “at midnight the green bride floated through the village square.”

New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet, co-founded by Desmond Richardson, will spotlight him solo in “Innervisions,” set to music by Stevie Wonder. A repeat participant in the festival, Richardson will also teach a sold-out master class at Laguna Beach High School.

A highlight of the Saturday, Sept. 13, gala will be American Ballet Theater soloist Misty Copeland, paired here with New York City Ballet’s Gonzalo Garcia who appeared here in 2006.

Laguna Art Museum’s “Lotus Land” inspired a locally commissioned dance work that will premiere at Laguna Dance Festival next month.
Laguna Art Museum’s “Lotus Land” inspired a locally commissioned dance work that will premiere at Laguna Dance Festival next month.

The festival work co-commissioned with Laguna Beach Live and the Laguna Art Museum complements a painting from the museum’s permanent collection, “Lotus Land” by Lee Mullican.

“We have worked with Jodie Gates to stage dance performances at the museum and on the second Thursday we feature music in conjunction with Laguna Beach Live, so it seems only natural to want to combine visual art, music and dance into one combined work of art,” explained the museum’s executive director, Malcolm Warner, who titled the work.

For gallery performances, Gates chose Saleemah E. Knight, a Los Angeles choreographer and professor of dance at the USC Glorya Kaufman School which Gates directs, Josie Walsh a choreographer and founder of Red Ballet, Jackie Kopscak, an  graduate from UC Irvine, and Lara Wilson, a choreographer transplanted from New York to Newport Beach.

Knight described her source of inspiration by email. “Iused to believe that it was always the music that moved me first, but now I find that it could be a moment in time or a situation that arises organically that will inspire me to create. It varies from piece to piece, but what is consistent is the idea of being inspired by an outside source or experience.”

By contrast Wilson said: “My composition for the event is site specific, featuring dancers Bret Yamanaka and Kalynn Marin. It fits with my hunger to join an Orange County dance community.”

Walsh (no relation to this writer), whose work has also been performed at the Irvine Barklay Theater, will present “Shades of Red,” with music composed by her husband. Her choreography takes inspiration from modern dance, jazz, pop music and culture and notes the increasing emergence of female choreographers, historically a male-dominated field. “Ballet is a female dominated art form. Why should choreography be different?” she asked.

Kopscak, who participates in the festival for the first time, is inspired by visual arts and ballet’s ornate vocabulary along with contemporary dance and music. She chooses dancers with a sense collaboration, creativity and humor. “Dancing should be fun,” she said.

Copeland, the festival’s gala star, grew up in Southern California and has made headlines as a rarity in dance. The African American soloist born in 1982 is intent on becoming a prima ballerina, though she first tied on toe shoes at age 13. Her book “Life in Motion: An Unlikely Ballerina,” delineates her journey.

Currently performing as Odette/Odile in the American Ballet Theater production of Swan Lake, Copeland said through an intermediary, “Whenever I get a chance to perform in my native Southern California it’s always exciting and when Gonzalo Garcia invited me to perform with him at the Laguna Dance Festival, there was no question about whether I’d do it.”


Laguna Dance Festival Performances:

Free Performances:  Thursday, Sept. 4, First Thursday Art Walk, 6:30-8 p.m. Dawson Cole Fine Art, 326 Glenneyre St., 6:30 p.m.; GG’s Bistro & Avran Art & Design, 540 S. Coast Hwy, 7:15 p.m.; One Laguna, 225 Forest Ave., 7:45 p.m.

Ticketed performances, 7:30 p.m., Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Rd. $30 students, $60 general. 949-497-2787. Sunday matinee, 2 p.m. Free pre-show talk for ticket holders an hour preceding each show.

Thursday, Sept. 11. Ballet Memphis.

Friday, Sept. 12. Body Traffic.

Saturday, Sept. 13. Gala with the stars: Complexions, Gonzalo Garcia, Misty Copeland, Lorena Fejoo & Vitor Luiz, “Ekphrasis.” Post performance reception, $125.

Sunday, Sept. 14. Gala stars reprise their performance.

All Master Classes, 10 a.m.-noon. Dancer $25/Observer $15, Laguna Beach High School dance studio, 625 Park Ave. 949-715-5578

Saturday, Sept. 6. Saleemah E. Knight.

Saturday, Sept. 13. Gonzalo Garcia.

Sunday, Sept. 14. Desmond Richardson.

Tickets: or Laguna Playhouse box office, 949-497-2787. Laguna Dance Festival office:  949-715-5578.

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