Dance Festival Springs to Life

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Desmond Richardson.

The arrival of spring this year coincides with the expansion of the Laguna Dance Festival season, staged in the fall of previous years. Though dancers set the mood with audience-teasing performance snippets in galleries during this past Thursday’s Art Walk, the real attraction arrives next week. Desmond Richardson, the critically praised co-founder of New York’s acclaimed Complexions Contemporary Ballet, performs at the Laguna Playhouse April 14-17.

Likening this respected troupe of dancers to star athletes, festival founder and artistic director Jodie Gates said, “Imagine if the Lakers came and played on Main Beach. This is what we’re giving the community by getting Complexions to dance in Laguna.”

Complexions will feature will feature repertory and new works ranging from ballet to jazz to hip-hop. Besides co-founding Complexions with choreographer Dwight Rhoden, Richardson has also achieved pop-hero status through his performances on the television show “So You Think You Can Dance.”

Rehearsals will not be open to the public, but Gates and dancers will hold pre-performance talks to ticket holders on Thursday, April 14, at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, April 17, at 1 p.m.

There will also be two master classes open to the public at Laguna Beach High School that focus on Richardson and Rhoden’s techniques, taught by two Complexion dancers.

“This is an exciting week for us,” said LBHS dance instructor Lisa Jay. “The kids had to do research on Complexions’ history, and I am taking my intermediate and advanced, roughly 50 students, to the Thursday night concert,” she said. Complexions offered free classes for 10 students, snapped up in minutes. “When a company of this caliber comes into town, it’s a rarity,” she said.

Complexions will also serve as a company in residence at UC Irvine, where Gates teaches choreography and dance. They will share their expertise with students in a variety of classes.

The spring festival will be improvisational, eclectic, versatile and more contemporary with a bent toward pop culture, said Gates, who was a finalist for a grant at this year’s Art Stars Awards. Last year, the American Association of University Women honored her for achievements in the arts.

Gates, who established CaDance in 2005, continues to refine the festival’s execution. “I become more seasoned and familiar with my audiences and we are fulfilling our mission to educate new audience members,” said Gates, who curates, directs and produces the dance fest as a volunteer.

Among the changes this year is a shift in location. Laguna Playhouse remains untested for Gates, but served as home venue for defunct Ballet Pacifica productions, said executive director Karen Wood. “Jody wanted to professionalize the program and reach what might normally be just theater audiences. The Playhouse reaches geographically wider audiences than the Artists’ Theatre,” she said.

The Playhouse also offers visiting troupes a variety of professional services such as stage design, box office services, ushers, and concession sales, among others. As dancers are sensitive to adapting to new stage floors, dance companies typically bring their own so-called Marley floor that dampens possible shortcomings of conventional stage boards, she said.

Ticket: April 14, 15 and 17, general admission, $50; seniors and students, $40. April 16’s gala performance: $75. VIP Artist Reception, $50 949-715-5578; Laguna Playhouse 949-497-2787


Fesitval Schedule

Thursday, April 14, 7:30 p.m. Artist talk 6:30 p.m.

Friday, April 15, 7:30 p.m.  No artist talk.

Saturday, April 16, 7:30 p.m. Gala Performance.

Ballet Master Classes: $25, Audit $15; 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., LBHS Dance Studio, 625 Park Avenue.

Sunday, April 17, 2 p.m. Artist talk 1 p.m.

Ballet Master Classes: $25, Audit $15; 10 a.m.-noon. LBHS Dance Studio, 625 Park Avenue.

All performances at Laguna Playhouse.

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