Laguna Dance Festival celebrates 19th year with international and homegrown talent


The Laguna Dance Festival is back for three nights of captivating dance performances from international and local talents. 

The Syncopated Ladies. Photo/Joey Kennedy

Led by founder and artistic director Jodie Gates, the festival runs Friday, Feb. 23, to Sunday, Feb. 25, with a complimentary backstage event on Thursday, Feb. 22, at the renowned Laguna Playhouse. 

“The 2024 Festival represents the extraordinary talents here in Southern California and also the Pacific Rim, delivering an eclectic array of dance styles,” Gates said. “From contemporary dance and traditional Somoan movement to ballet and tap, each performance promises the highest level of integrity, expertise, and excitement.” 

Laguna Beach resident for almost 20 years, Gates continues to delve into the meaning of artistry in the world and translate it into festival performances.

Founder and artistic director of Laguna Dance Festival Jodie Gates. Photo courtesy of LDF

“To curate a festival that has a diversity of dance talent, styles, artistry and energy – it takes time to piece it together,” Gates said. “And then there’s just the production components and all the logistics. But it’s really pieced together well. I have to say that our dynamic staff and board of directors are really phenomenal. Due to their passion and dedication and tenacity, I feel like we all make up a very good team.”

In addition to the regular programming, Feb. 24 marks a collaborative venture with the Laguna Beach Music Festival in partnership with Laguna Beach Live! and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County. 

“I feel as though there’s something for everyone at this Festival,” Gates said.

Backstage with Black Grace

New Zealand’s Black Grace takes center stage for a complimentary event on Thursday, Feb. 22 at 6 p.m. Experience the charm of on-stage rehearsals while gaining insight into the artistic process through Black Grace’s artistic director and choreographer Neil Ierema’s intimate exploration of the dance world. 

“We are excited to include Laguna Dance Festival on Black Grace’s upcoming tour to the United States,” Ierema said. “The repertory program will span almost three decades of my choreography, and we are looking forward to sharing these works with Laguna audiences.”

Black Grace Performance

Black Grace, an ensemble of New Zealand dancers, will take the stage on Friday, Feb. 23, at 7:30 p.m. Choreographer Neil Ierema’s fusion of contemporary dance with traditional Samoan movement promises eloquent, spiritual, athletic and lyrical performances. The evening showcases two acts, including Handgame and Kiona and the Little Bird Suite in the first act and the thought-provoking Paradise Rumour in the second act. The night begins with a pre-show curtain speech at 6:30 p.m. and a 15-minute intermission between performances.

Los Angeles Ballet & Black Grace

On Saturday, Feb. 24, at 7:30 p.m., the Los Angeles Ballet will collaborate with Black Grace for a special performance.

Dancers from the Los Angeles Ballet. Photo/David Friedman

Los Angeles Ballet Artistic Director Melissa Barak said the company is thrilled to participate in Laguna Dance Festival. 

“We’ll be presenting works that are new to the LAB repertoire, providing a glimpse into the innovative choreography that will define our future,” Barak said.

This performance also kicks off an exciting collaboration with the Laguna Beach Music Festival, Laguna Beach Live! and the Philharmonic Society of Orange County.

The collaboration will mix the artistry of dance with live music and showcase Los Angeles Ballet’s versatility, featuring a range of ballet styles, including classical, contemporary and neoclassical pieces.

 The performances will include Nicolas Blanc’s contemporary ballet “Tableaux Vivants” and Barak’s compelling work “Reclamation,” adapted from film to stage. 

The Festival will present a world premiere dance work choreographed by Jodie Gates, accompanied by live music performed with solo cello.

“This will be the first year that I actually choreograph a piece,” Gates said. “The three dancers I’m working with will arrive this coming weekend and we’ll have five days to put it all together. Then we’ll meet on stage with our beautiful musician. After an hour of stage rehearsal, they will perform. I find that exhilarating. And it’s new for me. I’m a choreographer but I have yet to bring a world premiere to the festival.”

The evening kicks off at 7:30 p.m. with a 15-minute intermission between performances. 

Syncopated Ladies and Los Angeles Ballet

The Festival culminates on Sunday, Feb. 25, at 2 p.m., with an afternoon performance spotlighting the Syncopated Ladies and Los Angeles Ballet. 

“The syncopated ladies are a tap group who have collaborated with Beyonce, whose music they’ll be performing to, along with Prince,” Gates said. “We’ve never brought that to the stage before. It certainly is an eclectic performance. And I think having Los Angeles ballet paired with them, for example, in the Sunday matinee will be a delightful way to spend a Sunday afternoon.”

Los Angeles Ballet’s performances will feature solos by recipients of its 2024 Young Artist Scholarship, which unfolds in two acts with a 15-minute intermission, followed by a post-show meet and greet with the dancers in the theater lobby.

The Feb. 25 matinee also will also feature select talented Young Artist Scholarship recipients.

Previous festival lineups boast a rich tapestry of national and international companies and artists, including Ballet BC, Malpaso, RUBBERBAND, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Parsons Dance, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Ballet West, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Black Grace, BalletX, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, Abraham.In.Motion (A.I.M.), BODYTRAFFIC, Paul Taylor Dance Company, and representatives from San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and New York City Ballet, among others.

“I’m very lucky the Laguna community has embraced us over the years,” Gates said. “I’m grateful that the community and the individuals that work for the Festival have a common desire and passion. I love that people want to see more dance.”

Tickets are available at

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