California Ballet

By Olga Smoak, International Journalist Editor of Ballet in Russia Founding member of International Foundations Diamonds of World Ballet

From its inception in 1968, California Ballet Company has been a fertile ground for the re-staging of the demanding classics and for the creation of its own trail-blazing works. Later on, the CBC bestowed on emerging young choreographers, many from San Diego, an opportunity to create and to develop through the company their own personal dance statements. In addition, the CBC has influenced, nurtured and enriched the lives of generations of committed dancers - artist, many of whom are now performing on four continents.

Furthermore, unusual for a US company this size, from very early on, the CBC began to acquire a distinct international profile. Later on, the CBC became a ballet ambassador, as it shared, gave and received artistic knowledge and hospitality, at home, south of the border and as far away as Romania, Russia and Georgia.

Finally, throughout this 41 year saga, the company enriched the area and also found a supportive echo in its California native soil, which has cherished this jewel enduring in its midst.

Director Maxine Mahon began recreating full length classics in 1971. Charles Bennett, longtime Associate Director, contributed several signature works, works based on San Diego’s historical and Spanish roots as well as children’s ballets. Dame Sonia Arova and Thor Sutowski produced a beautiful rendition of Swan Lake (1997) and others. In addition, CBC has enriched its repertoire with interesting contributions by CBC dancers and teachers.

In 1972, the foundation for the Company was laid in the California Ballet School. It is here that the directors and senior performing members of the company act as dance instructors in ballet, jazz, and modern dance. After more than three decades, the company is proud to recognize alumni in New York and other American cities, in Austria, Canada, Norway, South Africa and the Philippines.

In 1974, Company members Marlene Jones and Douglas Hevenor participated in the Seventh International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria where Bennett garnered second place for Albinoni Adagio. The Romanian Government invited Mahon as the first American dancer educator to teach, choreograph and lecture throughout Romania. Jones and Hevenor received special performance prizes at the ’76 First Tokyo World Ballet Concours. Bennett received a gold medal. CBC also participated in competitions in Varna, Bulgaria/’78, Jackson, Mississippi/’86, Helsinki, Finland/’91 and Jackson, Mississippi/’94.

In 1976-77, Oleg Danovsky and Marius Zirra came to San Diego to teach and choreograph. CBC made ballet history with Stanislav Issaev (Moscow Classical Ballet) coming to guest in ‘86-’87. This was the first appearance of a major Soviet ballet star with American ballerinas. In ‘88-’89 two Soviet choreographers and two pairs of Soviet stars worked with CBC. In ’90, CBC hosted Pisarev and Dorfeyeva for the US-Russian Art Festival and hosted an evening for the Bolshoi School.

In 1989 and ’91 respectively, CBC students Calvin Kitten, Karla Navarrete and Jennifer Curry studied in Tbilisi, Georgia. CBC has performed in Tijuana, Mexico, and at the Summer Festival of San Lois Potosi. Dancers from Mexico are continually invited to perform with CBC, enhancing many productions. Since 1995, the company has made annual tours of the Western United States with its popular production of The Nutcracker, and has been accepted into the California Arts Council’s prestigious Performing Arts Touring and Presenting Program.

Mahon has choreographed for Starlight Opera and SD Opera productions, with whom CBC dancers regularly perform. In addition, Mahon’s desire to bring awareness of dance to the public has led to the creation of a successful series of lecture programs. Funding has been provided by grants from the California Arts Council including an Exemplary Arts in Education Grant, the National Endowment for the Arts and CETA. The Company currently enjoys support from the City of SD Commission for Arts and Culture and the SD County Enhancement Program.

The CBC is a miracle of the vision and determination of its indomitable founder Maxine Mahon, and the fire which she transmitted to her collaborators, which has molded them into the shining institution which is today the multi-faceted California Ballet Company of San Diego.

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