Culture Spotlight: California Ballet Company
Posted on December 10, 2016
Nearly 50 years ago, Maxine Mahon, inspired by her own ballerina mother (Flora Jennings Small, who performed throughout the San Diego area in the 1920s and 1930s), founded the California Ballet Company. Mahon, who also had her own professional dance career in San Diego and at the National Ballet in Washington, D.C., became the founding director, with Small the acting president. Established in 1968, the company staged early performances at the San Diego State University Amphitheatre. They gathered dancers from around the world, including the Belgrade National Ballet, Australian Ballet Company, Paris Opera Ballet, and London Dance Theatre for local outreach programs and lectures in schools to foster a growing interest in ballet around San Diego.
Starting in 1971, Mahon and company staged their full-length ballet The Nutcracker, which would become an annual San Diego arts scene mainstay. The sold-out shows and frequent praise required a move into the larger 3,000-seat San Diego Civic Theatre, where it is still performed today.
Just one year later, California Ballet Company instituted the other half of its important ongoing contribution to dance, the California Ballet School. Some of its students have gone on to international acclaim. The school, one of the largest staffed on the West Coast, operates many programs, including a junior company, where students participate in workshops for training in dance subjects like variations, flamenco, jazz, contemporary, and choreography. The Main Center in Kearny Mesa gives students an opportunity to observe professional dancers at work. The school’s Dance Connection in Point Loma program offers ballet and tap programs for toddlers and adults.
Long supported by funding members and the San Diego community, the California Ballet Company reciprocates by providing student educational programs across the region. They include visual and performing arts programs, ballet history, and social sciences. Their “Mini Ballets” feature characters from select ballets, and many times leave students with a new love for dance and music, as well as a chance to perform alongside professional dancers. Students are given opportunities to view dress rehearsals and other performances at the Civic Theatre. The Sharing the Art Program makes over 20,000 free tickets available to underserved children and youngsters with illnesses, all funded by memberships.
Over the years, the company has staged productions including Romeo and Juliet, The Great Gatsby, and Dracula, among others. This year, The Nutcracker will be performed on December 10 and 11 (with Classics Philharmonic), and again December 16-24 (with the San Diego Symphony). Then, next March 4 and 5, audiences will be delighted by the California Ballet Company’s rendition of Peter Pan. 858.560.5676, californiaballet.org Ryan Thomas