Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Third year run.
Central West Ballet's venture into Halloween tradition made its third seasonal run this year, hoping to continue gaining consistent following at the box office.
Artistic Director René Daveluy says the project has gathered enough interest since its premiere in 2015 to warrant return performances at Halloween time. "We are excited about the prospects of tapping into seasonal events and reaching a wider audience with themes such as Halloween and well known subjects like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", Daveluy goes on to explain, "this ballet has a wealth of beneficial elements that is doing good for our Company, our Academy and CWB II, our Trainee company".
Indeed, Central West Ballet has nurtured the growth of its Academy and its Trainees over the course of the last five years. "We have seen tremendous improvements in our students with their technique and stage experience since the creation of Legend of Sleepy Hollow", explains Academy Director Leslie Ann Larson, "the ballet contains an extensive school scene and also includes students and CWB II members in the Barn Dance, the main divertissement in the first act".
Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a long time project by René Daveluy and Jan Clark Fugit since 2003. Fugit and Daveluy had produced youth ballet versions of Coppélia and Peter and the Wolf in Salt Lake City, which Daveluy later brought and augmented for Central West Ballet. Sleepy Hollow didn't see the light of day until 2015, when Daveluy felt he could compose an original score for the ballet. "In 2013 I made a return to music through digital scoring. Even though my background was all music as a child (and had left it for dance), returning to it was a goal and frankly, quite a gamble, but at that point I could see myself taking this on".
The gamble paid off and Legend of Sleepy Hollow premiered to enthusiastic audiences, spurring repeat performances the next year. "Jan and I put it together in a very short time and I finished everything off by complementing Jan's own choreographic style into the rest of the ballet, just in time for the premiere", Daveluy goes on to explain, "in the second run a year later, I extended the Barn Scene and this year I created a solo for the Character of Brom Bones in the second act". Daveluy says this ballet needed a quintessential and specific personality for the role of Ichabod Crane. "Without a genuine Ichabod", Daveluy says, "Legend of Sleepy Hollow cannot really see the light of day". Daveluy found the quintessential Ichabod in his own Principal Dancer Aaron Gulevich. "Aaron really had the perfect balance of charm, quirkiness and leading man qualities necessary to carry the role".
Legend of Sleepy Hollow has served Central West Ballet well for the last three years and Daveluy sees this as a good thing. "It's always feasible to bring Sleepy Hollow back, it is much like a Nutcracker by now. The Company can set it in a short time and be up and running if need be". But Daveluy also wants to keep things fresh and Legend might have to take a break. "We'll see", he goes on to say. "the ballet has already gotten expectations from audience members for it to come back next season, but I want to keep other options open. "There are other shows in store and other Halloween stories and we might go for another adventure next season, it all depends on how things develop for next year".
"Legend of Sleepy Hollow is a unique production for Central West Ballet and has a great potential in its future", Daveluy concludes, "I want to see it grow and expand in new ways"
Image above: Aaron Gulevich as Ichabod Crane in Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
Nutcracker Season - Classic & Jazz versions
Nutcracker Season is approaching fast and Central West Ballet is already rehearsing its cast of over 100 children in addition to the company members. Ballet Mistress Leslie Ann Larson says the performances will showcase a cross section of Central Valley youth, "we have seen much more diversity in our children’s auditions over the last three years", Larson explains, "it's wonderful to see so many new faces from all around, and good little performers too"
Artistic Director René Daveluy says there is a new crop of lead dancers, along with the veterans to give audiences something special and exciting for each show. "I am excited to see such great dancing, technically and artistically from our new headliners". Daveluy also loves to see the maturity of his veterans at the forefront, "Our veterans, in their mid twenties and approaching early thirties are showing an essential maturity that is a joy to watch".
The Nutcracker got an all new companion version last year with the premiere of Nutcracker in Jazz, which returns this year to complement the beloved run of the classic version of the ballet. René Daveluy says this special Jazz version is a must see for those who want something extra this Holiday season. "There are so many Christmas jazz standards and Tchaikovsky's score has had many adaptations ever since the jazz era came about", Daveluy's goes on to say that the project had been on his mind for a few years, "a lot of ballet companies present a 'Nutty Nutcracker' during their regular Holiday season, but I wanted to make our version more like those great MGM musicals of the 40's and 50's."
Indeed, last year's Nutcracker in Jazz was a smash hit with the audience and gave Central West Ballet a chance to showcase the various talents in the Company. "I wanted to include some tap dancing and Noelle Im, one of my Principal Dancers is a talented tap dancer as well as a Ballerina", Daveluy also included choreography work by Principal Dancer Nicole FIrpo, "Nicole is a fervent admirer of Musicals and having seen her rendition of Ellington's Sugar Rum Cherry a few years ago, I asked her to develop the idea into a few numbers for multiple Sugar Rum Cherries". Daveluy also showcased Firpo's qualities as a dancer. "Nicole was really perfect for the role of the Sugar Rum Cherry and I complemented her scenes by choreographing a solo and a Pas de Deux specially made for her".
Nutcracker in Jazz contains many crafted scenes wrapped in an efficient, action packed evening of show stopping dances. The story line is simplified to make way for great MGM style moments, which delighted the audience when it was premiered in 2016. The upcoming reprise is a chance for those who missed it to spend a perfect Holiday night at the ballet.
Daveluy looks forward to the show which will be performed on December 14. "We hope for this to become a strong tradition", he says, "it's really a unique and inventive Christmas special".
CWB and members of CWB II in Nutcracker in Jazz. Photo: Bicek Photgraphy
History in the Central Valley
Central West Ballet's 30th Anniversary Gala is scheduled for February 8 and this special evening of dance will be a chance for everyone to enjoy a wonderful look at the evolution of the Company since its inception in 1987.
Directors René Daveluy and Leslie Ann Larson also look forward to celebrating the work done under their tenure since 2004.
"Leslie and I were at the beginning of our forties when we took on leadership of the Company 13 years ago and this adventure was in many ways the most wonderful of our dance careers". Daveluy and Larson say they have witnessed many superb moments during the development of Central West Ballet as it became a resident company of the Gallo Center for the Arts. "We started in the high school system", Daveluy goes on to say, "back then, it really was a community effort to get everything done with the dedication of parents, volunteers and the beautiful creativity of many seamstresses, carpenters and entire families to get the shows produced".
Daveluy says the Gallo Center changed everything in 2007. "The arrival of the Gallo Center challenged everyone to step up to the next level, including Central West Ballet", he goes on to explain, "however, with Central West, the advantages were that some pioneering elements, such as discipline and a well organized system helped in making the transition to the Gallo Center". Daveluy says the system Larson and he inherited had a good foundation. "With the visionary work of Founding Artistic Director Gretchen Vogelzang and Founder Juline Schmitz, there was common ground for a solid vision, and setting up the company to evolve further into the future". Daveluy adds that the work of Coleen Patterson as one of the subsequent Artistic Directors of Central West Ballet maintained the crucial discipline needed in keeping the company moving forward. "Coleen was organized and dedicated to every aspect of the company". In their years working with CWB's Board and Executives, Daveluy and Larson say they are grateful to many exceptional individuals and the visionary work of CWB Board Presidents Anne Porteous, Ann Endsley, Sandra Cash and through the entire time, Hugh Rose III, who has given his support in all aspects to keep the company going. "We have been graced with so many dedicated board members who have given their time, money and resources from one fundraiser to the next, it is astonishing". Daveluy also says his relationship with Executive Director Cynthia Coughlin has produced many memorable and significant seasons for CWB. "With Cynthia, we have seen many projects come to life; a very successful two year run of a James Irvine Grant for Dance Initiative, an Academy of Dance, a new relationship with the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts in Tracy and continued solid seasons at the Gallo Center".
Daveluy points out that the group of dancers that started under his tenure had special aptitudes to realize the goal of a professional company. "They were talented, feisty, charismatic and passionate", he goes on to say, "what Leslie and I did is take all the raw elements, focused these with increased professional work and added industry standard costumes and resources to the already wonderful local work". Daveluy says he produced some of his best ballets with the dancers of Central West in those early years. "It was inspiring for Leslie and I and an exciting time for the dancers, everything felt new and unexpected, a rollercoaster ride every season", he says, "everyone was delighted to experience something special at each turn, it was magical, thrilling and it seemed there was no end to the adventure". Daveluy says he looks back at this time period with admiration for the headlining performers who developed under his directorship, "they were and still are amazing and unique".
Professional Goals - Caniparoli and Balanchine
Central West Ballet has risen to professional levels under Daveluy and Larson. Their contacts with other seasoned professionals brought in experience from the field to propel the company forward. Over the years, some illustrious names in the world of dance helped in nurturing the dancers. It became natural to see John Hart CBE in rehearsal coaching the dancers. Jeffrey Rogers, former Principal Dancer of Ballet West came to Modesto to teach, coach and train the dancers in everything from stagecraft to theatrical fencing. Jan Clark Fugit, a long time professional and master teacher coached, taught and choreographed on the dancers. Eventually Wendy Van Dyck of San Francisco Ballet and Zippora Karz of the New York City Ballet came in as re-stagers.
Daveluy says two choreographers had a significant impact on the Company through the last decade. "My most significant move was to bring in ballets by Val Caniparoli and George Balanchine to the company", he goes on to explain, "one evening at the office, I took the phone and called Val to ask if he would let us dance one of his choreographies. He was most gracious and sent me a few ballets on DVD to choose from. I took the hardest, a ballet entitled Violin, a beautiful piece with intricate Pas de Deux moves and tough ensemble sections. It was a pivotal moment in changing the dancers' perspective and giving the company a new path". Central West Ballet presented Caniparoli's Violin, then a work for women entitled Songs and a trio titled Suite from 2010 to 2012.
From 2013 to 2015, Daveluy brought in Balanchine ballets, starting with an excerpt from Serenade, a milestone for Central West Ballet. "I contacted the Balanchine Trust and we established a relationship that enabled us to grow the company's artistic profile even further". The company went on to perform Balanchine's Valse Fantaisie and the concert version of Who Cares? In recent years Ronn Guidi, Founding Artistic Director of the Oakland Ballet lended his support and coached the dancers in his choreography Trois Gymnopédies.
An Ongoing Spirit
In a tough economy and competitive environment, Daveluy has worked tirelessly to keep Central West Ballet's seasons original and exciting. His work with Executive Director Cynthia Coughlin and CWB's Board of Directors over the years has weathered many storms and situations. "I have always kept a belief in Central West Ballet's future as a professional entity", Daveluy goes on to say, "with the growing responsibility of keeping the Company's budget balanced, we shifted some of our attention to building a dance academy to offer quality training to students from all around the Central Valley and opening our own pipeline to channel those who wish to become Central West members down the line. We have kept our commitment in financially helping the dancers, and have found new projects to make the company''s repertoire unique and creative".
Daveluy says the company has gone through wonderful changes and as always, has a bright future ahead, "Central West Ballet is a unique company. It isn't a copycat. It's an original. It has a maverick quality to it. The dancing is genuine, the passion is always there and the dancers are magical. I want to see Centra West Ballet keep its uniqueness and shoot for the stars, aligned and all".