Nutcracker Season • REVIEW CWB Press Office

Central West Ballet’s Nutcracker season was going strong this year, continuing to give numerous performance opportunities to all children from the community. Featured in the role of Clara were CWB Academy students Isabella Poncini, Carley Whitemyer and Hazel Hunter. All three young ladies incarnated the role with lovely and thoughtful presentation on stage. Young Jameson Clark and Jack Cummins were at ease as the mischievous Fritz. Central West Ballet’s children dance numbers and scenes are extensive and manage to give substance to each sections of the ballet. Artistic Director René Daveluy’s additions to the Tchaikovsky score, although clearly a departure, don’t seem out of place due to the fact that these sections are well crafted and woven into the progression of the ballet. In fact, it gives the added children an honest opportunity to get much more out of their Holiday stage experience. Small but important asset purchases in maintaining production values were added with new tutus for the Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen. All in all the Company faired very well throughout the six performances of this classic. In an era where stage effects of all kinds tend to cover up essential ballet etiquette and taste, the dancers of Central West presented themselves with well groomed appearance, stagecraft, clean pointe shoes and all the fine details that sets this professional production apart. Much of this is due to the remarkable work of ballet mistress Leslie Ann Larson.


This year’s run gave the audience some great moments, particularly with a new crop of lead dancers throughout the six performances at the Gallo Center for the Arts. The first act dolls were all well danced, with special heights for new performers Izabella Duran-Soriano, Gillian Johnson, Abigail Clark and Lexie Sutter. New energy came through the casting, with special kudos to up and coming headliners. Chief among leads this year were the performances of Principal Dancer Noelle Im, who was cast in all the main divertissements of the ballet. As the Snow Queen, Im brought a crisp technique and sparkling energy to the scene, while partnered by Grant Landon, who showed increased confidence as one of CWB’s new lead male dancers. Landon’s handsome figure and sharp stance was a good match for Noelle Im, providing excitement throughout the Snow Scene. Im was also featured as the Waltz Queen, giving a softer quality to her dancing, making the most out of her lines and musicality. Im repeated her role of the Sugar Plum Fairy, once again showing off her strong ballet technique, aplomb and confidence. Principal Dancer Aaron Gulevich was in good form throughout all the holiday season, dancing with sharper technique and a growing maturity as a dashing presence on stage. His sturdy partnering gave many ballerinas reliable and attentive support.

NutClassic12Noelle Im as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Milano Photography.

This year was a special banner holiday season for veteran Sarah Weaver, who celebrated her 10th Anniversary as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Weaver, who was propelled to principal status early on, is one of Central West Ballet’s stars among the headliners. Partnered by Aaron Gulevich, Weaver flowed elegantly as the Snow Queen and as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Veteran Nicole Firpo, in her thirteenth year as the Sugar Plum Fairy showed her maturity as well, bringing to the role her beauty, instinct and quintessential class. Elisabeth Champion, who is retiring from dance after this season, gave her last performance as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Champion was particularly effective in the Pas de Deux, showing great movement quality. Principal Britney Harris returned to the coveted role with flowing movement and charm and also appeared as the Snow Queen with joyous energy. New to the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy was Caroline Sheridan, who has recently been featured in other lead parts. Sheridan’s tall and statuesque looks are her assets. As she walked on stage, Sheridan made the most of this most demanding role. Her first appearance as the Sugar Plum Fairy was a worthy effort. In the hands of Gulevich, she attacked the role with passion.

Sarah Weaver as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Milano Photography.


Caroline Sheridan as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Bicek Photography.

NutClassic16The surprise among leaders this year was the dancing of Brian Harris, who has been featured in Central West Ballet productions since age six. Developing into an instinctive dance partner and wonderful soloist dancer, Harris’s timing and taste in movement show a solid progression through years of apprenticeship in the Company. Harris handled his casting of Waltz of the Flowers Cavalier with poise, partnering in turn Noelle Im and Tatum Avalos. Mitchell Welsh, another young performer who has tremendous potential, is gradually joining the ranks. Welsh showed obvious talent as the Prince, both in his solo dancing and emerging partnering skills.

In other various lead roles, Tatum Avalos returned as the Waltz Queen. A young and upcoming lyrical dancer, Avalos handled the stage with appeal. Beautiful rendition of the Waltz Queen goes to Beth Ward, Erin McMahon, Rena Mian and Carloine Sheridan, each with their own touch of magic. In all the divertissements, such as Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, Dew Drops, Russian and Waltz of the Flowers, leads Erin McMahon, Rena Mian, Brittnie King, Ashley Milano, Beth Ward, Maria Bellamy, Isabel Jones, Kateri Bilay, Isabella Andrews, Alicia Miller and Christina Bornhoeft all turned in strong performances, dancing key roles throughout the Nutcracker. They were the backbone of the company’s performances. The addition of Strut Performing Arts male dancers was a welcomed surprise for this year’s Nutcracker. Some exciting moments in the battle scene with Strut’s Conrad Callanta, Kevin Singleton and Horacio Carmona were fun to watch. In the Arabian Pas de Deux, the pairing of Noelle Im and Strut’s K.C. Wade, a dancer with powerful appeal, provided another exciting moment. Wade effortlessly lifted Im in the air throughout the dance. Kevin Singleton also danced with effectiveness in the Arabian Pas de Deux, with Brittnie King as his partner.


Lexie Sutter, Brian Harris, Izabella Duran-Soriano and Abigail Clark in Nutcrcaker in Jazz. Bicek Photography.


The Nutcracker in Jazz made its second run this year in between performances of the holiday classic. A revved up crowd cheered as soon as the curtain went up on this very successful take on the ballet. Guest saxophonist Geoffory Felver kicked off the show, playing a smooth improvisation of the Tchaikovsky overture. The opening of the ballet featured Nicole Firpo and Grant Landon, in great form and happily dancing around the stage. The company joined in and exuberantly performed an exciting party scene. Noelle Im was back in the role of Clara Jam, as effervescent as ever. The Addition of Wolfie Wolfgang Wunderkinder, a new role danced by Mitchell Welsh, was the delight of this year’s jazz extravaganza. Welsh joined Noelle Im and Brian Harris in an extended Tap section of act one which was smoothly rendered and great fun for the audience. The use of projections as background were enhanced this year, also giving this new production some special moments. The entire company delivered great dance numbers this year. Aaron Gulevich was back as Metro-Drossel-Meyer, stepping into the Waltz in Jazz as partner for the lovely Sarah Weaver. Caroline Sheridan danced her role of the Ice Queen with gusto. Nicole Firpo’s choreography for the Sugar Rum Cherry sections of the ballet was entertaining, with the dancers giving each dance sharper movements. Firpo’s performance as the lead Sugar Rum Cherry was one of the highlights of the show. Artistic Director René Daveluy’s production of the Nutcracker in Jazz is a growing tradition that the community has embraced and everyone can look forward to more excitement from this special holiday show next December 2018.


Nicole Firpo as the Sugar Rum Cherry in Nutcrcaker in Jazz. Milano Photography.

Central West Ballet’s Nutcracker Season, 30 years and counting, remains an essential part of the community’s yearly Holiday tradition and the future looks bright for the company’s presence as one of the great resident companies of the Gallo Center for the Arts.

30th Anniversary Gala • REVIEW CWB Press Office


NutClassic20Central West Ballet's 30th Anniversary Gala. Bicek Photography.

Central West Ballet’s 30th Gala opened to a packed house on February 8. The show was much anticipated and did not disappoint. Right from from the start, as Artistic Director René Daveluy welcomed Founding Artistic Director Gretchen Vogelzang, former Artistic Director Coleen Patterson and original lead dancer Jill Price to the stage, the audience cheered and applauded. This was a special moment for Gretchen Vogelzang, who got a chance to share her history with the audience, many of whom were former Central West Ballet and Bravo! Repertory Theatre members. An impressive Overture followed, with the entire company dancing a progressive number to a powerful score by René Daveluy. Throughout the evening, the audience was treated to some amazing historical moments on film, projected on the full width of the stage proscenium, which were emotionally charged and thrilling. The celebration continued with a special appearance by Ballet Mistress Leslie Ann Larson, and former Principal Dancer Joseph Adkins, dancing Spartacus Pas de Deux, to Alex North’s emotional score. Larson and Adkins were in great shape, reminding the audience of their December/May partnership, still as effective and meaningful. The return of Adkins provided some heartfelt moments throughout the show.

NutClassic21Leslie Ann Larson and Joseph Adkins in Spartacus Pas de Deux. Bicek Photography

Following this was a dazzling appearance by former headliner Dana Holm, partnered by Daveluy in a Fosse like number entitled Dawn of the Beat. Holm, as svelte as ever and showing incredible charisma, gave an energetic performance in the hands of Daveluy. This was followed by an excerpt from Love Duets (a ballet premiered last year). Entitled Interlocht and danced by Elisabeth Champion and Grant Landon, this number was mesmerizing, showing off Champion and Landon’s perfect relationship as partners. The Central West Ballet Academy was featured in a repeat dance number entitled Academy Overture, with young Mitchell Welsh in the center. This number showed the progression on this new branch of Central West Ballet, with a growing training for young dancers. Nicole Firpo and Aaron Gulevich were next, dancing a Pas de Deux excerpt from CWB’s Cinderella. Firpo was in great shape, flowing through the dance with Gulevich handsomely partnering her. Caroline Sheridan brought her typical energy with Don’t Rain On My Parade, an exciting solo that was premiered in 2012 for CWB’s That’s Showbiz!

NutClassic22Dana Holm and René Daveluy in Dawn of the Beat. Bicek Photography

Two favorites were next; the Night Pas de Deux and Persian Dance from 1001 Nights. Night Pas de Deux was expertly danced by CWB former Principal Alyssa Milano Hightower, with Aaron Gulevich as her partner. Hightower was as pristine and charismatic as ever, dancing this amazing number with all the mystery required. Persian dance featured Sarah Weaver, Grant Landon and CWB corps de ballet. Weaver was strong and commanding, with Landon dancing up a storm as her partner. The first part of the show ended with a joyous Tarantella, complete with tambourines and elegant black and white tutus for the women. Here, Central West Ballet showed off it’s expertise in pure entertainment and props handling, with the company throwing all tambourines in the air in unison.

NutClassic17Alyssa Milano Hightower and Aaron Gulevich in 1001 Nights. Bicek Photography


NutClassic19Sarah Weaver and Grant Landon in 1001 Nights. Bicek Photography

The second part of the show started off with a delightful tap dance rendition of Begin The Beguine with Noelle Im and René Daveluy, joined later by CWB II and Academy tappers. Im and Daveluy, who have been tapping together in many shows over the years, danced up every inch of the floor, culminating with an impressive finale with a complete tap ensemble to the pleasure of the audience.

NutClassic1Noelle Im and René Daveluy in Begin The Beguine with CWB and Academy Tappers. Bicek Photography

CWB dancers immediately followed with Me ‘Ol Bamboo, a reworked version from the classic dance number from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Next was Joseph Adkins and Nicole Firpo dancing Discovery, an excerpt from Beneath Existence. In this CWB classic, Firpo and Adkins moved as one, showing great movement quality and an innate understanding of Daveluy’s choreographic style. The next part of the show was dedicated to King of Pop, a ballet tribute to Michael Jackson that CWB performed in 2015 as part of their James Irvine Grant for Dance Initiative. Leading the pack was Erikka Reenstierna-Cates, who came back to thrill the audience with her exciting dance moves. There was no end to this entertainment extravaganza when René Daveluy came back with Aaron Gulevich and Brian Harris for a repeat performance of a Jerry Lewis classic dance number from the Nutty Professor, with the three “Jerrys” dancing to thunderous applause by the audience. Joseph Adkins came back with a thoughtful and smooth solo to a Big Band rendition of Something’s Coming from West Side Story. Next was some excerpts from CWB’s hit show Rat Pack in Revue, with Aaron Gulevich and Grant Landon leading the way. Tatum Avalos and Britney Harris made lovely appearances and Alyssa Milano Hightower returned for one last performance of the classic One For My Baby, dancing every subtle details of this exquisite solo originally created for her.

NutClassic27Nicole Firpo and Joseph Adkins in Discovery from Beneath Existence. Bicek Photography.

Nicole Firpo was back for one last dance in Gershwin’s Swanee, with the entire women corps of Central West Ballet, giving the audience one more thrill before the finale. As Leslie Ann Larson and René Daveluy gave eloquent closing speeches, the dancers rallied up for the finale from House fo Folk, to the Chieftains’ famous Cotton Eyed Joe fiddling number.

Central West Ballet’s 30th Anniversary was a mix of great entertainment, a few classic moments and a heartfelt celebration. Not only for 30 years of magic in the Central Valley, but also, a tribute to the company’s achievements over the past decade. The evening proved that this company has a lot more to give at this significant moment in history. The next thirty years will surely see Central West Ballet growing as a California dance institution.

Cinderella • REVIEW CWB Press Office


NutClassic18The Midnight Fairies in Central West Ballet's Cinderella. Costumes by Adelina Milano. Bicek Photography.

Cinderella’s long awaited revival took place at the Gallo Center for the Arts and on tour at the Grand in Tracy this past March. The show was definitely a team effort. The local production of a superb and fully functional Coach for Cinderella was build by Justin King and René Daveluy. Other elements included a dark and lavish fireplace. One of the show’s star attraction was an imaginative costume production by former soloist Adelina Milano, her first set for a full length ballet. Milano’s costumes for the roles of Cinderella, Fairy Godmother and Season and Midnight Fairies was a stunning feat. They were colorful, exciting and completely original, showing Milano’s talent as a young promising costume designer for ballet. Another added magical touch were the headpieces by Principal Nicole Firpo for the roles of Cinderella, Season Fairies and Midnight Fairies.

With a quadruple cast of Cinderellas; Noelle Im, Elisabeth Champion, Sarah Weaver and Nicole Firpo, the company put up high stakes in the making of this production. Turn around was short, following the company’s 30th Anniversary in February. The company first performed in Tracy with the premiere of the ballet exquisitely performed by Noelle Im in the title role. As CWB’s brightest new star, Im brought to Cinderella a fresh young look. Im’s technical abilities enabled her to leisurely concentrate on the interpretation of the role. For one so young, Im’s portrayal managed to touch an emotional cord with each scene. At times impetuous or melancholic, Im displayed a remarkable series of emotions throughout the three demanding acts. Her Second Act ballroom scene was brilliant. In the hands of Grant Landon, Im never missed a beat in her first dramatic role for the company.

Elisabeth Champion’s take on the role was more evocative, introverted. Champion’s flair for the dramatic was well suited for the ballet’s darker moments. In the second act, Champion shined in the Pas de Deux, with Aaron Gulevich as her partner. Champion’s charismatic stage presence was elevated by her clean partnering work and her beautiful lines. In the third act wedding pas, Champion danced stunningly from start to finish.

At the Gallo Center for the Arts, Sarah Weaver repeated her role as Cinderella. This time, Weaver, who has matured into a full fledge Principal Ballerina, delivered great emotional acting skills throughout her performance. Weaver’s experience was a delight to watch. Her portrayal was charming, particularly in the more comical parts of the ballet. The range needed for the role of Cinderella is vast and Weaver showed her abilities in that arena. The third act Pas de Deux, danced with Grant Landon as her Prince, was Weaver’s best achievement. Flowing through the subtle partnering, Weaver and Landon gave a superlative performance.

Nicole Firpo, in her third time as Cinderella, closed the performances with a splendid portrayal of the character. Firpo’s performance was the most meticulous and emotionally charged. Her knowledge of the role and her ability to clearly convey even the slightest detail was a delight. Firpo was able to project with a touching flair the many facets of the character. Her timing to Daveluy’s inspired version was pristine, never losing an opportunity to flesh out the role. The second and third acts were meaningful, with Aaron Gulevich as her partner, Firpo fully brought the story to its conclusion.

The role of the Prince, handled by Grant Landon and Aaron Gulevich, was pleasantly and securely portrayed. Both dancers brought their own strength to the character. Landon gave to the role the technical sharpness needed, while Gulevich brought all the dashing elegance required. Gulevich’s understanding of the role was layered, showing true compassion and charm to bring the ballet to life. Landon gave is best performance to date, dancing with complete ease and achieving himself as a premier danseur.


The role of the Fairy Godmother was warmly portrayed by Beth Ward and Caroline Sheridan. Ward brought to the role an Ashton like quality, combined with a loving flair throughout her performances. Her beautiful arm movements flowed well in her solo work, making each dance a special moment in the story. Sheridan was elated as the Fairy Godmother, bringing every detail to life, particularly in the second act, dancing with a sharp sense of magical etherealness. The Season fairies were all beautifully performed. As the Spring Fairy, Kateri Bilay and Brittnie King gave the role a great sense of tradition. Bilay’s approach was lovely, with an exuberant energy that filled the stage. King’s dancing as the Spring Fairy was arguably her best. Well danced and charming, King gave was a solid performance. The Summer Fairy was beautifully danced by Britney Harris and Tatum Avalos. Harris was in great shape, showing emotion in the movement and giving the Summer Fairy a larger than life appearance. Avalos gave a good technical performance, moving with greater depth in her dancing. Next was the Autumn Fairy, danced by Rena Mian and Maria Bellamy. Mian was sharper in her dancing, showing a more passionate side of herself. Bellamy was fierce as the Autumn Fairy, accomplishing every dance trick in this demanding solo. The Winter Fairy was portrayed by Erin MacMahon and Elisabeth Champion. McMahon was stunning in the role, with crisp technique and solid timing. McMahon is a rising soloist in the CWB roster. Champion gave all the coolness needed for the role, with sharp angular moves during the solo.

The coveted roles of the Stepsisters was brilliantly handled by Brian Harris, Aaron Gulevich (returning to the role) and Strut Performing Arts dancers Conrad Callanta and Kevin Singleton. Brian Harris, in his element as a theatrical performer, took over the entire stage as the smaller of the two sisters, bringing down the house with laughter in each scene. Gulevich was obviously having fun with the character, a role which he has already incarnated in previous productions. Conrad Callanta’s performance was the most subtly hilarious. Showing a great range in humor, Callanta was at times showing qualities of the great silent movie comics, at others, the contemporary talents of the great comedians of our time. Kevin Singleton teared the scenery down with his well divided, over the top performance. All stepsisters had a well thought approach, each with their own individual take. The Stepmother was performed wonderfully by Caroline Sheridan and Erin McMahon. Sheridan’s comedic timing was at its best, providing hilarious moments in the first act. Yet, Sheridan never lost a beat in conveying the Stepmother’s evil attitude toward Cinderella. McMahon’s take was cold and effective, choosing to incorporate the Stepmother’s icy stance in the more comic moments.

This year’s surprise performance was that of Mitchell Welsh as the Dancing Master. Complete with a handlebar mustache and a great dance staff, Welsh mastered the role with a maturity beyond his young age. His understanding of the role was complex and showed Welsh’s range as a consummate young professional. This version of the Dancing Master is demanding, both comically and technically. In seeing Welsh perform the role, one could detect the subtleties of a Charles Chaplin and the commanding presence of a Leonide Massine. This young performer delivered on all counts. His scenes were complete. His timing flawless and his confidence carried the character through the ballet.

The role of the Jester in the second act went to Brian Harris and Strut Performing Arts dancer K.C. Wade. Wade was at his best, attacking the role with ease, pulling off multiple turns and show stopping jumps. Harris brought a wonderful portrayal to the role, with confidence in his technique, smoothly performing every dance.

The second act also featured lead Midnight Fairies. Sarah Weaver, Nicole Firpo, Noelle Im, Britney Harris, Maria Bellamy, Isabella Andrews, Nancy Cole and Izabella Duran-Soriano. All were dazzling in their respective dances.

The corps of Midnight Fairies was as inspired as before, with all CWB ballerinas giving the ballet the allure needed. The projection of a giant clock ticking on the backdrop heightened the first act clock scene, with all Midnight Fairies in unison throughout the dance.

Cinderella was a resounding success for Central West Ballet this year, a great way to start wrapping up its 30th Anniversary as Modesto’s most beloved dance company.

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