- Robert Dekkers
- Jennifer Friel Dille
- David Fonnegra
- Tetyana Martyanova
- Rosselyn Ramirez
- Derek Sakakura
- Edward Stegge
- Mayo Sugano
- Justin VanWeest
Okay, so maybe the title’s sort of a teaser. I mean, certainly, you should watch Diablo Ballet. And the aformentioned dancers are indeed a good reason to go — odds are you’ll see all of them perform, because they are Diablo Ballet. Just the nine of them, with artistic director extraordinaire Lauren Jonas at the helm. When I first heard about the number of dancers in this elite chamber company, I thought, no, that can’t be right, because I’ve heard so much about Diablo Ballet, online, in the news, making national news, even. But once you see them dance, see what they can do with a small troupe, a small budget, and a hell of a lot of dedication and talent, well, it makes more sense.
And they are marketing wizards. Their motto: Be creative. Be real. Be loud. Their strategies: use social media to interact, engage, involve the online community. They were the first dance company to solicit “text-perts” (audience members who’d tweet their thoughts during a performance), and in 2013, premiere a ballet created via suggestions from the Internet. The company just celebrated its 20th anniversary with a gala performance on March 6th. Yes, I went. Yes, I loved it. Check out my review here: http://us.bachtrack.com/review-diablo-ballet-20th-anniversary-gala-march-2014
But back to my point about these nine reasons to watch Diablo Ballet. Artistic director Lauren Jonas is very picky about whom she selects for the company. She hunts down strong, seasoned dancers who are gifted in both ensemble and soloist work. Often they hail from bigger, higher profile companies where competition, politics, stress and high demands made them reconsider their choices. Diablo Ballet gives them the chance to let their artistry shine through, onstage, as well as offstage, in community outreach, which is a big deal for Diablo Ballet. Several of the dancers are also ballet teachers around the Bay Area. Choreographers. All of them are intensely dedicated and hard-working. Allow me to introduce them to you in greater detail…
1. Robert Dekkers, one of the company’s best known dancers. Named “25 To Watch” by DANCE Magazine in 2011, founder and artistic director of Post:Ballet, recently named Diablo’s resident choreographer, creating cares you know not for the gala. He’s been with the company since 2011. Helluva dancer.
2. Jennifer Friel Dille, with the company since 2012. A solid classicist, clean lines, with a great sense of ensemble, at the March 6th gala, in both Kelly Teo’s Dancing Miles and Balanchine’s Who Cares?
3. David Fonnegra, company member since 2004, formerly a dancer with Miami City Ballet. Also choreographs and was named artistic director of San Mateo’s Peninsula Ballet Theatre in 2013. Gave a wonderful performance at the gala (Val Caniparoli’s Lady of the Camellias) with Diablo Ballet alum Tina Kay Bohnstedt – my favorite piece of the night.
4. Tetyana Martyanova, new to the company in 2013, hailing from Odessa, Ukraine. She’s a striking dancer, engrossing to watch, with her long limbs, height, and strong technique. Performing last with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, I’d call her Someone To Watch.
5. Rosselyn Ramirez, company member since 2011. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, and danced first with Ballet Nacional de Caracas. Very strong classical dancer, appearing in three of five pieces at the gala. Especially sweet in the Sweetheart pas de deux from Billy the Kid.
6. Derek Sakakura, with the company since 2011, paired up nicely with Ramirez for Billy the Kid, and, if I’m not mistaken, they are paired up in real life as well (as in married), which always charms me to see. Sakakura, like Ramirez, had lots of stage time at the gala.
7. Edward Stegge, Company member since 2002, Stegge survived a horrifying mugging attack in 2009 with injuries that threatened not just his career but his life. I’d read about it, back then (Dance Magazine article on it HERE) and I was delighted to see him onstage performing at the gala. Best yet, I couldn’t pick him out of the ensemble dancers initially, which means the guy is 100% back in his game. I love stories like this.
8. Mayo Sugano, born in Japan, joined the company in 2005. In 1997, she’d won a Prix de Lausanne award, a scholarship with the San Francisco Ballet, and went on to dance with the San Francisco Ballet from 2000 to 2004. That’s some stellar pedigree, in my mind, and it shows in her fine dancing.
9. Justin VanWeest, new in 2013, gave a strong performance with Sugano and Martyanova in Dekkers’ cares you know not. Coming from the North Carolina Dance Theatre, he’s a solid technician and tossed out a really great triple pirouette toward the end of Balanchine’s Who Cares? Very satisfying to watch.
I’ll say this about Diablo Ballet as well. Their audience loves them. Sitting among them on the night of the March 6th gala celebration, I could feel it all around me, a palpable sense of community and enthusiasm and pride for this local company of theirs. Small companies (or even bigger ones) can’t exist without regular support, through subscriptions, donations, volunteer time. Artistic director Jonas has been the powerhouse behind keeping this all going, through these challenging economic times, and the Walnut Creek community, not to mention the considerable online community they have drawn, has reached out to help. It’s a pretty cool thing to see.
Here’s raising my glass to a ballet company that’s getting it right, in so many ways. Congratulations, Diablo Ballet, on twenty years of success. Keep up the great work.