50th Anniversary: Interview & Review
by Heather Desaulniers
April 13, 2013 -- College of Marin Theater, Kentfield, California
Criticaldance: How long have you been the Artistic Director at Marin Ballet? What day-to-day responsibilities does this important role entail?
Cynthia Lucas: My history with Marin Ballet goes back a long way - to when I was three-years-old, and began my early dance training with Marin Ballet’s founder, Leona Norman. I continued my studies with Leona at Marin Ballet and then went on to have a professional career, dancing at the National Ballet of Canada for eighteen years. Following that, I moved into a ballet mistress role at NBC and delved into teaching and coaching, where my passion for bridging the gap between the student and the professional company could be realized. To that end, I fostered and developed a new apprentice program at the National, using my personal history and experience to mentor dancers who were on the brink of their own professional careers. During this time, Marin Ballet was at a leadership crossroads, and those at the helm were trying to discern the best way to move their organization forward. Jane Greene (who was also an alum and a student of Leona’s) was serving as the Executive Director and she had reached out to me on a number of occasions to see if I was interested in coming back. Fifteen years ago, the timing was perfect and it felt absolutely right for me to make the move back to the North Bay and to Marin Ballet. During that transitional period, I served as the school director for two years, and then was named Marin Ballet’s Artistic Director. In addition to teaching in the school, my main responsibilities include determining and administering our programs, managing the faculty and staff and of course, thinking about strategies for Marin Ballet’s future.
CD: In addition to the on-going dance education curriculum, what other programs have been recently instituted at Marin Ballet?
CL: At Marin Ballet, we have been working diligently to create an in-reach/out-reach style program. On the ‘in-reach’ side of things, we seek to invite the community into the Marin Ballet studios. We have been in our current facility since 1972, and over the years have been slowly re-designing and developing the space. We now have six beautiful studios, including a black-box studio theater and large observation windows. For our ‘out-reach’ each year, one group of students is selected to go out into the community, providing performances and lecture-demonstrations.
CD: Let’s move on to the upcoming 50th anniversary celebration. When did the planning for this momentous occasion begin?
CL: Though the 50th Anniversary has been on our minds for some time now, the real thinking and ruminating started about a year and a half ago, with one big question: what should this celebration look like? Jane Greene was happy to serve as the co-chair for this event. As I mentioned, Jane and I are both alums and early students of Leona’s, and we knew that with this event, we wanted to create some long-lasting infrastructure and fill in some of Marin Ballet’s historical gaps. So, that brought the focus of the 50th to the beginnings: the founding era and the founder herself, Leona Norman. The next step was getting in touch with alumni and so we arranged a reunion brunch with some of Marin Ballet’s first students to get the ball rolling. We had a documentary filmmaker interview these early alums and record the remembrances.
CD: Speaking of alumni, you have quite a number returning for the actual performance on April 13th. Who is coming back? Can you break down the repertory for us?
CL: We are so pleased to welcome back Robin (Cornwell) Semmelhack (Smuin Ballet), Josie Garthwaite Sadan (Robert Moses’ Kin) and Jon Lam (Boston Ballet), whose solo, incidentally, has been choreographed by Val Caniparoli. Another exciting part of the program is the return of Ronn Guidi’s “Trois Gymnopedies”. This 1961 ballet became part of Marin Ballet’s repertory in 1967, and I was one of the original dancers! So, it is very special to me that we will be remounting this part of Marin Ballet history, and this 2013 iteration will be danced by Mila Lavoie, Jessica Wagner and Travis Bradley. The April 13th performance will have three acts and speaks to our tag line of “Past, Present and Future”. First, we will feature some of our current students from the upper levels of the school. They will perform dances that were part of our annual Spring concert, which just happened back in the middle of March. Act II will showcase our returning alumni in the pieces I just mentioned and then, we will close with Julia Adam’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. This narrative work was commissioned by Marin Ballet in 2003, and is an absolutely lovely and fitting way to close this special program.
CD: What other events or projects are part of the 50th Anniversary celebration?
CL: As I was saying, we reached out to some of Leona’s first students with our alumni reunion brunch and quickly realized that Marin Ballet definitely needed to form an alumni association, a type of organizational infrastructure for the future. Also, we have the filming that was done at the brunch, which we are hoping will lead to a full documentary. In addition, we are looking to expand our reach with social media, and one of our alumni who has come back to teach in the school has created and developed a blog (http://marinballetblog.com/) that will chronicle and share the events of this exciting year. Lastly, with our focus on the founding era, I have dedicated quite a bit of time to generating material for Marin Ballet’s archives. Such an involved and immense project will obviously be on-going even past this anniversary year, though we have been able to recently transfer eight or ten reel-to-reel films onto digital media. Some of our archival material - particularly about Leona and her history – will be displayed in an exhibit at the April 13th performance.
College of Marin Theater, Kentfield, April 13th, 2013: The College of Marin Theater was absolutely electric on Saturday, April 13th as honored guests, faculty, alumni, families and fans hurried through the doors. Excited anticipation and celebratory spirit filled the air as the packed house awaited the three-act performance that would mark Marin Ballet’s 50th Anniversary.
“Past, present and future” served as the tag line for the evening and these three points in time were well-represented throughout. Marin Ballet students (the present and the future) bookended the program, being featured at the beginning and at the end. Act I was comprised of six shorter works and Act III welcomed Julia Adam’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” (with a number of professional guest artists). All of the children’s dancing was top-notch, but what was most impressive about these young performers was their complete joy and total commitment to the artform. Highlights included Robert Dekkers’ contemporary “Do You Be”, Corinne Jonas’ humorous “Pas De Quatre?” and Balanchine’s neo-classical “Raymonda Variations”. With these three pieces alone, it is clear that Marin Ballet not only prides itself on excellent technical achievement but also values breadth and variety in dance education (which will serve these dancers well if they venture out into the professional dance world). In addition, Marin Ballet is teaching its students how to be more than technicians; how to be ‘performers’. Live dance means that things can go wrong, and they often do. There was a slight music hiccup at the beginning of the “Raymonda Variations”, and the advanced dancers handled it so well, with calm and poise, like nothing had happened. They were absolutely unflappable and they need these ‘additional’ skills as much as they need technical acumen.
Act II took us to the past – choreography from earlier years as well as performances by Marin Ballet alumni who have moved on to professional careers. First up was Ronn Guidi’s “Trois Gymnopedies” danced by alumni Mila Louise Lavoie and Jessica Wagner, joined by guest Travis Bradley. Though this ballet seems simple and quiet, it is incredibly complex, especially with the amount of required unison and complicated partnering. Lavoie, Wagner and Bradley were clearly up to the challenge and accomplished every artistic task with beauty and grace. As a trio, they had a miraculous connection, with respect to timing, height of extensions, attitude of arms and approach to epaulement. Alumna Josie Garthwaite Sadan (with Victor Talledos) danced a contemporary modern work by Robert Moses (“This State of Annihilation”), demonstrating that graduates of Marin Ballet may go on to perform with dance companies of varied styling and alternative genre. Another alumna, Robin Semmelhack (along with Matthew Linzer) wowed the audience in a flowy, lyrical, romantic pas de deux - “Man I Love”, choreographed by Michael Smuin. Closing the alumni portion of the program was a gorgeous solo by Val Caniparoli, danced by former Marin Ballet student and current Boston Ballet dancer John Lam. Though the piece was titled “Aria”, it had a sonata form feel to it. Wearing a mask, Lam began the exposition with Baroque, courtly movement; and then removed the mask during the development, giving flight to freer, vaster physicality. And right before the blackout, “Aria” concluded with a brief recapitulation as Lam returned to his masked persona.
The fiftieth anniversary performance was a wonderful tribute to the “past, present and future” of Marin Ballet. And another equally appropriate and well suited mantra/catch phrase came to mind following this special event: Marin Ballet is all about pursuing well-rounded professionalism in the performing arts.
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