MODESTO — Central West Ballet has won a $110,000 two-year grant from the James Irvine Foundation to present interactive dance performances throughout the area.
"This is the biggest grant we've ever received by far," said Cindi Coughlin, Central West Ballet's executive director. The professional company, which performs at Modesto's Gallo Center for the Arts, operates on a $560,000 annual budget.
The company will use the money to fund its new "Let's Dance!" program. Dancers will give free, small-scale performances at Modesto Junior College, California State University, Stanislaus, Vintage Faire Mall, Modesto Centre Plaza, the Dance Academy and Galletto Ristorante over the next few months, inviting onlookers each time to perform with them.
"It's a great way to engage the community and broaden everyone's knowledge of Central West," said principal dancer Nicole Firpo.
It's a constant frustration to her and the rest of the dancers that many people remain unaware that Modesto has a dance company, even though the group has been around for more than 25 years.
The group began in 1987 as Bravo! Repertory Dance Theatre, an amateur group for students. It has evolved into a professional company with paid adult performers.
Central West received the grant from the James Irvine Foundation's Exploring Engagement Fund for Priority Regions (focused on the San Joaquin Valley and Inland Empire). Coughlin said the grant is intended to fund new programs to expand arts groups' audience base.
She said the free public performances funded by the grant will be to a range of music, including rock, swing and classical. The goal is to attract the interest of people who never have attended a ballet performance. The dancers had great success at a recent fund-raiser in performing a ballet on the tips of their toes ("en pointe") to the music of classic rock band Journey. "People loved it," Coughlin said.
Ballet in the Park coming up
The company also will present its third annual Ballet in the Park event on Aug. 31 at 7 p.m. in Mancini Bowl at Graceada Park, 401 Needham St. The free performance features dance to a variety of music, from classical to rock.
Central West Artistic Director René Daveluy said the grant is a huge coup for Central West Ballet. "What this does for the company is it gives it the means to go further by applying what matters as far as to the Irvine grant's purpose," he said. "That is to bring the public closer to the arts in general."
Central West is one of several arts groups in the region that have received substantial grants from the James Irvine Foundation. Since 2007, the Gallo Center for the Arts has received $650,000; Sonora's Sierra Repertory Theatre, $625,000; the Modesto Symphony Orchestra, $250,000; and Townsend Opera, $50,000.
This is the second time the foundation has awarded money to the ballet company. Four years ago, Central West received a $50,000 two-year grant.
The foundation also has funded performances in the Modesto area by the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival Company, the San Francisco Mime Troupe, San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre and Los Angeles' Lula Washington Dance Theatre.
Other local groups that have been recipients of the foundation's generosity include the Great Valley Center, Merced College and the Stanislaus Community Foundation.
The James Irvine Foundation is "dedicated to expanding opportunity for the people of California to participate in a vibrant, successful and inclusive society," according to its Web site.