January 30, 2014

Modesto's Central West Ballet melds classical with rock

The Central West Ballet melds classical with rock and invites the audience on stage as part of its “Let’s Dance!” show.

Central West Ballet wants to dance with somebody.

In fact, it wants to dance with a lot of somebodies, and has throughout the year. The Modesto ballet company culminates the first year of its James Irvine Foundation Grant Dance Initiative with the “Let’s Dance!” show at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Feb. 7-8.

The performance will include classical ballet as well as its dancers taking a trip to the wild side with performances set to classic rock.

“The (dance initiative) has been really successful for us,” said Central West Artistic Director René Daveluy. “We’ve connected with the community even deeper and in a variety of ways. It is good for the company to do outreach so we get feedback from the community.”

In August, the company received a $110,000 two-year grant to fund more interactive public performances. The James Irvine Foundation is a philanthropic group that funds a variety of causes in California. The grant is the largest the professional dance company has received in its more than 25-year history.

As part of the initiative, company dancers have gone out to public venues and private dance studios to perform, teach and learn from others in the community throughout the year.

Dancers have made free appearances at Tenth Street Plaza and Vintage Faire Mall, where they have showcased their skills and taught members of the public a few steps. They also have gone to hip-hop and ballroom dance studios in town, where the guests and hosts have taught each other some moves in their respective genres.

Company dancer Aaron Gulevich, who has been with Central West for four years, said the experience of crossing disciplines and meeting other dancers this year has been rewarding.

“It has been a lot of fun,” he said. “We do our thing and teach them a few steps. And they teach us a few things. It’s been great collaborating.”

The “Let’s Dance” show will start out with a traditional repertory program. For the first time, the company will perform three ballets by three major American choreographers in one show.

They are “Valse-Fantaisie” by George Balanchine of the New York City Ballet, “Songs” by Val Caniparoli of the San Francisco Ballet, and “Trois Gymnopedies” by Ronn Guidi, founder of the Oakland Ballet.

Central West Ballet Mistress Leslie Ann Larson studied under Guidi, and he rehearsed his ballet with the company last weekend.

The second half of the show will see the dancers matching classical choreography to classic rock hits from Led Zeppelin, Queen, Guns N’ Roses and more. Company members also will go into the audience and look for volunteers to take on stage and teach them various dance moves.

“Rock is an attitude; dancers have to go out there and be totally different,” Daveluy said. “When it comes to rock, it’s the individuality and personality of the dancers that comes out.

“It’s really the attitude. You have to be able to hold the stage just like a rock star. That’s demanding in and of itself. It is way more physical, and they have to just let themselves go on stage.”

Two of the company dancers, Erikka Cates and Alyssa Milano, also choreographed dances in the rock portion of the show. “It’s a lot of fun to get out of the classicism that is typically ballet,” Cates said. “And it is to music that we all love.”

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