Intensive ballet program ends with shows

Carla Korbes of Pacific Northwest Ballet with Fabrice Calmel of the Joffrey Ballet. At the gala, the duo will perform Christopher Wheeldon's "After the Rain."
(Courtesy of Festival Ballet)

The Irvine Barclay Theatre’s contemporary dance series whirls on with “Southland Ballet Academy: Summer Ballet Intensive Performance” and “Festival Ballet Theatre: Gala of the Stars.”

Summer Ballet Intensive features final performances from Southland Ballet Academy’s three-week program, which began 20 years ago, Southland Ballet owner Salwa Rizkalla said.

In late July, more than 90 students from Japan, England, Germany, Canada and the United States began rehearsals at Southland Ballet’s studios in Fountain Valley.

Prior to rehearsals, a local audition or YouTube screening helped place students into four levels — junior, intermediate, advanced or professional — based on their age and ability.

“You have to be at a good level of ballet technique because if you are not, you are not going to enjoy it,” Rizkalla said. “It’s not really for beginners, but serious students that aspire to be professional.”

During the condensed program, students ages 9 to 18 take educational courses in ballet technique and pointe, and learn modern choreography, according to Rizkalla.

“They’re on their feet from 9 [a.m.] to 4 [p.m.] nonstop,” she said. “The dancer lives to dance. So my kids live to dance. They are in heaven working every day, with no pressure of school, or anything else. Instead of lying on the beach, they are in the classroom dancing and loving it.”

Students get the opportunity to study with internationally known ballet masters, who lend guidance and expertise.

“I like to expose my dancers to very different teachers and different styles because it’s always good for them, Rizkalla said. “It’s very different from choreographer to choreographer and from teacher to teacher.”

International faculty include Gailene Stock, director of the Royal Ballet School, UK; Larissa Saveliev, founder and artistic director of Youth America Grand Prix; Gary Norman, senior classical teacher at the Royal Ballet School, UK; Misha Tchoupakov, former dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet; Alex Kalinin, former dancer with the Bolshoi Ballet and character ballet master; Olivier Lucea, teacher at Princess Grace Academy in Monaco; and Jeroen Verbruggen, first soloist with Les Ballets de Monte Carlo.

“Ballet is really an education,” Rizkalla said. “They [the students] improve a lot, but besides improving, when you give them such a caliber of teacher they understand the importance of the art and they really appreciate it more.”

During the second half of the evening, 14 guest dancers will perform at least eight pieces of classical, contemporary and modern dance during Festival Ballet Theatre’s annual Gala of the Stars.

The gala will spotlight ballet dancers from prestigious companies around the world, including Joffrey Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Czech National Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, Staatsballett Berlin, New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Sarasota Ballet.

Huntington Beach natives and corps de ballet dancers Jamie Kopit of American Ballet Theatre in New York and Sareen Tchekmedyian of Sarasota Ballet in Florida will join the group.

The guest artists will be accompanied by FBT’s resident company dancers and up-and-coming talent.

“The gala is just as extraordinary as the summer program — if not more too, because the stars of today meet the stars of tomorrow,” said FBT company dancer and Costa Mesa resident Tara Guzman. “And, you don’t really have to be a ballet nut to enjoy it.”

Guzman and other dancers from FBT — Southland Ballet’s nonprofit ballet company based in Orange County — will perform two pieces with the guest artists.

Company dancers are rehearsing “Sax Tet,” a contemporary piece choreographed by Verbruggen that will have its world premiere at the gala.

In addition, Pacific Northwest Ballet dancer Carla Korbes, who danced with New York City Ballet for six years previously, will make her “Gala of the Stars” debut.

At the Gala, Korbes will perform Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” with Fabrice Calmel from the Joffrey Ballet.

“So many companies do the same piece of art — the same work — but we all do it a little bit different,” she said. “So, it’s nice to get together people from all of Europe and then from Seattle, Joffrey and New York. And then, we can kind of learn from each other and share in our experiences with each other.”

“It’s also incredible for the audience,” she continued. “It’s not every day that people get to see that much talent together.”

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If You Go

What: Southland Ballet Academy: Summer Ballet Intensive Performance

When: 4 p.m. Aug. 17

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine

Cost: Tickets are $20 to $30

More information:

If You Go

What: Festival Ballet Theatre: Gala of the Stars

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 17

Where: Irvine Barclay Theatre, 4242 Campus Drive, Irvine

Cost: Tickets are $35 to $55; a limited number of VIP tickets are available at $150

More information: