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Laguna Dance Festival moves into town

Laguna Dance Festival moves into town
(Photo by Bill Hebert. Courtesy BalletX)

Like any dance professional, Jodie Gates is a master of the art of spotting.

When a dancer uses the technique, they visually fix upon a single point in the distance and keep their eyes set on it, as they undergo what seems to be a dizzying number of turns and spins. The result, after careful practice, is perfect control and execution — and the ability to end up exactly where one plans to go.

Gates, the founder and artistic director of the Laguna Dance Festival, used the technique on stage in her past as a lauded ballerina and continues to do so today; both in her dance teaching career at UCI and in her business role leading the festival.

Over its relatively short history, the festival has ensconced itself as a fixture in the community, offering the best of contemporary dance from throughout the United States as well as some of Gates’ own up-and-comers from UCI.


“For me, the mission is to have local artists as well as artists from across the nation. Basically, we’re representing the whole country as well as showing off some local talent,” Gates said.

The festival starts April 5 during First Thursdays Art Walk, with previews at the Laguna Art Museum at 6:45 p.m. and [seven-degrees] at 7:45 p.m.

The main portion of the festival begins with River North Dance Chicago’s kickoff at the Laguna Playhouse at 7:30 p.m. April 12, and continues with the world premiere of “Delicate Balance” by BalletX at 7:30 p.m. April 13. After its debut, “Delicate Balance” will be performed in Philadelphia in April and New York City in June.

“I love this new work, and am incredibly excited to be sharing its premiere with Laguna,” Gates said.


It is followed by Stars of Dance, featuring principals from the New York City Ballet, Colorado Ballet and San Francisco-based Smuin Ballet, at 7:30 p.m. April 14 and 2 p.m. April 15. An artists’ reception follows the April 14 performance. Meet the Artists talks begin one hour previous to the April 12, 13 and 15 performances.

“We’re incredibly accessible; this gives the audience an opportunity to see these top artists in an intimate setting for an affordable price,” Gates said. “You can see artists that you would see in New York, but you can see them here in a 420-seat theater, you can talk to them after the performance, and you get a pre-performance talk. … It’s all about audience awareness.”

Gates said 2012 marks the first time that River North Dance Chicago, a jazz-based contemporary dance company, will perform at the festival.

“They haven’t been seen in Southern California in many years; they’ll be opening the performances at the Playhouse,” she said. “What’s nice and new about this year is that we’re getting back to this model of three to four different programs.”

In addition to the series of performances, the festival has a strong educational component; master classes are slated from 6 to 8 p.m. April 11 at the Laguna Playhouse with the director/choreographer of River North Dance Chicago, and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Laguna Beach High School on April 14 (with a BalletX dancer) and 15 (with a principal guest artist). Master classes are $25; there is a $10 audit option. (UCI students will be given their own on-campus master classes from April 9 to 13 with River North Dance Chicago and BalletX.)

These events all exist due to a committed network of donors and patrons, Gates said.

“We have some very loyal patrons that have been very supportive over the years. We call them our VIPs. We also get support from the city and BID (Business Improvement District) tax money, and support from the Festival of Arts. Our granting has been consistent over the years.

“It’s quite amazing, I think, to a lot of my friends with different arts organizations. They are so impressed that we continue even though we have a small budget. In general, dance is a very costly art form, and to bring in all these performers from across the country is not cheap. To survive and even to break even is extraordinary.”


Even during the recession years of the recent past, in which many local arts organizations shuttered or put their plans on hold, the Laguna Dance Festival continued to offer a wide range of programming to devoted audiences.

“It really is the best-kept secret,” Gates said. “I continue to be proud of the standard of excellence. Each night is a different experience. I can’t stress that enough. It’s hard because we’re an organization that’s word-of-mouth.

“I just encourage the community to support dance, because if they don’t, it won’t be here.”

For more information, tickets and a complete schedule, visit

If You Go

What: Laguna Dance Festival

When: April 5 to 15

Where: Primarily at Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach


Cost: $35 for students; $50 general admission; $50 for VIP reception on April 14

Information: (949) 715-5578 or