Yes, they think he can dance

Desmond Richardson plans to trek nearly 3,000 miles next week to be in Laguna Beach. Again.

The New York resident will board a flight to Orange County on Thursday — something he has done several times over the years. It has made him a familiar face at the Laguna Dance Festival.

This year, Richardson plans to take in the "fantastic weather" as the guest of honor at the festival's annual fundraiser, "Visual Immersion," on June 20.

The playbill for the upcoming event describes the Tony Award-nominee as a choreographer, dancer, and co-founder and artistic director of Complexions Contemporary Ballet Co. He laughed and added singer-songwriter, actor and visual artist to the mix.

Dance occupies a special place in his life, though, he admitted.

"It's played a huge role — it's allowed me to travel the world, learn different languages and been such a wonderful education," said Richardson, a sometime "So You Think You Can Dance" choreographer who has performed with Michael Jackson, Prince, Aretha Franklin and Madonna, among others.

Currently in its eighth season, the highly anticipated yearly event, known for its formidable roster of dancers, attracts enthusiastic fans from the entire region. When founder and Director Jodie Gates created the festival in 2005, though, it was to fill a void in the community.

"I felt dance needed to be more present and perhaps more accessible, and now I would like to think that we have accomplished this change," Gates wrote in an email.

Tickets are already on sale for this year's program, which runs from Sept. 4 through 8.

Gates met Richardson as a dancer, choreographer and director at Complexions Contemporary Ballet, which she deemed "a terrific experience."

"Desmond has believed in the dance festival since our inception and has been a constant Laguna Dance Festival advocate and performer throughout the years," she wrote. "The audience here has gotten to know his company and prolific performing career, and now it is time that we recognize him publicly and thank him for his support."

When the man in question, who counts ballet luminaries Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn as early influences, heard about his recognition, he recalled being "floored and extremely honored by the gesture."

Gates, the director and vice dean of the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at USC, said she does her homework to earmark "innovative and entertaining" artists.

"Gathering talent locally, nationally and across the globe is a wonderful job to have," she added.

On Thursday, guests will have the opportunity to mingle with Richardson, who will give a keynote speech at [seven-degrees] in Laguna Beach, which founding board member Nancy Meyer hopes will "lend itself to the contemporary atmosphere."

A video presentation, dance performances and buffet dinner are on tap for the evening, along with a silent auction organized by Paul Naude, husband of board member Debbie Naude.

According to Meyer, ticket sales, grants and donations not only help the dance festival team welcome headlining dancers to the area every year, but they also fund educational endeavors such as the Master Class Series and Laguna Beach First Thursdays Art Walk.

"Consider that all members of a professional dance troupe must not only be paid, but also transported, fed and put up in hotels during their stay," she said, adding that funds raised also benefit a litany of other expenses.

Richardson will lead a master class on Wednesday, for which only audit spots are now available.

The 40-something dancer, who has trained in hip-hop, theater and classical dance and continues to rehearse about seven hours per day, finds it hard to favor one style of dance over another. His goal is to stay focused on the project at hand and he hopes that his energy translates to the audience.

For dancers working to develop their skills, Richardson offers a word of advice: "Stay focused, persevere and continue to learn all you can. For myself, I've always just wanted to be in the midst of people working on a higher level, knowing I could learn from them."


If You Go

What: Annual fundraiser "Visual Immersion"

Where: [seven-degrees], 891 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach

When: Private VIP reception with Desmond Richardson at 6 p.m., general admission at 6:30 p.m. and buffet dinner at 7 p.m. Thursday

Cost: General admission (includes champagne welcome, buffet dinner and two drink tickets) is $125. Individual VIP ticket is $200 (inclusive of choice seats, buffet dinner, wine for the evening and reserved parking); table of 10 costs $2,000

Information: or (949) 715-5578

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