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Festival brings dance back

The Laguna Dance Festival is getting into the swing of things this year, adding a variety of local and worldwide giants of classic and modern dance to its third annual festival.

Just added to the mix are Benji Schwimmer and Heidi Grosskreutz of Newport Beach. Schwimmer recently won the second season of “So You Think You Can Dance,” and his cousin Grosskreutz placed in the top four.

Founder Jodie Gates said she tailer-made the weeklong series of concerts and classes to fit Laguna.

“Ballroom is hot right now. It’s a way that we can bring people in who have never been to a performance before,” Gates said.


The festival’s many performances will highlight multiple companies and genres, from swing to hip-hop to classical ballet. In the past, the festival has featured one company for the week.

Gates said that although the festival format has changed a bit, presenting organization CaDance’s mission to present high-quality, yet accessible dance remains the same.

This is Grosskreutz and Schwimmer’s first appearance at the festival; Grosskreutz said she found out about it through a friend of her mother.

Both she and Schwimmer started dancing as toddlers, and began performing together when Schwimmer was 5 and Grosskreutz was 7, she said. They are cousins of actor David Schwimmer; Benji’s parents ran a hugely popular dance studio, and his father Buddy created the Nightclub Two Step.


“We’ve danced together for over 20 years,” Grosskreutz said.

Then, when he was in California and she was in New York, they heard about the auditions for the TV show. Schwimmer instantly decided to try out, but Grosskreutz held out for awhile before auditioning.

“Then I just had a feeling that I should,” she said.

Next thing they knew, the cousins had each made it to the top four, independent of each other.

They’ve since become teen idols, with online message boards dedicated to dissecting their every performance and Web pages full of screen shots from the show.

“When it’s good, you’re bound to like it,” Gates said. “And Heidi and Benji are good. I’ve been very fortunate to tap into my network to bring these talents. You never see folks like this on the Artists’ Theatre stage.”

The duo will perform swing at the festival’s gala, which will highlight local talent as well as stars from companies from around the world.

“It’s really going to be a stunning gala,” Gates said. It will be in a cabaret-style setting at Laguna Art Museum, called Le Club Fantastique, with an emcee, after show, food, drinks, and what Gates called “a big surprise.”


There will also be classes available to beginners and advanced dancers alike, and the annual free performance on Main Beach.

“We’ve been embraced by the community since day one,” Gates said. “I’m very pleased with our audience, volunteers and sponsors. It says a lot that we have hotels sponsoring us.”

She has also arranged to have free performances during First Thursdays Art Walk.

“You’re bound to go home, no matter who you are, liking something,” Gates said.

She said the closure of Ballet Pacifica earlier this year left a vacuum.

“There’s a void in Southern California,” she said. “There’s no major dance company here. I’m hoping that I can really create some kind of opportunity for national and local dance to really thrive in our community.”

Two of this year’s performers also share that desire; Erin Holmes of Newport Beach and Francisco Gella of Irvine were both resident dancers with Ballet Pacifica.

Holmes, along with many of her fellow dancers, went into semi-retirement after the 2003 departure of Molly Lynch from Ballet Pacifica due to disputes with artistic directors, which some insiders said began the company’s decline. Lynch now teaches dance at UCI with Gates.


Holmes said the experience turned her off from the dance world for awhile, but she has since had a change of heart.

“When Jodie and my partner asked me if I wanted to do this, it made me like dance again. I think I want to go back, but on a different scale. It reminded me: This is what dance is. It’s not the politics — it’s the performances. Now I’m doing it the way I want to do it, instead of being dictated to.

“Everyone is so supportive of each other, and you really do feel like the audience is appreciative of what you’re doing. It’s different from being in a resident company, where you feel more pressure; this allows you to have a little bit more freedom, so to speak.”

Holmes, who works as a guest dancer and professional trainer in Newport Beach, said the location for the event makes it all the more desirable to dancers.

“Laguna’s Laguna,” Holmes said. “It’s amazing to do the festival there. It’s that type of talent coming together in that location that makes you want to come back. Lots of former dancers want to keep coming back.”

Holmes sees the festival, with its variety and accessible atmosphere, as a way to introduce people to dance in a non-threatening way.

“You’re breaking that stereotype,” she said. “It’s not just guys in white tights and girls in pink tights.”

It also gives dancers the rare opportunity to observe each others’ work, she said.

“It’s like the Sundance Film Festival,” Holmes said. “It’s pretty exciting when you’re able to bring that type of talent together in one place. For the dancers, it’s a really nice atmosphere to perform in. You get to see what other people are doing, which you may not otherwise get to see.”

Her dance partner Gella, who danced in the closing ceremonies at the Nagano Winter Olympics, is also an accomplished choreographer, and created the work he and Holmes will perform at the gala.

She described it a romantic pas-de-deux with a big-band feel.

“Cisco is really good at mixing Hollywood and ballet together,” Holmes said. “I’m actually really excited about this piece; I think it’ll be entertaining. It moves.”

This is the pair’s second year performing at the festival; Holmes helped out behind-the-scenes in the event’s first year, she said.

Gates said she would love to expand CaDance’s scope in the future, branching out to other venues in Orange County and Southern California or bringing in resident choreographers for several weeks and presenting an evening of their work.

“But I will always keep something in Laguna Beach,” she said. “Always.”


 A Taste of CaDance

4 p.m. Sept 29

Main Beach


Outdoor performance featuring CorbinDances from New York City, UC Irvine’s Etude Ensemble, BackhausDance, and Latin ballroom dancing.

 Get Inspired and Get Moving: An Interactive Class

5 to 6 p.m. Sept. 29

Main Beach


Paul Taylor Master Class

Noon to 2 p.m. Sept. 30

Recreation Building, 505 Forest Ave.


Former Paul Taylor star Patrick Corbin leads a class on the company’s repertoire.

 Dancing Hands Workshop

4 to 6 p.m. Oct. 3

Neighborhood Congregational Church

340 St. Ann’s Drive


Kids blend movement and painting at a free-form interactive dance class taught by Jodie Gates.

 First Thursdays Art Walk

6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 4


Dancers perform at local galleries and Laguna College of Art & Design.

 Opening Night Showcase

8 p.m. Oct. 5

7 p.m. pre-performance talk for ticket holders

Artists’ Theatre, 625 Park Ave.

$45 general; $35 senior/student

Featuring hip-hop by the Groovaloos, Oregon Ballet Theatre and Complexions Contemporary Ballet.

 Complexions Contemporary Ballet Master Class

2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 6

Recreation Building, 505 Forest Ave.


Leading dancer guides students through the rigors of a class as it would be taught in the company’s New York studio.

 Gala Performance and Reception

Performance 6 p.m. Oct. 6; reception 8 p.m.

Performance: Artists’ Theatre, 625 Park Ave.

Reception: Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Drive

$150 for concert and gala; separate performance tickets are not available.

Featuring stars of the American Ballet Theatre, Royal Ballet of Flanders, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, CorbinDances and Oregon Ballet Theatre are joined by local favorites Benji Schwimmer, Heidi Grosskreutz, Erin Holmes, Francisco Gella, and Donald McKayle’s Etude Ensemble from UC Irvine. Cabaret-themed gala reception to follow.

 American Ballet Theatre Master Class

Noon to 2 p.m. Oct. 7

Recreation Building, 505 Forest Ave.


American Ballet Theatre soloist Sascha Radetsky leads a two-hour session in classical ballet with lots of advice on what it takes to make it to the top of one of America’s finest companies.

 An Evening with the Stars of Dance

4 p.m. Oct. 7

3 p.m. pre-performance talk for ticket holders

Artists’ Theatre, 625 Park Ave.

$45 general; $35 senior/student

Featuring leading dancers from American Ballet Theatre, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and Royal Ballet of Flanders, with Orange County’s own BackhausDance


WHO: CaDance

WHAT: Laguna Dance Festival

WHEN: Sept. 29 to Oct. 7; performances Oct. 5, 6 and 7; gala Oct. 6

WHERE: Artists’ Theatre, Laguna Art Museum

HOW MUCH: Free to $150

INFORMATION: (949) 715-5578 or