Our Laguna: CaDance dazzles during latest production

If the energy generated by the dancers on the Laguna Playhouse stage Saturday night could have been harnessed, no one in Laguna Beach would ever again have to pay a Southern California Edison bill.

To say the audience was electrified by the Complexions Contemporary Ballet's vibrant performance would be a gross understatement. The dancers up the stage, armed only with their talent, relied little on elaborate costumes or sets for effect, and folks were still talking about it days later.

"It was just phenomenal," Mayor Toni Iseman said Tuesday. "To see athlete and artist combined in one body is amazing. I went to two events and I wish I could have gone to four."

The Laguna Dance Festival, also known as CaDance, presented performances April 14 through Sunday at the playhouse to standing ovations and cries of "brava" and "bravo."

While there was not a tutu or blocked toe shoe in sight Saturday and the taller-than-conventional standard ballerinas' hair was loose rather than in a buns, classical training and discipline were evident. They just pushed the envelope.

"Dance has evolved: the technical ability, physicality and esthetic," said Jodie Gates, founder of the Laguna Beach Dance Festival. "Dance is a reflection of our cultural diversity."

Lee Winocur Field, who attended the Saturday performance with her husband, Frank, and former Laguna Beach residents Mona and Len Litt, echoed Iseman's glowing reviews.

"I love the Laguna Dance Festival," said Arts Commissioner Mary Ferguson. "I always make it to two performances."

Accountant Kathy Conway, already rasping as income tax season neared its end, was almost completely voiceless after Saturday's performance. And it was the third time she saw the show.

"It was fabulous," said Bonnie Wolin, owner of Fiore on South Coast Highway, who attended the performance with Katy Mas.

Also in the audience: Councilwoman Verna Rollinger with Doug Reilly, Leslie and retiring Laguna College of Art President Dennis Power, Randy Kroha, comedienne Lynn Epstein, Jeff Rehm, John and Arts Commissioner Lisa Mansour, and Old Pottery Place developer Joe Hanauer.

"You know greatness when you see it," said Gates, who first brought Complexions to Laguna. "These dancers are truly artists."

Gates goes back a long way with the company's founding artistic directors, premiere danseuse Desmond Richardson and choreographer Dwight Rhoden.

"We met in 1995 when I was with the Joffrey and they were with the Alvin Alley American Theater," Gates said. "This is the third time they have appeared in Laguna Beach."

All three appearances have been the result of Gates' vision to revive dance in the city when she settled in Laguna Beach after she retired as a ballerina.

"I am blown away by Jodie's vision," said "Lagunatics" lyricist Chris Quilter.

In addition to being a principal dancer with the Joffrey, Frankfurt and Pennsylvania ballets, she was a guest artist with numerous international companies, as well as being featured in two PBS Great Performance programs and on the Joffrey Ballet's rock-ballet video, "Billboards." She also had an appearance on the "Tonight Show" with Jay Leno and a special presentation at the White House (the one in Washington D.C, not the eatery on South Coast Highway — but maybe there, too),

Not one to rest on her laurels, Gates came up with the idea of a dance festival that would bring members of top dance companies to perform here. But dance is a costly art form. There are licensing and royalty fees; costumes to design and create; lighting and staging to be plotted and expensive coaching. Tickets sales cover less than 50% of the production costs.

Patrons make the difference.

Another big thank you goes to Laguna Dance Festival founding President Janet Eggers and former Laguna Art Museum publicist Stu Byer, who scrambled to find the initial funding for Gates' vision, and to all the patrons for this season and the previous four.

"Without Stu and Janet's vision of what dance could mean to Laguna, this could never have happened," said Conway, the festival treasurer.

Laguna Dance Festival filled the void left when Ballet Pacific moved out of town.

"It is our mission and our passion to cultivate quality dance in Southern California by bringing leading dance companies, choreographers, master teachers and artists from across the country as well as honor and give opportunities to our outstanding talent here at home," Gates said.

The festival has presented dancers from the renowned ballet companies around the world, but also supports master classes for local dance students, and classes for small children.

"I am proud of our educational component," said Gates, associate professor of dance at UC Irvine.

Gates has been honored by the Laguna Beach Foundation of the American Assn. of University Women for her contributions to the Arts and in 2009 was awarded for choreographic excellence and named the Altria American Ballet Theater Fellow.

She has also choreographed ballets for Staatsballett Berlin, American Ballet Theater II, Corbin Dancers, and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. She has also staged William Forsythe's ballet works around the world, including productions in Paris, Scotland, San Francisco, Switzerland Italy, Houston and Aspen, and has taught at many of them.

Last year, Gates and the festival were cited as one of the top 10 events that have shaped the Orange County art scene.

The festival has become a nationally recognized success and local supporters helped make it so, Gates said.

"We are a nonprofit organization and we depend on your support," Gates told the audience at Saturday's performance.

Supporters for the 2010-11 festival as of April 1 include the city of Laguna Beach, Laguna Beach Visitors & Conference Bureau, Vivian and Dr. Eugene Levin in the Gold category. Silver sponsors included Conway, Jessica Callahan, Festival of the Arts, Orange Count Foundation, Doug and Karen Wilson, Jay and Linda Young, Mike and Nancy Meyer, and Dr. William Callahan, the latter two festival board members.

Among the Bronze sponsors: Michele Blair, Bobbi Cox, Joseph S. Lewis III, Sam Goldstein, the Kroha Family, Steve and Karen Shirley, Bill Witte and Keiko Sakamoto, and James and Phyllis Parkhurst.

Karen Carozza, Robin and Dr. David Davis, Steve and Jill Edwards, Maureen Goldsmith, John Pribram and Leslie Fiorentino, Tom Peters and Joy Dittberner, Harvey Triebwasser and George Webb are patrons of the festival.

Toni Bassman, Marc Berger, Albert and Bonnie Court, John and Peggy Feder, Pat Gallis, Regine Hartley, Madonna Billauer, Elizabeth Hirsch, Fiona Ho, Jacqueline Jacques, Evonne Kane, David and Doris Law, Marc Levin, Steven Manels, Samantha Min, Gitta Mueller, Jeff Payne, Mitchell and Jill Wexler, Sharon Wray and the Mortimore Levitt Foundation are all "Friends."

Donations are tax-deductible.

The all-volunteer board of directors is headed by President Christine Rhoades, assisted by Advisory Board members Pamela Berry, Leslie Carothers, Joseph S. Lewis III, Donald McKayle, Tom Mossbrucher, Byer, Eggers, Billauer and Richardson.

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Barbara Diamond can be reached (949) 302-1469 or coastlinepilot@latimes.com.

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