Our Laguna: Jodie Gates is dancing up in the world

This column has been corrected, as noted below.

Laguna Dance Festival founder Jodie Gates has taken on a new challenge.

Festival President Joy Dittberner announced at the June 20 festival fundraiser that Gates has been named vice dean and director of the new USC Kaufman School of Dance, funded by Glorya Kaufman.

Gates will be leaving her current position as professor of dance at UC Irvine in August.

"It is a gift to USC and to Jodie that this wonderful school is being established, utilizing Jodie's immense talent and made possible by the generous gift of Glorya Kaufman," said Pat Kollenda, Laguna Beach arts commissioner and USC alumna.

"I really believe this will benefit the Laguna Beach Dance Festival."

The festival is Gates' baby. When she decided 10 years ago to hang up her toe shoes, she made Laguna her home.

"We have all benefited," said Dittbener in her introduction of Gates at the "Visual Immersion" fundraiser, held at [Seven-Degrees]. We benefit from her vision, her unbounded energy, sharp intellect and deep knowledge of the dance world.

"She was determined to add dance to the cultural palette that is Laguna Beach."

Thus was born CaDance, which has morphed into the Laguna Dance Festival.

"Our mission is to support and promote the development of dance creation, presentation and education and to increase public appreciation of the art form in Orange County and beyond," Dittberner said.

The first CaDance performance was held in 2006 at Main Beach.

During her 30-year career on stage, Gates dance with the Joffrey, Frankfurt and Pennsylvania ballet companies. Behind the scenes, she has taught, staged and produced William Forsythe's ballets at Paris Opera Ballet, Scottish Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Zurich Opera Ballet, Teatro La Scala, Houston Ballet, and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet.

She has also choreographed for American Ballet Theatre II and Complexions Contemporary Ballet, co-founded in New York by dance principal Desmond Richardson.

The partnership with Complexions brought Richardson to Laguna to perform in the festival.

"When I started the festival, I called in Desmond," Gates said. "He brought his Rolodex."

The Rolodex contained the names of Patrick Swayze, and Debbie Allen, star of "Fame," one of, if not the best, dance series ever on television.

"I have been affiliated with the festival since its inception," Richardson said at the fundraiser.

The festival's long-distance love affair with Richardson will be getting shorter. He announced at the fundraiser that Complexions, which celebrated its 19th anniversary on June 10, will be relocated from New York to Los Angeles.

Besides Complexions, Richardson spent eight years with the esteemed Alvin Alley American Dance Theater, three years in Germany with Ballet Frankfurt and as a principal with American Ballet Theatre, for which he danced the lead in Othello at the Metropolitan Opera House.

"I was honored to do Othello," Richardson said. "I was the first African American to be a principal dancer with ABT."

Richardson was nominated for a Tony for his performance in "Fosse" on Broadway. He has performed on stage with such luminaries as Michael Jackson, Prince, Aretha Franklin and Madonna; in the movies "One Last Dance" and "Chicago;" and as a guest performer and choreographer on television's "So You Think You Can Dance."

He considers Gates a talent and a friend.

"Watching her on stage was magic," he said. "Dancing together was a dream come true."

Gates was equally complimentary about Richardson.

"He is the artist we are all looking to be," Gates said. "Complexions raised the bar for all of us. Laguna and I have a special place in our hearts for Desmond. The world is a better place because Desmond Richardson is in it."

They met at a photo shoot in 1995.

"There I was, a ballerina in a studio with modern dancers and they painted our bodies," said Gates .

Gates' comments preceded an intimate, un-rehearsed, seven minute video of Richardson.

"Some of the stuff was taken without my knowledge," he said.

The fundraiser also included performances by dance students and a silent auction, organized by Debbie and Paul Naude, who also provided most of the items. Nancy Meyer and Edie Tonkon co-chaired the fundraiser. There were 17 sponsors for the event listed on video screens throughout the venue. 

"Imagine an event so fabulous that more than 180 people braved Laguna Beach summer traffic to join us tonight for 'Visual Immersion'," Dittberner said.

Past festival board Presidents Stuart Byer and Christine Rhoades were among the 180. Past President Janet Eggers could not attend as she was busy being a new grandmother.

The guest list also included Ginger and former Mayor Neil Fitzpatrick, Jane and Laguna Playhouse President Joe Hanauer, Kathleen and Gregg Abel and their son, Tristan, Cindy Ortiz, Katy Moss, Mike Meyer and Maria Huang, whose family owns Landmark Plaza on Forest Avenue, where she will soon open Laguna Wine & Coffee & Specialty food Shop and the Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau will be relocated.

Also at the event were Keiko Sakamoto, chair of the Friendship Shelter's 25 the anniversary celebration, set for Nov. 1 at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel and committee member Julie McAlpine; Martha Lydick, Friends of the Laguna Beach Library and Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. president; Keith Morrison, Lizanne Witte and festival Treasurer Kathy Conway, her outfit accessorized with a cane, as she recovers from a nasty fall.

Tickets for the reception were $200, dinner and performance tickets were $125.

Proceeds will support the festival's mission.

"Laguna Dance Festival is a non-profit organization that survives solely on ticket sales, grants and supporters like you," Dittberner said. "So thank you for helping us bring the best dancers in the world to your doorstep."

Four performances of the 2013 festival will be held Sept. 5 to 8 at the Laguna Playhouse, and one Sept. 7 at the Laguna Art Museum.

For tickets, call (949) 715-5578 or e-mailinfo@lagunadancefestival.org.

[For the record, 9 a.m. July 5: A previous version of this column incorrectly stated that Video Screens was a sponsor of the event. There were actually 17 sponsors listed on video screens around the venue. 

OUR LAGUNA is a regular feature of the Laguna Beach Coastline Pilot. Contributions are welcomed. Call 1 (714) 966-4608 or email coastlinepilot@latimes.com with Attn. Barbara Diamond in the subject line.


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