Over 80 Westside Ballet Pre-professional Dancers Share the Stage with Professional Alumni Memorial Weekend
Best Show In Town Returns to Santa Monica's BroadStage May 26-27
May 24, 2023
The cast of over 80 student dancers-including over 40 Santa Monica and Culver City residents and students-are preparing to perform in Westside Ballet of Santa Monica's "Masters of Movement: Ballet through the Centuries," returning for the ninth year at The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center.
On Friday, May 26, the five-decades-strong nonprofit performance company will host its annual Soirée special event, including cocktails, appetizers, awards, and one-night-only guest artist performances. Andrea Laššáková and alumnus Adrian Blake Mitchell will dance Westside's Premiere of "After the Rain" by acclaimed choreographer Christopher Wheeldon; and Maté Szentes and alumna Lyrica Woodruff will perform George Balanchine's dazzling "Stars & Stripes". Repertoire also includes a suite from Marius Petipa's "Raymonda" and a newly commissioned contemporary work, "Color of Spring" by Vanessa Van Wormer. Both contemporary works feature live music.
On Saturday, May 27, the festivities continue with repertoire featuring the Westside Premiere of George Balanchine's "Emeralds Pas de Trois"; excerpts from "Sleeping Beauty"; "Handel Dances" by resident choreographer Sophie Monat; and concluding with audience favorite "A Chorus Line". Saturday's pre-professional showcase includes divertissements from Marius Petipa's "Raymonda", as well as Ms. Wormer's piece, again with live music.
Resident Youth Dancers
Several pre-professional dancers take on soloist roles in the "Raymonda" excerpts including SaMo High sophomore Catia Boucher (16). Recently Catia competed at the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) Regionals and placed in the top 25.
"I love dancing ballet because the level of emotion you can express through your artistry is never ending," says Catia. "There are always improvements to be made, starting with basic technique, and working your way up to having artistic freedom within your dancing. It is incredibly rewarding to struggle with a combination in class, or with a variation, and then finally get it. As much of a cliché as it is, hard work pays off and the feeling I get when it does is unlike any other. Part of the joy dancing ballet brings me is from the growth and learning aspect. Learning how to use artistry in my dancing is something I am working hard on. When I watch professional dancers I look up to, I am drawn to them not only by their flawless technique, but the emotion they pass on to the audience members through the artistry."
Twin sisters Francisca and Isabel Bugacov (15), both sophomores at New West Charter High School in Santa Monica, will perform with elite young male dancers Sawyer Jordan and Dylan Weinstein (Samo High sophomores) in Westside's Premiere of Balanchine's "Emeralds Pas de Trois" from "Jewels". Staged by New York City Ballet former principal Nilas Martins and set to portions of "Gabriel Fauré's Shylock", "Emeralds" is considered French and Romantic in tone. Francisca says she enjoys the emphasis on artistic expression at Westside Ballet: "It isn't only about the technique; it is about the artistry and the style you pair with that technique."
The company's youngest dancers introduce levity through a newly choreographed piece, "Mozartiana". This charming work by Westside's Children's Division Associate Artistic Director Caprice Walker and staged by Ms. Bachar Mendicelli is set to the Mozart composition, "Les petits riens" (French for "The Little Nothings").
"Boys Ballet" / Promising Young Men's Division
Sawyer and Dylan are two of four elite young male cast members which include Evan Hull (14) and Spencer Collins (10). These young men recently solidified themselves as some of the best in the nation after receiving top placement at the Youth America Grand Prix.
Dylan and Sawyer perform variations in the classic "Raymonda" in both performances. In the Friday Soirée, Sawyer shall perform a Solo from "Satanella", and Dylan a solo from Grand Pas Classique.
In Saturday's performance, Evan and Spencer will present their YAGP variations. Evan will perform a solo from "La Fille Mal Gardée" by Jean Dauberval (1789) whilst Spencer dances his solo from "The Talisman" (Petipa, 1895).
Contemporary Ballet & Jazz Pieces
For the second consecutive year, Westside's advanced pre-professional dancers will perform Van Wormer's original work to live music. Ms. Van Wormer has choreographed her piece to music by Manuel de Falla, "El Paño Moruno, Canción Asturiana," performed by two sopranos (Brenda Osorio and Angela Rhodes) with guitar by Ken Rosser.
Concluding the Saturday performance is Jazz Director Ms. Bachar Mendicelli's staging of the Michael Bennett classic A Chorus Line, a sensational audience favorite. "I grew up dancing in the 1970's and 80's, so it was really fun bringing back some of those classical jazz steps from that era," shares Mendicelli. "That choreography always looks best when using dancers with a solid foundation in classical ballet, which we pride ourselves on giving to our students."
New Roads' 7th grader Naya Farrell-Katseanes is an advanced-intermediate dancer (level 5) at Westside and will perform in the "Garland Dance" as well as "A Chorus Line."
"Dance makes me happy because it is fun and fulfilling. It is my passion," says Naya. "My commitment to dance gives me courage and confidence. I love this art form, because it's challenging and takes both physical and mental strength, but there are many rewards."
Westside Ballet's 2023 Spring Soirée special event honors Ralph and Eileen Horowitz with the Bravo! Award, and Morley Builders with the Huntley Santa Monica Beach Community Arts Award.
Ralph and Eileen Horowitz have been valued patrons and promoters of the performing arts in the ballet and greater SoCal community for decades. Westside Board President and Spring Performance Producer Judith Meister says, "The Horowitz family have been champions of Westside Ballet and shared a deep friendship with our founder Yvonne Mounsey. We are thrilled to recognize their long-standing generosity and guidance."
During the first year of pandemic shut-downs, the Westside Ballet Volunteer Guild recognized the need to bring people together in-person but safely. Thanks to the huge support of local contractor Morley Builders, materials and labor were provided in early Fall 2020 to build an outdoor dance studio."Each week, classes were held for all to see and know that the beauty of dance and the arts would not be vanquished," shares Allegra Clegg, Westside School of Ballet owner and daughter of co-founder Yvonne Mounsey.
Under an education initiative, Westside is partnered with Santa Monica College. By being concurrently enrolled in SMC's choreography course with Vanessa van Wormer, Westside's dancers who are high school students will receive college credits-transferable to any of California's public four-year colleges and universities.
Westside Ballet established an Endowment Fund to expand both merit and need-based scholarships. Pre-COVID, Westside Ballet provided approximately $100,000 in scholarships annually. The Chow Family Scholarship Fund was established in 2018 and over $150,000 has been raised to date; major donors of this fund requested the funds be used to actively recruit People of Color. In summer 2020, a scholarship was established by a new nonprofit, Dance in Color, and founded by Westside Alumnus Adrian Blake Mitchell. Several young Westside dancers have received this scholarship every year since the 2020-21 school year.
The biannual Westside Ballet productions are made possible in part by grants fromLos Angeles County, the City of Santa Monica, Pacific Palisades Woman's Club –– and sponsorships from local Santa Monica individuals, businesses, and organizations such as Santa Monica College Public Policy Institute, The Huntley Hotel, Urth Caffe, Morley Builders, Lyft Scooters, and more.
Many professional dancers have made their debuts in Westside's stage performances. A few of them include Monique Meunier (NYCB, ABT), Anna Liceica (ABT), Martine Harley (Houston Ballet), Melissa Barak (NYCB, Los Angeles Ballet, Barak Ballet), Andrew Veyette (NYCB), Stayce Camparo (Kansas City Ballet) and Francis Veyette (Pennsylvania Ballet). Recent successes include Molly Novak (Boston Ballet); Lucia Connolly (Joffrey Ballet of Chicago); Samuel Melnikov (New York City Ballet); Sarah Hurty (Nashville Ballet); Shelby Tzung (National Ballet of Canada); Giorgia Martelloni Zabriskie (Dance Theatre of Harlem); and Severina Wong (Ballet West).
Friday, May 26, 2023, 6 pm Soirée reception and awards, followed by the 8 pm "Masters of Movement" with special performances; -and- Saturday, May 27, 2024, 1pm and 5 pm shows of the "Masters of Movement" pre-professional Spring Showcases. Both at The Eli and Edythe Broad Stage at the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center, 1310 11th St, Santa Monica, CA 90401. Saturday Showcase tickets are $45. The Soirée Friday reception and special performance are $100-300. Tickets for this must-see dance event of the season may be purchased online at westsideballet.com/springtix or by phone (additional fees apply) at (800) 595-4849 (4TIX).
About Westside Ballet of Santa Monica - One of the nation's premier pre-professional ballet training companies, the nonprofit organization's mission is to give promising young dancers the performance opportunities crucial to their development and make dance more accessible to local children and families. Westside Ballet of Santa Monica was created by Yvonne Mounsey (New York City Ballet) and Rosemary Valaire (Royal Ballet) in 1973. Westside Alumna Martine Harley (Houston Ballet) took over as Artistic Director in 2013. Based in Santa Monica, California, the company comprises approximately 80 dancers, ages 8 to 18.
The sister entity, Westside School of Ballet, distinguishes itself as a non-audition dance academy where all are welcome to study ballet and train to the most refined pre-professional level. Nearly all the artistic staff are graduates of the school, bringing a consistent approach to the school's classical ballet training. Ms. Mounsey and Ms. Valaire opened the school in 1967, six years before founding the performance company, and have produced many of classical ballet's luminary performers known worldwide.
For more information, visit http://www.westsideballet.com