Oakland Mayor Jean Quan may have said it best: “Oakland’s art community does it like no one else.”
Mayor Quan spoke at Oakland Ballet Company’s third annual spring gala, joining OBC friends and supporters as the event’s Honorary Chair, Saturday, April 27, at the Kaiser Center Lakeside Theater.
Comments about the revitalization of Oakland’s homegrown art scene were fitting for both the evening’s theme, Imagine!, and the big news of the night.
OBC Board Chair and President Roz Perazzo announced the company’s successful match of the Jerome Robbins Foundation $20,000 grant. [Read Behind Oakland Ballet from April 22 for more about the grant.]
Perazzo highlighted the board’s appreciation for all of the company’s sponsors and community partners, noting “It’s because of all of you together,” that OBC achieved its matching grant goal.
Though the gala is considered OBC’s official kick-off for spring, the season got a jumpstart when the Jerome Robbins Foundation awarded the company one of its prestigious matching grants from its New Essential Works (NEW) Program.
The grant supports production of Amy Seiwert’s world premiere for Diaghilev Imagery. A pas de deux from her ballet, an original piece that draws from the 1924 Les Biches, was performed at the gala, as was an excerpt from Pulcinella by Artistic Director Graham Lustig.
As the countdown to opening night on Friday, May 10, continues, the gala provided an opportunity to pause and reflect on ballet’s role within Oakland’s community.
Arts taking root in Oakland
“Oakland is abuzz,” Mayor Quan said, noting that the city’s resurgence drew the attention of the New York Times in a January 2012 article. The Times listed Oakland number five of 45, right behind summer Olympics host London, of international cities to visit.
“More and more people are discovering the city,” Mayor Quan added.
She pointed to Pandora, the free internet radio station started in 2000 and headquartered in Oakland, as one example of how ingenuity at home is adding to the artistic landscape on a national level.
“Oakland’s arts are going to explode, and the world’s arts are going to integrate in ways never thought possible,” Mayor Quan predicted.
She encouraged everyone to join her for Diaghilev Imagery, performed next week at downtown’s Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts theater, to experience OBC’s presence as a pillar within the community.
What ballet brings to the local scene, Mayor Quan added, is a strong foundation in the classics. The rigors of its traditional training provides the kind of platform needed within the arts to give shape to new ideas and continue to explore new expression.
It’s a role that OBC takes seriously. Given the company’s momentum, it comes as no surprise that the Imagine! theme was picked partly to describe OBC’s ongoing partnership with the city.
The two thrive and grow in tandem, as the company draws inspiration from the city and adds to its artistic growth and diversity.
With the show of support that OBC has gained of late, it’s clear that members within the community agree that the company is on the cusp of something big. Eight new company sponsors stepped forward to support the spring season along with several returning sponsors. A Gala Committee of 12 individuals came together this year to help organize and strengthen the event.
A large part of the renewed confidence is due to the arrival of Graham Lustig as Artistic Director and anticipation of his creative steerage.
Trained at the Royal Ballet School in London, Lustig’s dance career began at the Dutch National Ballet, where he was coached by such ballet luminaries as Kurt Jooss and Rudolf Nureyev.
“I fell in love with the Oakland Ballet because of Graham,” said Cheryl Jennings, ABC 7 News co-anchor and Emmy-winning reporter, who served as emcee for the evening.
She hosted the live auction, which included bids for cameo roles in the 2013 production of Graham Lustig’s The Nutcracker and a chance to take home a rare bottle of wine for the highest sponsor of pointe shoes for the company. Jennings also announced the winner for the iPad mini drawing. The silent auction included 41 items, nearly half of which came from first-time donors.
Fundraising efforts like the gala are important, Lustig shared with guests, because they shed light on the depth of mounting a ballet production. Beyond what is seen on stage – the dancers, the sets, the costumes – there are expenses for the tech crew and renting a theater space.
The latter expenses, Lustig noted, often require advance payment, meaning that funding needs to be secure before moving forward with rehearsals and the creative side of production.
OBC’s spring program Diaghilev Imagery is a full display of the company’s capabilities. With guest choreographers Amy Seiwert and Robert Moses, OBC is revisiting the imaginative spirit of Diaghilev that put Oakland Ballet on the map.
Both Seiwert and Moses are creating new pieces to premiere alongside Lustig’s Pulcinella. Taken together, the three ballets of Diaghilev Imagery, performed at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, May 10 to 11, represent the future that OBC envisions for itself.
– Kate Fratar