It is not every day that 2nd grade students are instructed by professional ballet dancers but, this is exactly what the 2nd graders at Van Meter Elementary have been experiencing. Cindy Huang and Raul Salamanca are instructing both boys and girls in stretching, technique, choreography and dance appreciation. “I think it is an excellent way to introduce all students to the fun, challenge, and history of ballet, an activity that many may not have the benefit to experience; both as an option of a sport or exposure to a performing art.”, said Ingrid O’Donoghue, Van Meter 2nd grade teacher. These classes are part of a 6-week outreach program sponsored by The Los Gatos Ballet Foundation.
The students are taught by Ms. Huang and Mr. Salamanca, both professional dancers and instructors at Los Gatos Ballet. Prior to joining the former Silicon Valley Ballet, Ms. Huang danced professionally with the Miami City Ballet and performed as a guest artist with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal. Mr. Salamanca has danced with Ballet Arizona, Boston Ballet, Les Grand Ballets Canadiens de Montreal, and Ballet San Antonio. “I saw my students get excited about ballet. Amazed by the fact that professional athletes use the exercises in ballet to strengthen and enhance their abilities in other sports. Ballet is physically strenuous and fun. The students were appreciative at how quickly they could come together for a performance. Another specific benefit was that in order to perform, each student had to follow directions and remember a sequence of steps. Each one had to do their part. I also really appreciated the professionalism of the instructors. Many dads emailed me after the first session saying how much their sons and daughters were talking about ballet. Parents really like it.”, said O’Donoghue.
Students are being taught variations from the Nutcracker in which they will perform with their class this week. When asked about how the program benefited her students, Ms. O’Donoghue said, “Instruction in the arts provides children with freedom of expression within a structured and focused environment that they do not get in other types of activities. It requires mental focus and physical discipline. I loved watching my students get excited. I enjoyed watching as each one figured out what it was they were doing and how it fit into the whole piece. The instructors were very capable handling a group of children and they shared their love of their profession and it came across to the students.”
This program, supported by The Los Gatos Ballet Foundation, is available to local and underserved schools and is headed up by Alison Ahmed. Ms. Ahmed was Inspired by her daughter’s participation in dance classes at Los Gatos Ballet. She built on her museum education experience to create the ballet’s Leaps and Bounds Outreach program in the schools in 2008. The program provides professional dance instruction to students in order to foster the love of dance and contribute to the development of well-rounded persons.
The Van Meter 2nd grade classes will be performing their variations this week on Tuesday and Thursday morning, beginning at 9am.
Photos by Annarose Monroe
Video by Christine Herrera.
Amid colorful balloons, whirling rides and pink cotton candy, Los Gatos Ballet dancers performed Nutcracker variations at the St. Mary’s Fair this past Saturday. This is an annual tradition that Los Gatos Ballet has participated in for well over a decade. “The entire community looks forward to the Country Fair. Many of the fair's volunteers are not only from St. Mary’s parish but also from local schools. It is our parish and school's largest fundraiser in which thousands of folks visit each year and over 700 people volunteer. Many local businesses sponsor the fair or donate goods. The fair is in its 36th year, and it is a place where families and friends reconnect every year.”, said Kristine Maus, Chair for the St. Mary's Country Fair and President of the School’s Advisory Board.
Los Gatos Ballet delighted the audience with its Nutcracker’s Chinese variation, Ballerina Doll, and Clara’s party dance. Brennah Lyons and Christine Porter danced the fun and joyful Chinese. Both girls are upper-division Level 7 dancers. The Ballerina Doll was danced by Los Gatos Ballet Company member, Kirina Patel. This is a dance of clean precision which portrays the prized doll at the Staulbaum Holiday party. Company member, Sadie Weaver, danced the Clara variation in her beautiful party dress. All dances are typically performed ‘en pointe’, but because of special flooring needs, dancers performed on flat during the Fair.
“It is wonderful to showcase this rich talent right here in our local community to the visitors at the fair. Having Los Gatos Ballet perform is a great way to promote the art of classical dance to the community and hopefully engage people to attend Los Gatos Ballet’s Nutcracker and spring performances.”, said Maus. Currently, there are approximately five students from St. Mary's School that dance at Los Gatos Ballet. When asked what Los Gatos Ballet brings to our community, Maus replied, “Los Gatos Ballet is an amazing pre-professional school and company that exists right in our own neighborhood. The talent is amazing! From best-in-class teachers to students who study with ballet companies all around the country. In addition to dance, the school educates each student in so many more ways. Each student develops in ways that will help them throughout life - confidence, discipline, respect, grace, and focus.”
Just as the dancers delighted the audience at the St. Mary’s Fair, Los Gatos Ballet is looking forward to delighting audiences once again during their upcoming production of The Nutcracker held December 9-11 at the Flint Center in Cupertino. Preparations and rehearsals are well underway and tickets will go on sale this Friday, October 14th at LosGatosBallet.org.
Photos: Dancers performing variations and with Kristine Maus. Photos by Annarose Monroe.
Los Gatos Ballet choreographer, Christine Herrera, was awarded the Leigh Weimers Emerging Artists Award this past Wednesday by the Rotary Club of San Jose. This award is presented to outstanding artists living and working in Santa Clara county who have yet to be widely recognized for their talent, vision and artistic accomplishments. Ms. Herrera received a $5,000 cash prize. The Leigh Weimers Emerging Artists Awards is a program of the Rotary Club of San Jose. Additionally, the program receives funding from Rotary Club members, friends of Leigh Weimers and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Endowment of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.
Ms. Herrera was invited to speak about her choreography work at the San Jose Rotary Club luncheon. “I’ve have worked for this forward-thinking non-profit (Los Gatos Ballet) for 8 years now. We are committed to fostering the love of dance and making it accessible to all age groups and backgrounds. Also, we encourage our students to push themselves outside of their box and take artistic risks. This develops them as artists. I am personally committed to keeping the dance arts alive and thriving for our youth in the Bay Area.”, said Herrera.
This past summer Ms. Herrera choreographed the City Lights Theater Company’s production of American Idiot. This was their biggest selling show in 33 years! The Mercury News stated, “Christine Herrera’s choreography was thoroughly effective. She puts more than a dozen ensemble actors through high-kicking, head-banging, herky-jerky moves that are deceptively simple-looking but right in step with the music and story. During the terrifically defiant song “Holiday,” a riser back stage is flipped over to become a crowded dancing prop, and it’s exhilarating to watch. And in the ode to disillusionment “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” dancers prowl the stage like the zombies in “Walking Dead.”. Regarding Arts website stated, “Christine Herrera’s choreography is a master class in synchronization, and she made full use of her company of 21 and the whole stage, ensuring that the urban grayness of the set was constantly filled with excitement.”.
During the San Jose Rotary luncheon, Ms. Herrera showcased a few of her pieces with Los Gatos Ballet’s Company dancers in their Repertoire Series. “This production is unique because the Los Gatos Ballet staff set pieces on the students that are non-classical and simplistic. We also invite a few of our advanced students to conceptualize their own works for the stage. This is a great opportunity for the young dancers to explore and develop their own creativity. I like to produce works for my students that break down their classical alignment and mentality, but will still showcase their ballet technique. I have them focus on their musicality, rather than story when working on choreography. Connection through the music is important to me. I find the music to be powerful. If the music doesn’t connect with me organically, I believe that it will certainly not connect with my students or the audience. I am about connection when generating new works and I only choreograph pieces I would also want to perform.”, said Herrera.
In the future Ms. Herrera would like to set an original piece to George Gershwin’s works from either An American in Paris or Rhapsody in Blue. She is also looking forward to Los Gatos Ballet’s 2017 Repertoire Series. “I've started putting together my ideas for my own piece. I can't wait to see the company dancers’ original works too. It's awe-inspiring to see the students transform from dancers to creators.”, said Herrera. Ultimately, Ms. Herrera hopes that her work will continue to inspire people to attend performances and support the local arts.
Top photo: Herrera and Geri Weimers
Bottom photos: Herrera speaking, Herrera with Steve Borkenhagen and SJ Rotary President Cindy Faulkner, Herrera talking with guest, Herrera’s piece Retrógrada del Sol (photos by Monroe and Kerris)