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Spend a night at the cabaret with the California Ballet

By Michelle Forshner

Reminiscent of the eclectic cabarets in the elegant halls of Paris in the 1920s, the Cabaret des Ballets is sure to sweep audience members off their feet Sept. 16-17.

The Cabaret des Ballets is a change of pace from the California Ballet Company’s traditional repertoire.

“Cabaret des Ballets offers a unique cabaret setting that creates the atmosphere where the audience feels as if they are part of the show,” said Judith Sharp, ballet mistress and educational director. “Dining tables, kiosks, live musicians and dancers that interact with the audience are all part of the enticement to enjoy the show.”

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The David and Dorthea Garfield Theatre at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center will be transformed for two evenings to present the show. There are a total of seven ballets in the program, each with a different theme and choreographer. What makes this performance so unique is that Cabaret des Ballets additionally provides a forum for choreography talent from San Diego andabroad.

“Several choreographers have their works displayed in this montage full of energy, charm, and fun,” Sharp said.

A special piece in the program is Robert Sund’s “Pas de Duke,” set to the classic jazz of Duke Ellington. Also on the program is a piece by Kathy Austen titled “Go the Distance,” which originally premiered in 1994. This unique ballet is known for its quick choreography and an exciting sports theme. Also on the performance menu is “Gurney,” created by Jean Issacs and Nancy McCaleb in the 1980s. The La Jolla show will be the premiere of Betzi Roe’s “Exit/Entrance.” The final performance of the evening is “Club Maxim’s,” an energetic collage choreographed by Maxine Mahon, Wayne Davis and Robert Sund.

Guest artists will also be a part of the spectacle.

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“We will have Francisco Gella as a guest, performing the comic ‘William Tell Pas de Deux’ by Michael Uthoff,” Sharp said. “He will also be featured as a dancer in two other ballets.”

Gella’s “Suite Vivaldi” premiered at California Ballet’s 35th annual gala.

Robert Sund will be featured as a guest conductor for his Duke Ellington-themed ballet. Sund began his career as a dancer before choreographing “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” for the Norwegian National ballet. He has received two Emmy awards for televised ballets, and has served as a teacher across the globe.

Since its inception in 1968, California Ballet Company has become known in the professional dance scene for both restaging demanding ballet classics and presenting its own cutting-edge works.

Very early on in its history, the company acquired a distinctive international profile, said Olga Smoak, editor of Ballet in Russia magazine.

“Throughout its 35-year saga, the company enriched the area and also found a supportive echo in its California’s native soil,” Smoak said. "(The company) has become a ballet ambassador, as it shared and received artistic knowledge and hospitality at home, south of the border, and as far away as Romania, Russia and Georgia.”

The founding director, Maxine Mahon, has produced several signature works, many of which play upon the region’s historic Spanish roots. She also directs the California Ballet School, founded in 1972.

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The company is comprised of two principal dancers, three soloists, 15 corps dancers, and 10 apprentices.

Rehearsals for Cabaret des Ballets began in mid-August. Dancers attended classes and rehearsal five or six days a week.

“In a program like this, the director decides on a theme for the evening and selects ballets to fit,” Sharp said. “We call it a repertory program when the evening is comprised of multiple ballets that may or may not have story lines. Some need no story to be enjoyed, because they are simply visual representation of the music.”

Cabaret des Ballets will be performed Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. and Sept. 17 at 1 and 8 p.m. at the Davis and Dorthea Garfield Theatre, Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla. Ticket prices are $28 to $78 for adults, and $22 for children 12 and under. The Saturday evening performance includes a pre-performance reception for specific seating sections.