Ballet Santa Barbara brings New York Sophistication to S.B.’s Dance Community
by Elizabeth Schwyzer
Ten years ago, New York dancer/choreographer Carrie Diamond and her composer husband, Eric Valinsky, started talking about leaving Manhattan. In 2002, they finally took the plunge and moved west, relocating their family to Santa Barbara, where Valinsky, founded an Internet consulting company and Diamond began teaching ballet. “I was teaching a morning class, and this young woman named Colleen Bialas started coming a lot. I thought, ‘A couple more [dancers] like her and I could start a company,’” Diamond said. A few months and a few newly discovered dancers later, that’s exactly what she did. Ballet Santa Barbara (BSB) staged its debut performance in March 2006. Next weekend, the seven-member company stages its second show in the form of a repertory concert at the Marjorie Luke Theatre.
Diamond is in some ways a New Yorker at heart, but she’s committed to making BSB a company that serves and draws from the Santa Barbara community. Although the upcoming program features a number of guest artists from New York, it’s primarily a showcase for Santa Barbara-based dancers and choreographers. She’s also determined to demystify the world of professional dance, noting the popularity of a recent patron’s showing where the audience was invited to watch the dancers warm up and work on technique before performing. “Audiences really appreciate seeing that stuff,” Diamond said. “If people could understand what dancers do all the time, they’d feel a lot closer to us. Unfortunately, ideas about dance are usually influenced by popular culture — they either think of So You Think You Can Dance or they picture little girls in tutus. But dance is a contemporary, living art form — it’s exciting and relevant.”
Diamond’s convictions and her artistic vision stem from the considerable variety and sophistication of work she has seen throughout the course of her career, and the company’s current repertoire reflects that diversity. Among other pieces, BSB will be performing two of Diamond’s own works: the West Coast premiere of “Sueños Castellaños,” a work she choreographed for her New York dance company New American Ballet Ensemble, and a new version of the satiric ballet “Terra Incognita,” which premiered here in March. “‘Terra Incognita’ is a response to my first introduction to Santa Barbara — to the human ‘terra,’ so to speak,” Diamond said. The program will also include work by local dance artist Melinda Horwitz, whose background in Horton technique, jazz, and hip-hop informs her contemporary ballet vocabulary.
Horwitz’s barefoot trio “Slowdance” is set to an original score by Kenji Bunch, the rapidly rising young composer who recently collaborated with New York’s Parsons Dance Company. Also on the program is “Folia,” a solo by guest artist Carlos Fittante whose interest in unusual dance forms ranges from Balinese to Baroque, and the duet “Frames,” created by the late, internationally renowned choreographer, director, and ballet master Benjamin Harkarvy and originally danced by Diamond and Fittante. “Frames” is set to an original score by Valinsky, BSB’s music director.
All in all, Diamond seems determined to bring the best of the dance world to Santa Barbara and to bring out the best in Santa Barbara’s dancers. Her plan is to develop a more extensive schedule of daily technique classes for dancers of all levels, eventually securing a dedicated studio space downtown. She talks about educating the entire community, offering everyone an opportunity to experience dance. “A city isn’t civilized until there are lots of dancers,” Diamond said. “They’re the closest things we have to gods and goddesses, and yet they’re just people — disciplined, dedicated, beautiful people who synthesize and process life through their art and through their bodies.”