On September 24 at the Four Seasons Biltmore, about 180 guests indulged in an exquisite and entertaining affair — State Street Ballet’s annual gala, this year aptly dubbed “A Night to Remember.” The fundraising event supports the company’s performances here in Santa Barbara, the company’s tour each year, and its significant education and outreach programs here.
The evening began with cocktails in the intimate and lush Palmera Garden across the walkway from the Loggia Ballroom. With Chris Fossek providing Spanish guitar music in the background, guests in tuxes and gowns mingled and celebrated the start of the company’s 23rd season.
In the entrance to the Loggia Ballroom, guests were greeted by the company’s Professional Track Program dancers with elaborate white feather costumes and fans from An American Tango . Event Chair Alex Nourse and her committee created the most beautiful ballroom I have ever seen in Santa Barbara. Larger-than-life silhouettes of dancers with reddish-orange backlighting festooned the walls of the dimly lit room. Gold fabric-covered chairs surrounded tables adorned with apricot table linens and a table lamp with dancer silhouettes etched in the shade.
A center stage allowed for an intimate experience for all of the guests, with no one seated more than a table away from the stage. Between three scrumptious dinner courses — Dungeness crab cake salad, local bass or beef tenderloin, and chocolate molten cake — guests were treated to exquisite dance vignettes that showcased the talent and versatility of this company: a pas de deux from Five by Gershwin with Leila Drake and Jack Stewart, another pas de deux titled “C’est la Vie” danced by Cecily Stewart and Nickolas Topete, and a disco dance set to “Saturday Night Fever” music, choreographed by Mauricio Vera and danced by Vera and Deise Mendonça.
The evening honored Leila Drake, who will be retiring after her upcoming performance in Mozart in Dance. Rodney Gustafson proclaimed that “we all love Leila dearly” and she “is truly the face of our ballet company…she has been a brilliant light … I thank you for all you have done to grace our stages with elegance and beauty.”
In an eloquent and touching speech, Drake thanked the incredibly supportive community and the company for the privilege of performing for 13 years. “State Street Ballet has given me the career of my dreams, roles of a lifetime, and friendships that reach far beyond the studio and the stage.” She extended a special thanks to Gustafson, whom, she related, “has made the world a better place.”
The evening also paid tribute to Judy and Brian Robertson for their significant contributions to the company, with Boardmember Arlyn Goldsby making the award presentation.
Auctioneer Andrew Firestone entertained the guests with a lively auction and then was joined by Leila Drake for a paddle raise for pointe shoes, which dancers wear at a cost of $100 per pair and last sometimes only a performance and at most a week.
In addition to putting on performances, State Street Ballet offers three training programs: a Summer Intensive program for dancers ages 18-21; a year-round Professional Track Program, and Gustafson Dance, which offers instruction for all levels.
The company does extensive community outreach. Each year, it does special performances of one of its productions for area youth. The company provides area schools with a study guide beforehand to enhance the educational value and enjoyment of the performance. Last year, 2,600 students experienced Cinderella at the Granada Theatre. This year, students will see Romeo and Juliet at the Lobero Theatre.
For the past four years, the company has partnered with Library Dances, a nonprofit founded by Cecily Stewart, the company’s outreach coordinator and one of its dancers. The company provides dancers and its studio for this program, which links classic literature with dance. Students at Santa Barbara Junior High School and La Colina Junior High School are given dance instruction, which culminates in performances that bring to life a piece of literature the students are studying in school. This year’s production, which will be performed for classmates and families, is Hamlet.
State Street Ballet also provides complimentary tickets for its performances to various nonprofit organizations and it provides scholarships to a couple of students each year in its Summer Intensive program.
State Street Ballet was founded in 1994 by former American Ballet Theatre dancer Rodney Gustafson and remains under his direction today. It combines classical ballet technique with updated, cutting-edge choreography. Each year, the company does a few productions in Santa Barbara and also goes on tour. It is a resident company of the Granada Theatre.
State Street Ballet’s 2017–18 season features Mozart in Dance with the Santa Barbara Symphony October 14-15, The Nutcracker December 16–17, Romeo and Juliet March 23–24, and Modern Masters May 12–13.
For more info about State Street Ballet, go to statestreetballet.com.