Co-Artistic Director William Soleau, Associate Director Leila Drake, and Executive and Artistic Director Rodney Gustafson | Credit: Gail Arnold

Last Sunday, State Street Ballet (SSB) held its annual gala at the Four Season Biltmore and, as always, it was one of Santa Barbara’s most elegant and entertaining events of the year. The fundraiser netted more than $75,000 for the ballet’s performances and its education and outreach programs. The event honored Sara Miller McCune for her financial support of SSB and much more.

The evening began with cocktails in the idyllic Palmera Garden across from the Loggia Ballroom. While Chris Fossek performed on guitar, the 160 guests mingled and celebrated the start of the company’s 25th anniversary season, billed as “a sterling year of performances and events. “ At the entrance to the ballroom, guests were greeted by dancers in peacock costumes from the Jungle Book

The ballroom was strikingly and elegantly decorated in blue,  Miller-McCune’s favorite color. Chairs were covered with cobalt blue and white striped fabric;  tables adorned with linens in  a softer blue hue that matched the lighting from table lamps, which were etched with dancer silhouettes.

A large, center stage allowed for an intimate experience for all guests, with no one seated more than a table away from the stage. Between dinner courses, guests enjoyed a few magical dance vignettes, including Ahna Lipchik and Nickolas Topete dancing to Otis Redding’s Stand by Me and Deise Mendonça and Francois Llorente dancing to Guayacán Orquesta’s Olga, Miré Vea.

Emcee Jonatha King shared how SSB was founded in 1994 and is now an internationally acclaimed dance company with 20 dancers representing six countries. Nationally, it boasts a 90 percent re-booking rate and rave reviews.

Executive and Artistic Director Rodney Gustafson related how 25 years ago, he could never in his wildest dreams have imagined being here that evening greeting everyone.  He acknowledged his mentors Léni Fé Bland and Michael Towbes.  In honoring Miller McCune, Gustafson declared that her  “professional accomplishments are stellar and her energy and dedication to humanity profound.   .  . Through education and the arts and her progressive thinking, she has truly made a difference” and what she has accomplished has made the world a better place.

Miller McCune shared how she saw her first ballet in 1960, the New York City Ballet’s production of Firebird, choreographed by Balanchine with Maria Tallchief and a backdrop painted by Marc Chagall and “I was a goner.”  She related how she fell in love with ballet faster than she fell in love with her husband.  Miller McCune declared that and she was very proud of what SSB has done in the first 25 years, and knows that it will do even better in the next 25 years.

Gustafson shared his excitement for SSB being invited to perform in Switzerland  in 2021.  While the company has performed coast to coast, in Asia and South America, this is the first foray into Europe. He also enthused about the upcoming season, which opens with American Masters featuring Copeland’s Appalachian Spring on October 12, then The Nutcracker in December, and Sleeping Beauty in March, all at the Granada Theatre. Its contemporary Modern Masters production is in May at the New Vic.

Auctioneer Geoff Green entertained guests with a lively auction and then was joined by dancers for a paddle raise for pointe shoes, which last at most a week and cost the company $5,000 per dancer per year. Fundraising efforts in general are imperative as ticket sales bring in only about 40 percent of the nonprofit’s income.

Under the direction of Gustafson and Co-Artistic Director William Soleau, dancers work an average of 30 weeks per season, including two to three months on tour. SSB offers four training programs: a year-round Professional Track Program, Gustafson Dance, which offers instruction for all levels, a Summer Intensive program for dancers ages 12-21, and a six-day Spring Workshop.   

SSB does considerable education and outreach. More than 6,000 elementary school students, including 1,500 in Santa Barbara, attend a performance where they also get a behind-the-scenes experience. Last season it  was Jungle Book, this season is Sleeping Beauty.  SSB provides scholarships for its Professional Track and Summer Intensive programs and provides complimentary tickets for its performances to nonprofits. It provides support to the nonprofit Library Dances, which links classic literature with dance. Students are given dance instruction, which culminates in performances that bring to life a piece of literature the students are studying in school.

The company will be on tour this season in Fresno, CA, Temecula, CA, Spokane, WA, Durango, CO, and several locations in New Mexico.

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Event Committee Members Denise Caracas, Alex Nourse, Arlyn Goldsby, and Jill Dexter (chair)
Emcee Jonatha King with Board Chair and Event Committee Member Patricia Reid
Honoree Sara Miller McCune
Auctioneer Geoff Green and Diane Boss
David and Anne Gersh
Melinda and Ambassador Alan Blinken
Chris Lancashire and Catherine Gee
Geoff Green does the paddle raise while SSB dancers pose.
The Loggia Ballroom
Guests dance.

Co-Artistic Director William Soleau, Associate Director Leila Drake, and Executive and Artistic Director Rodney Gustafson


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