Ballet Revives in San José: Dalia Rawson’s New San José Nutcracker

By Kathryn Roszak

December 1, 2016, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE
Photo by Chris Conroy

In the past, California struck it rich with the Gold Rush; today, the Golden State flourishes with the tech boom. With the rise of the tech industry, the Bay Area finds itself richer than at any time in recent memory, but are the arts benefiting? Looking at San Jose?, one of the fastest-growing cities near Silicon Valley, this does not appear to be the case. In fact, the arts seem to be crumbling with the recent demise of two stalwart arts institutions: the thirty-four-year-old San José Repertory Theatre and the thirty-year-old Ballet San José— which renamed itself Silicon Valley Ballet (SVB) in a last ditch effort to stay a oat and attract Silicon Valley support.

This situation raises troubling questions. Tech has seen a rise in employment and population, but does the industry show support for the arts community, let alone understand its value?

In February of this year the Silicon Valley Ballet seemingly vanished overnight. While the company had been struggling, they managed to rally with tremendous effort to fundraise $640,000 and were able to stay a oat for several more months. Following a successful tour to Spain, I attended what was to be the final performance of the company, though very few realized it at the time. Artistically the company was in top form, albeit a little fatigued from the tour. They danced with excellence in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Prism and gave a superlative performance of Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16.

Two weeks later, the company announced it was folding and suddenly the dancers and administers were jobless. One would think that a valuable art institution in a community that is booming could be rescued or even reorganized to be able to continue.

It is refreshing, despite all odds, to see ballet reviving in San José with the New Ballet School. The school has hundreds of students and a new Studio Company under the artistic direction of former Silicon Valley Ballet School Director and Ballet San José dancer Dalia Rawson. In fact, there are quite a few former SVB employees involved in Rawson’s effort. Some of the teachers are former SVB dancers Ryan Preciado and Francisco Preciado. José Manuel Carreno, now Artistic Director of Ballet of Monterrey in Mexico, has even returned to guest teach.

By far, the most promising news is the Studio Company. The Company will premiere a full-length, two-act San José Nutcracker choreographed by Rawson, paying creative and innovative homage to historical San José. The production will have eight performances at San José’s Hammer Theatre—which Rawson says is perfect for an intimate, up-close view for dance patrons. Rawson also feels it’s important to offer My Very First Nutcracker, a one hour show for families with small children. The Studio Company currently boasts eleven pre-professional dancers and professional guest artists such as Alexsandra Meijer, Ryan Preciado, and Francisco Preciado. Rawson is excited by all the interest expressed by young dancers wanting to join the Company. Dancers who are admitted to the Company receive scholarships for their studies. “We’ve even had a dancer apply from Equador,” says Rawson. Rawson will be one of the only female ballet choreographers in the state—and possibly the nation—to choreograph two full-length ballets within a year, as she plans to follow the San José Nutcracker with Swan Lake in the spring. “I knew that if I were to choreograph a full-length ballet, chances were great that the full-length ballet would be The Nutcracker due to the work’s sheer popularity. So I have been thinking about this all along and preparing. I wanted to tell this story to music I love. It’s such a total joy to work with [the] Studio Company,” says Rawson.

Rawson’s Nutcracker is full of inventions and collaborations for her community. “We’d like this production to be a new holiday tradition for the families of our community. Many local families, including my own, have a great deal of nostalgia for our orchards (in San José), which were a feature in my neighborhood when I was a child. We are recreating our Nutcracker in partnership with History San José. They have a building filled with artifacts and an archive so we will have slide shows with each act and a Pop-up gallery in the lobby with dolls and toys. We’ve had access to dolls from the 1900s for the party scene. We also have sponsorship from Casa de Fruta in Hollister which will donate locally grown treats for purchase that will support the New Ballet School.”

Rawson is also creating other community collaborations with the Tech Museum of Innovation, which will advertise [the New Ballet School] before [it] screen[s] their Imax movies and [she is] partnering with the Children’s Discovery Museum, which will offer special preview performances.”

The marketing image for Rawson’s San José Nutcracker is derived from a lithograph from 1895. The production draws inspiration from the area and includes a skyline of San José from 1905 and the San José Electric Light Tower, a sort of mini Eiffel Tower previously existing in downtown San José. The tower was powered by electricity, which was a novelty at that time, and it grows during the battle scene in place of the Christmas tree. Instead of journeying to the traditional “Land of the Sweets,” Clara and the Prince enter the “Valley of the Heart’s De- light,” which was the original name for the Santa Clara Valley and so the show features dancing walnuts and orchard blossoms. There’s a trio of dancers representing Spanish Bougainvillea for the Spanish variation. Casa de Fruta is also sponsoring “a Mother Ginger type character with dancing cherries,” says Rawson, and “the Arabian music features a diamond backed rattlesnake performing a pas de deux with a Gilroy Garlic Harvester.”

With imagination and tenacity Rawson is ensuring that ballet stays a oat in the South Bay. Beyond the San José Nutcracker and the upcoming Swan Lake, Rawson has additional plans for the Studio Company. They will appear at San José State University in a mixed program of ballets in February. Rawson will also take the Studio Company to New York City next April for “Moving Forward, East and West” featuring women choreographers from both coasts at the 92nd Street Y. Women ballet choreographers are on the rise and Rawson, with her new works in San José, is featured among them.

This growth and opportunity comes at an unprecedented time here in the Bay Area, especially for female ballet choreographers in the field. We anticipate seeing more works by women in 2017. In addition to Rawson’s premieres, Cal Performances’ award-winning Streetcar Named Desire choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for the Scottish Ballet is on the horizon. Smuin Ballet further champions womens’ choreography by presenting Ochoa’s choreography and a ballet by local favorite Amy Seiwert. During these challenging times for the arts, it’s uplifting to see women in ballet move forward and to see ballet surviving in the South Bay.

Kathryn Roszak, Artistic Director of Danse Lumiere, also directs the Women Ballet Choreographers Residency at Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, California.