Diablo Ballet Dance Swings Into the Season

Diablo Ballet Dance Swings Into the Season


Rosselyn Ramirez and Michael Wells in Sean Kelly’s holiday hit, A Swingin’ Holiday.

Diablo Ballet’s A Swingin’ Holiday & More has become a much-welcomed part of the East Bay holiday offerings.

Small Is Beautiful was an influential book from the 1970s. It advocated restraint in a world that was just entering high tech and globalization. But some of its values have survived. In the arts, I cannot think of a better example than Diablo Ballet, which has entered its 26th season. So why has this company survived where others have failed, and it is even thriving?

From the beginning, co-founder and Artistic Director Lauren Jonas had — and still has — a clear vision of what she wants. She knows that small can be beautiful; it’s quality, not size that matters. For Jonas that means: good choreography performed by good dancers. Diablo hires well-trained, experienced dancers who will thrive in an intimate environment. Jonas programs choreography that audiences can respond to. That may mean commissioning new voices and/or offer excerpts from masterpieces. Ensembles may be small stages — at times even very small, but the ideas are big.

It took Diablo some time, but it has just have realized another big idea: this fall Diablo Ballet School, taught by working dancers, opened in Pleasant Hill.

Another big idea — though it shouldn’t be: Ballet thrives on live music, a rarity in any but the largest companies these days. From the beginning, Jonas has given her dancers — and us — this very special experience whenever possible. That may mean a solo pianist, but often the amazing Greg Sudmeier shows up with his drums, a small trio, or as in the upcoming A Swingin’ Holiday & More, a whole jazz band. In Sudmeier, Jonas has an excellent and invaluable colleague and collaborator.

Swingin’ has become a much-welcomed part of the East Bay holiday offerings. But did you miss — even a tiny bit — the perennial box office hit about Clara’s odd adventures with some aggressive mice and a wooden doll that turns into a fairytale prince?

Maybe Jonas did as well. This year she also commissioned former SFB dancer and now nationally known choreographer Julia Adam for her third Diablo collaboration, which is a small-scaled The Nutcracker Suite. This Clara and her family, however, live in the East Bay. They all go out for a Christmas Eve adventure. What could be more exciting than a trip across the bay and a reservation in the Nutcracker Suite of the legendary Fairmont Hotel on top of Nob Hill? At this writing, Adam and Jonas were busily engaged in the company costume shop to find the appropriate finery.

Swingin’ Holiday & More, Diablo Ballet, Nov. 8 and 9, 8 p.m., Nov. 9 and 10, 2 p.m., $15-$50, Del Valle Theatre, 1963 Tice Valley Blvd., Walnut Creek, LesherArtsCenter.org, DiabloBallet.org.

Faces of the East Bay