A lot of people are landing on this old entry via Google searches for Oakland Ballet. The old entry is below, but if you want to more know about the return of Oakland Ballet and Ronn Guidi, I suggest you check out this story, which I wrote for the Chronicle in July 2007:
“Ronn Guidi rises from the restaurant table, leg suddenly stretching into full d?velopp? as he recounts a rehearsal with the famous choreographer Leonide Massine.
“You see, half the dancers were doing this,” Guidi demonstrates with a sweeping arm, nearly knocking into the next table. “And half were doing this. And I said to Massine, ‘Which is it?’ And he turned to me and said, ‘Ronn, it’s not the steps. It’s the integrity behind the movement.’ ”
Guidi is somewhere between 70 and 73 years old – he says he’s lost track – but with his spry frame, wiry black hair and thick beard, he could pass for someone in his 50s. His face is wild-eyed and puckish, as it always is when he talks about the glory days of the Oakland Ballet, but today he looks especially excited. He’s about to attempt a remarkable resurrection. Forty-two years after founding the Oakland Ballet, 20 years after raising it to unlikely international repute, nine years after suddenly retiring, and seven years after watching his beloved creation begin a steady slide toward death, Guidi is bringing the Oakland Ballet back.
The resuscitation started cautiously, with four performances of his “Nutcracker” last year, danced by a swiftly assembled ensemble of Oakland Ballet alumni and other freelance dancers. But with those shows well attended and cash-flow positive, Guidi says he’s ready to go full tilt. The new Oakland Ballet Company will give its inaugural performance at the Paramount Theatre on Oct. 20, under the auspices of the Ronn Guidi Foundation for the Performing Arts.
The program will include a reconstruction of Vaslav Nijinksy’s 1912 watershed “Afternoon of a Faun,” Marc Wilde’s “Bolero” and Guidi’s own “Trois Gymnopedies” and “Carnaval d’Aix.” Then, in December, “Nutcracker” will return for six performances before touring to Lake Tahoe. All shows will feature live music from the Oakland East Bay Symphony. Rehearsals will be at the Oakland Ballet Academy, where Guidi still teaches 13 classes a week.
Twelve dancers have been hired, and further auditions will soon be announced. Chevron and Target have signed as major sponsors. The city of Oakland’s Cultural Funding Program has also pitched in on the $80,000 currently secured toward a $350,000 fundraising goal.
“I want to work in the black, no deficit spending,” Guidi says. With that caveat, he’s looking further into the future. “Nutcracker” dates have been reserved at the Paramount for 2008. Guidi plans to program smaller March shows to begin rebuilding a subscription base. His most cherished goal is a 2009 festival marking the 100th anniversary of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, the groundbreaking company whose masterpieces Guidi so lovingly brought back to life.
Describing all this, his spirits are much brighter than just a few years ago when, he says, “I watched my life’s work be dismantled before my eyes.” He has no words of rancor for Karen Brown, the former Dance Theatre of Harlem ballerina who took the Oakland Ballet helm at a moment of financial precariousness and failed to form a fresh identity for the company.
“I knew this could happen if I retired,” Guidi says, referring to Oakland Ballet’s 2006 closure after a 40th anniversary comeback season fell $130,000 short of its ticket sales target. “They needed to bring someone out of the company to lead it. Without the emotional connection, it won’t work.” ”
Click here for the full story.
With the 40th anniversary return of the Oakland Ballet imminent, I tried to reach a bit deeper into the company’s history in my story for the SF Chronicle:
“In a converted warehouse near the port of Oakland, former Dance Theatre of Harlem ballerina Karen Brown sits regally atop her stool, long legs crossed, hair carried high like a crown.
She catches a dancer practicing an attitude turn. “Good Cindy, that’s it.” Phaedra Jarrett stands at a barre, rehearsing a routine to be performed for potential donors the next day. “Is that a single or a double pirouette?” Brown says with narrowed eyes and a pointed finger as Jarrett spins neatly once around.
“It’ll be a single at 8 in the morning,” Jarrett says.
“Oh, that’s right.”
The dancers and Brown laugh easily together in a studio filled with light and camaraderie. In any other ballet company the lack of tension would be impressive; at Oakland Ballet, it’s astonishing. Because just a year ago, this spunky little troupe-that-could was a company in name only, with no dancers, no studio, no season to speak of.
The break came in April 2004, after a fall season in which Oakland Ballet canceled a program due to sagging ticket sales and lost $300,000 on its usual cash cow, “Nutcracker.” Plans for the 2004 season were scrapped, dancers let go. The message was stark: Raise $500,000 within the next three months to stage a 40th anniversary season comeback in 2005 or close for good. The money came in a trickle of donations from ballet lovers and a flood rush of $200,000 from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. And now that 40th anniversary season, opening Oct. 14, is upon us.
“I’d never heard of a ballet company that didn’t have dancers and didn’t have performances,” Brown says during rehearsal break, sitting on a brick wall at the dead-end of Linden Street as trains clang past. “It was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. But I was determined that this company was not going down on my watch.”
Her eyes are focused, but her voice sounds weary, and no wonder: This 40th year season is shaping up to be a referendum on whether Oakland Ballet can rise again — or even survive — under Brown’s directorship, which began in 2000. But lost in the debate over Brown’s leadership style and programming choices is the fact that Oakland Ballet narrowly escaped oblivion many times before Brown took the helm. And obscured in the emergency campaign platitudes about the beauty of ballet and the importance of art in the community is the fact that Oakland Ballet was — from the 1980s and through the ’90s — no small-town player, but an internationally acclaimed repository of rare and priceless classics.”
About 500 words of the story were trimmed due to a space crunch, but I think the arc of the tale is more or less intact . . .
To read the full piece, click here.