Bay Area Ballet Makes a Comeback

Maybe it’s a stretch to call the Oakland Ballet Company a phoenix rising from Silicon Valley Ballet’s ashes, but there is some uplifting news coming from California’s regional dance scene. Since his appointment in 2010, Oakland Ballet artistic director Graham Lustig has been splitting his time between helming the Bay Area company and his own Lustig Dance Theatre in New Jersey. In September, he’ll make the permanent move from the East Coast to the East Bay to direct Oakland Ballet full-time.

The company is a mere 11 miles away from its internationally renowned neighbor. San Francisco Ballet has a diverse repertoire, routinely presenting classical favorites alongside innovate premieres—which might leave little room for a small company to gain a foothold. Smuin Ballet already works in the contemporary niche and, in light of SVB’s recent closure, the question arises: Can the region support another ballet company?

Rudy Candia with Mirai Noda. Photo by Quinn Wharton Photography via Silicon Valley Ballet.

Well, maybe. Oakland Ballet Company has actually been around for 51 years. Though it’s faced several hiatuses since the 90s, SF Gate reports that Lustig and the board are focusing on a “slow-and-grow” philosophy to build back up to its former success. A combination of experimental repertoire and homegrown talent has proven useful. Oakland Ballet’s 12-person roster has plenty of Californians as well as international members. Cuban-born Rudy Candia, a former dancer with Silicon Valley Ballet, fits into both categories. Having trained at the national ballet schools of Cuba and Uruguay, Candia joined SVB (then Ballet San Jose) in 2005. When the company closed this year, he joined Oakland Ballet’s ranks.

The fact that Oakland Ballet can now bring on its artistic director full-time bodes well. And with all of his time and energy focused on one company, it seems likely Lustig will be able to continue the company’s growth.

Already, he’s focused on collaboration and inspiring the next generation. In April, Oakland Ballet hosted East Bay DANCES Festival, which brought together companies such as Diablo Ballet, AXIS Dance Company (known for its mixed roster of performers with and without physical disabilities) and a Chinese folk dance troupe for a diverse showcase. In its outreach program, Oakland Ballet brings performances and workshops to local schools. With these community-based initiatives, we hope that Lustig will be able to build Candia and others a long-time home.

Coral Martin (center) and Rudy Candia in Graham Lustig's Stone of Hope. Photo by John Hefti via SF Gate.

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