Competition among San Diego ballet coompanies

Why toe shoes?

Black Mountain Dance Center.  "I did not feel young children were getting proper training."
  • Black Mountain Dance Center. "I did not feel young children were getting proper training."
  • Image by Sandy Huffaker, Jr.

HER EYES SHINE AS SHE LEANS FORWARD IN HER CHAIR, SMILING, REMEMBERING. “MY MOTHER WAS A DANCER,” SHE SAYS, “RIGHT HERE IN SAN DIEGO. WHENEVER A DANCE COMPANY CAME TO TOWN SHE WOULD TAKE ME, OR WE WOULD DRIVE TO LOS ANGELES TO SEE SOMETHING THERE.

"I have worked with people whose families had nothing, delivering newspapers for a living."

"I have worked with people whose families had nothing, delivering newspapers for a living."

“I took in everything,” she says, arms gesturing gracefully. “Show after show, the tiniest details, nothing escaped me.” Her smile grows wider, sparkling. “Everything about the ballerinas — the female dancers—was important. Their movements the suppleness of their bodies the costumes they wore, the way their ballet shoes looked and that thumping sound they made on the stage floor, the way their hair was combed and tied back, their big eyes and all that makeup. And when we were back home I would go to the mir-. ror and try to do my hair the same way, hold my face the way they did, move my arms like that, you know. I even dyed my shoes, just to be a little more like them. Oh, how 1 wanted to be part of it. That was what I dreamed of doing.”

Sylvia Poolos, now a principal soloist with the California Ballet Company, laughs as she recalls the joy of watching ballet as a child. “And now look what I’ve been able to do, right here in San Diego. Swan Lake, Giselle. Me! Those roles are a ballerina’s dream. And I’ve done them all, right here.”

California Ballet's Maxin Mahon: “I wanted so much to be a dancer, but there was no company in San Diego back then. In those days."

California Ballet's Maxin Mahon: “I wanted so much to be a dancer, but there was no company in San Diego back then. In those days."


Jillana’s voice is that of a youth, full of enthusiasm. Her graying hair, tightly pulled back, indicates she is getting older, yet her body suggests she is ageless. Decades of experience with the New York City Ballet under George Balanchine make her the dean of San Diego dancers, a curious title for someone whose lithe form demonstrates the attributes of a young ballerina.

“Do you know, Stravinsky would come to the studio,” she exclaims. “The composer, Igor Stravinsky, I mean! When we took a break, he would go to the piano, hunched over, you know, with Mr. Balanchine right behind him. They argued in Russian, of course. Stravinsky would say, ‘It should go this way!’ and then he’d play” — she demonstrates, hands thumping invisible keys — “and then Mr. Balanchine would say, ‘No, no, Igor! It should go this way,’ and then he would play. He could do that too, you know, play the piano. Ah! He could do whatever he wanted.”

There are 17 ballet schools and dance studios in the county; odest and largest of these is the California Ballet Company.

There are 17 ballet schools and dance studios in the county; odest and largest of these is the California Ballet Company.


“Dancing is a calling,” says Steven Wistrich, founder and co-director of City Ballet, sitting in his studio off Garnet Avenue in Pacific Beach. Articulate and thoughtful, his athletic body erect, he speaks quietly but with conviction. “Yes, of course, one needs to study and work for years, but the truth is that dancers are born, not made. There is no particular type of person who becomes a ballet dancer, it just doesn’t work that way. Dancers are born with a gift, just like composers and other artists are born with a gift.

Elizabeth Wistrich (in stripes), City Ballet: "I really like it that each company has its own distinctive character,."

Elizabeth Wistrich (in stripes), City Ballet: "I really like it that each company has its own distinctive character,."

“People may think there is a dancer stereotype, but it just isn’t true. I have worked with people whose families were very wealthy and others whose families had nothing, delivering newspapers for a living. Where you come from, what your color or body type is doesn’t matter if you have that gift and love for dancing.”

Do ballet dancers really live in San Diego? Are there actually such things as ballet companies here? Classical ballet? Most people would admit they have no idea. Anyway, isn’t ballet an old-fashioned kind of thing with silly costumes and funny shoes? And men in tights? (Well, let’s not talk about them!)

Khristina Kravas, one of the best of San Diego Ballet dancers. “I now find it much more interesting to watch dancers who are older.

Khristina Kravas, one of the best of San Diego Ballet dancers. “I now find it much more interesting to watch dancers who are older.

Most San Diegans would probably be astonished to learn that not only are there several professional ballet companies here, but many ballet schools and dance studios. So many, in fact, that the San Diego Area Dance Alliance was formed 16 years ago to bring some coordination to the dance community.

George Willis, president of the board of directors, speaks to me at length about the history and accomplishments of the Alliance. “At first we were just a group of people involved in dance. In other words, a group of artists, if you will. But then the San Diego Commission on Arts and Culture decided to provide funds allowing us to bring in consultants with a more sophisticated approach to developing connections with the community in terms of audience development and money raising. The effects from this have been showing up in a very positive manner.”

San Diego Ballet rehearsal

San Diego Ballet rehearsal

A recent issue of the Alliance’s bimonthly Dance Calendar would lead the reader to agree. It seems that in San Diego on almost any day of the year some kind of ballet or dance presentation is available to the public. Not only that, the organization’s directory lists 17 ballet schools and dance studios in the county.

Oldest and largest of these is the California Ballet Company and School, directed by Maxine Mahon. “People don’t realize how long we have had dance in San Diego,” she says over the bustle of the studio’s reception room. “Yes, a lot is going on, but not enough people know about it.

Xavier Hicks, Javier Velasco. "I went home and announced to my parents, 'I’m going to become a dancer.’ I danced around the house."

Xavier Hicks, Javier Velasco. "I went home and announced to my parents, 'I’m going to become a dancer.’ I danced around the house."

“My mother was the first professional dancer, the first real ballerina to perform in San Diego. So even when I was small I loved to dance. Whenever a touring company such as the American Ballet Theatre or the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo came to town, my mother would drop me off at the theater where they were playing and I would sit backstage or in the wings or wherever I could, watching them rehearse, and listening to them argue.

“I wanted so much to be a dancer, but there was no company in San Diego back then. In those days it seemed as though you had to go to New York. Well, I just didn’t want to do that. I wanted to stay here. So I did whatever I could, watching and listening, and 1 guess I learned a lot from doing that.

“I danced in the Starlight Opera. A lot of people remember those shows. I must have danced in 25 musicals. Every kind of dancing. And by the time I was 15 I was teaching in my mother’s studio as well as doing some choreography and learning how to make costumes and putting up posters in shopping centers. You might say I got a good background in community development early on.

“I did go away for a while,” Mahon continues. “I toured out of Washington, D.C., with the National Ballet Company, but I still wanted to have a company here. So when my husband and I came back we started the California Ballet. And now the company is celebrating its 30th year.”

Mahon’s California Ballet Company is one of three resident companies producing full seasons of ballet in San Diego. The others are City Ballet Company and the San Diego Ballet.

Each company has its own school of ballet. The functions of school and company are different, though crossover and mutual influence are both inevitable and desirable. Each school serves hundreds of students of all ages, from pre-kindergarten to older adults. The companies are made up of a small group of professionals and near-professionals. These dancers may be products of the connecting school but more often have national or international stature and experience.

The existence of three large, active ballet companies in San Diego is the subject of considerable discussion among dancers, Jillana, whose long experience in the world of professional ballet gives her words weight, comments: “Actually, I wish there were one big company instead of three medium-sized ones. All of them are struggling for money. But 1 suppose it’ll never happen.” She sighs, tucking at a strand of gray hair.

“If I could ask for one thing,” she continues after a pause, “it would be to somehow arrange it so that all the dance companies could come together under the direction of some outside, impartial choreographer and do a big, splendid Nutcracker. What a Christmas present that would be for San Diego.

“The trouble is, everyone wants to have his or her own company. I mean, look at me. I’m starting my own company in Taos this summer, and what will I call it? The Jillana School. Everyone wants to be in charge, even me.”

Tanya Artinian grew up in San Diego and is now one of the principal ballerinas of the San Diego Ballet. “Sometimes I have a problem that there are three companies in town,” she says, “and all three are struggling so hard for whatever they get. But there’s another side to it. I really like it that each company has its own distinctive character, its own nature, and so as a dancer you can find out where you fit in best. That’s the good side.

“I just wish more people in San Diego knew more about all the good ballet going on here. So many think that it’s just girls running around in tutus and guys that are.. .well, you know. Last spring I brought some Navy friends to our show, kind of against their will, and they loved it. They saw how our guys did their lifts and jumps and said, hey, wow, I wish I could do that.”

Thor Sutowski has no doubts about the value of having three performing companies in town. “I welcome the competition between companies here,” he says. Sutowski, artistic associate with the San Diego Ballet, returned here after many successful years as dancer and choreographer elsewhere in this country and abroad. We talk over Indian food.

“Competition elevates the level of quality dancing in the community, and this of course helps with the development of audiences for all companies. I have only been back for two years, but it is clear that there are several organizations with much to give, and the presence of each helps the others. That would be missing if we had just one company.

“Sure there are money problems. We need to work on that. But when people ask, why can’t you do what the San Diego Opera has done? — and people do ask that — it’s just not fair. Opera is a very different kind of business. First of all it’s basically a social activity. Not more than 30 percent of the audience has any real appreciation for a classic opera; the rest are there because it’s the best country club in town. And the opera here doesn’t do anything about developing singers, teaching them, training them for years and years as we do with our young dancers.

“Of course,” he continues, “what is needed now in San Diego is more excitement about dance. We need to develop more enthusiasm in our audiences, more of a sense of participation.”


For many San Diegans, both young and old, ballet is already an integral part of life, Ballet schools around the county are busy day and night with class after class. Some cater primarily to children, nurturing them into the regimen of classical technique.

“One reason, perhaps the most important one, that I founded my own school,” says Sylvia Palmer Zetler, founder and director of the Black Mountain Dance Centre in Carmel Mountain Ranch, “is that I did not feel young children were getting proper training. Our system, which requires among other things that our students prepare to take yearly international examinations given by the Imperial Society of Teachers of Dancing, has proven very effective for those who follow it through.

“We can take an 8-year-old,” she says, “and produce a professional dancer by the age of 16, assuming that person follows the program.”

What kind of commitment does your program demand?

“Six days a week in the studio, 10 hours all told for the young ones, 15 when they go on pointe at about age 12. For eight years.”

Why should a young child (and, of course, the parents of that child) make such a commitment? I pose the question to Elizabeth Wistrich, codirector with her husband, Steven, of City Ballet. A calm, thoughtful person, her long blond hair wound in a plaited bun, she speaks quietly but directly.

“Whether one plans to become a professional or not, the study of ballet develops a strong sense of discipline. First of all, there is a rigorous technique that must be learned. To master it you must be very focused. In class you are taught to do exactly what you are told, exactly what you are shown, with no room for variation.

“Then,” she goes on, “there is the discipline of doing the same exercises every day, day after day. One learns a systematic way of warming up the body, using traditional exercises at the barre. It is good for you physically, exceptionally good for you mentally.”

I mention the many classes for older people in the Wistriches’ school.

“Yes, of course,” she replies. “At our school we have a wide variety of classes for older people, depending on their background. There are classes for people with no experience, classes for those who danced as a child but gave it up and now want to do it again, and a variety of classes for those who have always danced.

“With older people the ability to concentrate is already there, and so we challenge them, pushing them to go beyond what they have done before, to go further than they imagined possible.”

A number of men and women regularly accept the challenges of ballet study, attending classes two or three times a week after work. Very often they Find themselves on the barre with a half dozen dancers 8 to 15 years old. I speak to two such adults, asking what ballet does for them.

Susan Dorin is office manager for Home Centers, Inc., a wholesale supplier of interior design products. “I started taking ballet classes when I was 36. Is that an absolute beginner or what?” Susan’s smile radiates from within a bright cloud of curly blond hair. Her body is trim and slender, obviously in top condition. “It was a time in my life when I was going through big changes, which I won’t go into. I had always wanted to do ballet, and here I was, halfway through my 30s, and it would soon be too late to get started. So I had to put it out of my mind that it was ‘too hard’ and get going. And I’ve continued for four and a half years ever since, two nights a week, regularly.

“Starting as an adult,” she continues, “you have to be content with small personal accomplishments. I mean, you really can’t expect to become a real dancer at such an age. You have to accept the fact that the possibility of becoming a ballerina is quite remote, so you are careful not to become frustrated or impatient.

“With dance as an older person you can only improve, providing you remain consistent and persistent. Little by little the classical positions become easier for your mind and body to attain. They come more readily, feel more natural, and your body gradually becomes more flexible.

“I’ve always been active, working out three or four times a week in the gym, running, weight lifting. And I still do that But since 1 began ballet my flexibility has increased 50 percent. That’s dramatic.”

Marilyn Jones is almost ten years older than Susan Dorin. A pediatrician, she runs the birth defects and genetics program at Children’s Hospital. She started dancing at the age of four but dropped out during college. Some years later her husband encouraged her to take it up once more.

“I just fell in love with it all over again,” she says. “It’s the only kind of physical exercise that appeals to me. I’m the kind of person who likes to master things, and in dance you are always trying to master something, a new step, a new combination.

“Dance requires a mental focus on something completely different than anything else. While you are dancing you divest yourself of all kinds of mental baggage. I’m so happy at my age to be able to do it.”

I ask Marilyn if she hopes to take part in a production onstage soon. She laughs. “I limit myself to helping back-stage,” she replies. “I think if 1 were to appear onstage as a performer my daughter would die.

Maybe if I were completely on my own...no, that’s not for me.”


At the creative center of ballet is the choreographer. This is the person who decides how the music is to be used, determines how the talents of the dancers can best be employed, has final say in matters of lighting, scenery, and costumes, and whose inner vision shapes what happens onstage.

As with the oral traditions of folk art, choreographies of classic ballets are passed on in person by choreographers. From memory, they describe and demonstrate to new generations of dancers what they themselves once learned. Similarly, new works are created on the spot step-by-step, confirming or changing the flow and design through countless repetitions.

Thor Sutowski is fascinated by what happens to even the most famous ballets as the choreography is passed on. “Over and over I see how the work of famous choreographers gradually changes from one generation to the next. Dancers may think they are passing on an exact replica, but almost without being aware of it each new director adds his or her blend of artistry and technical command.

“And almost always,” he says, “the result is an improvement. Isn’t that interesting? At least that is my perception. Yes, the basic outline, the framework, remains intact, but there are always changes. Over time the work is transformed. Such a classic as Swan Lake, that everyone thinks they know, is now enormously different than when it was first performed. And it is light-years better.

“Why? The biggest improvement is in elevated technique. Athleticism in dance is really a recent development, probably coming in after Diaghilev. And audiences have come to expect it. A true recreation of Swan Lake is it first appeared would drive audiences away today!”

Steven Wistrich, of City Ballet, comments, “One of the most fascinating aspects of choreography is that no two dancers doing the same step will look exactly the same. So although most good choreographers have a very definite idea as to what they want, they also try to create steps and movements that help make a particular dancer look good. But that isn’t so simple. I always remember that for years and years as a professional performer I was a tool for a choreographer. Some things I was asked to do felt exactly right, others did not.”

Steven proudly describes his wife, Elizabeth, as “one of the best choreographers in the country. She is one of the principal reasons I started this company— I wanted to give her an opportunity to continue her work.”

I ask Elizabeth if she follows a certain procedure when she puts together a new ballet. “I have to have the music first, of course,” she begins. “Then I work by myself, developing a vision as to how the music might be danced. I do my best work between midnight and six in the morning, nights when I can’t sleep. I get ideas for steps, for movements, and then write them down any way I can, whatever works to help me remember.

“Then, when 1 meet the dancers, I tell them what I have in mind, using them as I would use a paintbrush on canvas to create the forms I want. When something doesn’t work I try something else, ‘painting over’ the first attempt, so to speak. In other words, I know what I am after but am flexible in the process of achieving it.”

Watching choreographer Javier Velasco, co-director at San Diego Ballet, work with a dozen or so dancers is a unique experience. He stands facing the company, lost in thought, puzzling, his hand to his cheek, his eyes on his feet, which move back and forth ever so slightly. “Ah! Okay!” he says suddenly, then walks tp the tape recorder, runs the tape back, pushes the start button. At first he and the dancers do a kind of shorthand version of the already completed choreography, but when the music arrives at the spot on which he has been pondering he springs into motion, " shouting, “ONE-two-three, ONE-two-THREE-four!” then runs to turn off the tape. Pointing to one dancer, he says, “You turn thus way,” he demonstrates, “and start on the first ONE, while you,” he turns to another, “turn that way and begin on the second ONE, and you,” another dancer, “don’t begin until that big chord on THREE, okay?” The dancers pick it up as he speaks.

"Got it? Let’s try that much,” he says, going again to the tape machine. This time through he will also quickly show three or four other dancers what they are to do at the same time, meanwhile still counting loudly enough to be heard over the music. He seems to be able to see everyone at once. “No, no!

I don’t like that!” he shouts to one person suddenly, stopping the tape. Again he demonstrates. “Try this instead.” He watches and chuckles to himself, and the dancer knows he is pleased.

Later I speak to Xavier Hicks, one of the most popular soloists with the San Diego Ballet. How does he like working with Velasco?

“When I came back here [from a stint with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in New York] I was accustomed to a more structured approach. Some choreographers have everything set in their minds and work very fast. Others, like Javier, seem to make it up on the spot, you know. One measure, do it again, two measures, do it again. But it’s his way, and it’s been very successful.”

Velasco is by nature introspective. He speaks quietly of his work. “Stylistic integrity is very important to me. To know the style of a piece is to feel the intent behind it, to know the truth in it, to know what it.. .well, what it 'means.' As a choreographer my Job is to ‘put in’ only the things that need to be there. The best choreographers learn to simplify.

“You know,” he says, “when I was a young person I did music, I acted, I sang, I studied art. The only thing I didn’t do was dance. I don’t like to dance,’ I would say. I don’t know why. Certainly I’d never tried it.

“So, at 15, when I was told that in such-and-such a show everyone had to dance I said I wouldn’t be in it. But someone dropped out and 1 was told I had to do it. The director showed me the steps, and I thought, 'Is that all there is to it? I just have to do what you did? That’s easy.’

“So I went home and announced to my parents, 'I’m going to become a dancer.’ I danced around the house. I still do.” He laughs. “The skies opened up. But you know, that very day I knew I was going to be not just a dancer, but that I would be primarily a choreographer. I was filled with a burning need. It was never a choice, that was it, I knew exactly what 1 was going to do.”


Why toe shoes? If there is one single feature of classical ballet that is most misunderstood, it is the use of toe shoes. I ask Sylvia Poolos what she would say if someone who knew nothing of ballet asked her to explain their function.

“Hmmm...” She hesitates a moment, then her face lights up. “Think about a baseball player, all right? He’s going out in the field and puts a big glove on one hand. After it’s on his hand he doesn’t think of it as a glove anymore. It becomes... well, it becomes his hand. It allows him to do more than he could with just his bare hand and it protects him at the same time.

“With the ballet shoe, the 'toe shoe’ you call it, once you put it on and tie the ribbon, it’s not a shoe anymore, it’s part of your foot.” She peers at me, eyes narrowed. “It allows you to do things you couldn’t otherwise do, like standing on your toes, and it’s protecting you at the same time, just as the glove does for the baseball player.” Her face breaks into a wide grin. “Hey, is that a good answer?”


Many fine professional dancers live and work in San Diego. I speak to several, asking what keeps them going, regularly taking class to stay in condition, attending endless rehearsals, while receiving little remuneration for their efforts. All express gratitude for any opportunity to dance. All are willing to make sacrifices.

Hilary Hunte is a principal dancer on contract with City Ballet. I visit with her after a rehearsal.

“I just love dancing,” she says. “Honestly, I love the hard work, the rehearsals. And working with other dancers is something that gives me a real high.” She admits there are miserable times when it seems that nothing goes right, “but so many other days are just great. And I love to perform.

“I’m 29 now, and as I get older I find that I understand more and more what it means to be an artist. Earlier it was important just to develop technique, but now I feel that I can grow in another direction.”

Khristina Kravas is one of the best of San Diego Ballet’s outstanding group of dancers. Tall and long limbed, she makes a breathtaking impression onstage. She, too, wants to grow artistically.

“In fact,” she says, “I now find it much more interesting to watch dancers who are older. Sure, there are 15-year-olds whose legs reach up to here and out to there with no effort, but after a while that doesn’t do much for you. Dancers who are a little older, who have a little more life experience, I mean, those dancers speak through their work. They tell you something important.

“There was a time not too king ago when I felt that I wanted to give up everything and just dance. So that’s what I did, and for a while it was wonderful, great. But now I feel I have to take time out to do other things, to have a private life. I mean, without a life other than dance how does one have anything to say while dancing?”

“I’ve always had to move when I heard music,” says Tanya Artinian. “My mom says that when I was little if there was music playing I couldn’t be still. I was always rocking or tapping to the tempo. Even now if !’m walking along and hear music I bop along with it. I have to. You know, I studied piano about four years, around junior high school time. I did all right, I guess, but I finally had to give it up. I didn’t like all that sitting down when the music was going. I’m Armenian, you know, so I just have to dance.

“It’ll be a dark day when I can no longer do what I’m doing right now,” adds Tanya, more seriously. “For me, dancing is a wav of life, a way of living. It has never seemed like a.. .well, like a job, and I never want it to. Sure, when I was 14 I was competitive in that I wanted someday to get the best roles, the best solos, sure. But now I’ve done that and loved it, so if I have a goal it is just to keep this happiness and joy in my life, the joy that dance brings.”

For everyone with whom I talk in the San Diego dance community, whether a young student or an experienced professional dancer and teacher, there Is this joy that Tanya speaks of so passionately, a joy found in dance that cannot be experienced elsewhere. Each person expresses, one way or another, their love of and devotion to dance.

Robin Sherertz Morgan, codirector of the San Diego Ballet, says it most simply: “People remember the thrills they have had dancing. That’s important.

“I know,” she continues, "that many, perhaps most of as have an inner necessity to have some kind of direct, participatory exposure to and experience with art. What could be more totally participatory than dance? In dance there’s a combination of music theater, visual arts...and the entire body moving.”

“I danced for 30 years,” says Steven Wistrich, “and I was fortunate enough to have a wonderful career. I feel an obligation to pass on to others what 1 experienced, to instill in my students the same sort of discipline and love of dancing that I received as a young person.” What of the stories one hears of cruel, dictatorial ballet masters who create fear and despair rather than joy in their students? Is there some truth in such tales?

“Teaching in the old days was autocratic,” admits Thor Sutowski. “In fact, that kind of thing still continues today in a few places. Remember, back when ballet began considerably more than a century ago, attitudes were very different concerning teaching of any kind than they are today. Students, at least in certain countries, were treated like so many cattle, you know. There was no concern whatever for their personalities.

“Early on;” he continues, “I learned that this wasn’t necessary, that it was counterproductive, in fact. In my teaching during the past 20 years I have endeavored to produce artists with not only a superb technique but with a balanced, fully developed character and temperament. It is so good to see a person become not just a very good dancer but a well-rounded, secure individual.”

Sylvia Poolos and her partner Max Tchernyshev touch on this matter.

MAX: “I grew up in Russia and toured as a member of the Bolshoi for many years. How was it different, studying there? Well, first of all, as a child you go to try out. There will he about 100 boys and 200 girls, from which they pick maybe 10 boys and 12 girls. Those who are chosen then go to a special school in which they will be training for dance seven hours a day, six days a week. I followed just such a regimen from the time I was 10 until I was 18.

“It is very strict. If you smile when you’re not supposed to, or do the wrong step, you can be kicked out for days. It makes you think. It makes you mature faster, I believe, makes you more serious. Kids are treated like adults. And by the way, if you have been kicked out nobody at home is going to complain to the school, you just have to do better yourself.

“Here I do a lot of teaching, and if I were to kick someone out of class for acting up...."

SYLVIA (laughing): “.. .you’d be sued!”

MAX: “Yes, maybe so. In Russia the government is paying for your training. Here the parents are paying the money, and if the child is kicked out the parents come right away to the school and want to know what’s going on. Then they go away mad and the school doesn’t get paid and then I don’t get paid....”

SYLVIA: “I was trained in the Russian manner. My teacher, Marius Zirra, taught that way. I was loved and nurtured, but the discipline was very strong. You know, no smiling if it wasn’t a day to smile, no talking. I received a training method of which I’m proud. It gave me a sense of self-motivation.”

How long does it take to develop a dancer’s body? “Well, of course, a lot depends on how early one starts,” says Maxine Mahon, director of California Ballet. “In any case, it varies. For the most talented it is possible to reach a professional level by the age of 15, but that is very rare. The average is probably 19."

“Yes, about ten years, on average,’’ says Steven Wistrich, co-director of City Ballet, “but the striving is never done. You want to go another inch higher with the stretch, a little further with the leap. Perfection is always just beyond one’s reach.

“Once in a long while you think you have finally witnessed the perfect performance. So you rush backstage to congratulate the dancer and here he or she is, in tears, insisting it was the worst thing they had ever done.”

Tanya Artinian takes the discussion beyond the development of the body. “Of course you have to develop your technical skills,” she says, “but to really be a dancer you have to cultivate a good, mature attitude. You have to be able to take criticism, for example, and use it positively.

“A dancer is always being criticized, either by herself, her director, her friends, people in the audience, someone who writes for the newspaper. You must learn not to take it personally. Rather, you develop an attitude that allows you to think about what was said and see if there is something in it you can use to better yourself. When you have done that — and it’s hard! — then there’s a chance you can really become a good dancer.”


Why San Diego? “Oh, I like it a lot here,” says Khristina Kravas. “I grew up in Washington state and came to California to enter the Third World Studies program of Revelle College at UCSD. It was rough going to school full time, keeping ballet going full time, and working to pay for it all, hut I did it and fell in love with San Diego. I have made a life for myself here. I belong.”

“San Diego is my home,” says Robin Sherertz Morgan, codirector of San Diego Ballet. “It’s where I want to be. And ballet has a presence here. Of course the biggest obstacle is money. We all need to learn new ways of fund-raising in order to do our best. However, I am confident that our audience is growing and maturing, artistically, and as that growth continues we will be able to provide more and more first-class ballet.”

“Max and I both love San Diego,” says Sylvia Poolos. “It is so beautiful. And sure, we’d like to have a big professional company, but here at California Ballet we have received fine training, the best coaches, and look at what I’ve been able to do. You know, there are hundreds of marvelous dancers all over the place in this country and abroad. 1 know, because I’ve traveled in Russia and been a guest with other companies. I could easily get lost in a bigger organization. But here I have been given real artistic fulfillment.”

MAX: “Sometimes Sylvia asks if I miss traveling around with a big company as I used to do. You know, there are so many political games going on with those groups and a lot of the people are.. .well, crazy in their own way. Here it's like a family.”

SYLVIA: “To make it in a big company you have to be just perfect, perfect in technique, in the shape of your body, in your height, your facility, everything. Things over which you sometimes have no control. And even if you are whatever such-and-such a company considers perfect, you might just be sent over in a corner where no one would see you. That would be terribly frustrating, I think.”

MAX: “We were just in Fort Worth, Texas, and went to see a performance by their ballet company, of course.”

SYLVIA: “They performed, in a very big hall, bigger than the Civic Theatre here, and at curtain time the place was full, you know, cowboy hats and all. Every seat. And they stood up and cheered at the end. We thought, when will it be like this in San Diego, our city?”

MAX: “On the plane coming hack we sat with a lady from San Diego who wanted to know what we did. Were we students?”

SYLVIA: “I said we were dancers with the California Ballet Company in San Diego. She said, ‘What? I didn’t know there was a ballet company in San Diego. How do I get tickets?’ ”

1998-1999 SEASON SCHEDULES

California Ballet Company (619-560-5676)

December 11-13: The Nutcracker

Poway Center for the Performing Arts

December 18-20: The Nutcracker

Civic Theatre

May 8-9: Coppelia

California Center for the Arts, Escondido

City' Ballet Company (619-274-6058)

August 21: Swan Lake, Act II

Organ Pavilion, Balboa Park

December 11-13: The Nutcracker

Spreckels Theatre March 20-21: Repertory concerts

Sherwood Auditorium, La Jolla

June: Spring concerts to be announced

Mandeville Auditorium

San Diego Ballet (619-294-7374)

November 7: A Taste of Honey, Romeo and Juliet pas de deux, Bolero, Ravel Piano Concerto

California Center for the Arts, Escondido

December 4-6: The Nutcracker

East County Performing Arts Center, El Cajon

December 18-20: The Nutcracker

Mandeville Auditorium, La Joll

December 31: Repertory concert

California Center for the Arts, Escondido

February 12-14: Exotica (premiere), Romeo and Juliet pas de deux. Backseats, other works to be announced

Lyceum Theatre

Horton Plaza April:

Calling (premiere), Opus. ..Suing, other works to be announced

—David Burge

David Burge is resident composer of the San Diego Ballet.

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