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Legacy Ballet Studio Persists With Private Workshop Performance

Westside Ballet dances forward and offers new summer intensives with special NYC guest teachers.

Legacy Ballet Studio Persists With Private Workshop Performance

Westside Ballet of Santa Monica announces plans to "dance forward" on multiple fronts. Presenting an intimate new workshop performance (which ran the weekend of May 15-16) as a private offering for friends and family of the sixty pre-professional performers, the workshop served as a final bow for seniors moving on to collegiate and professional careers.

The performance was held-adhering to all COVID protocols-in its newly enhanced black box, 'Theater Studio Six,' at Southern California's most well-known and celebrated ballet school, Westside School of Ballet. After COVID testing the entire cast, this was the first time the company dancers were on a stage (sans masks!) since Nutcracker 2019. A filmed version is planned to be released early Summer.

Spotlight selections included solo pieces from beloved classics Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and Don Quixote. The nonprofit student performance company premiered excerpts from George Balanchine's Donizetti Variations with music by Gaetano Donizetti -- led by company dancers Maya Zeevi with Zane Tahvildaran Jesswein.

Jesswein, an aspiring professional dancer who has been training at Westside Ballet of Santa Monica since he was 4.5 years old, caught Westside Ballet's legendary cofounder, Yvonne Mounsey's attention when he asked if he could take ballet classes with his sister Nova. Ms. Mounsey grabbed him by the hand and his WSB training began. Jesswein will be attending NYU Tisch's School of the Arts, pursuing a BFA in the Dance program.

Legacy Ballet Studio Persists With Private Workshop Performance
Zane Tahvildaran Jesswein with Samara Koseff,
Maya Zeevi, Marcella Tracy, and Stella Grynberg.
'Swing' choreography by Michele Bachar Mendicelli

Jesswein also shared his advanced jazz skills as the principal male lead in Michele Bachar Mendicelli's lively jazz piece Swing that had the private audience dancing in their seats.

The delightfully romantic Sylvia Pas de Deux was another Westside Ballet workshop premiere, performed by senior dancer Stella Grynberg and guest artist Chasen Greenwood. (top photo)

Grynberg reflects on the self-expression she learned, training at Westside Ballet for over a decade: "I was taught the importance of truly expressing my own character and emotions through my dance. I was encouraged to develop my own sense of uniqueness in my dance. Being unique and expressing your emotions were always greatly valued at Westside. From my dance and the encouragement to develop my own character in my dance, my own character and self in my personal and academic life began to shine through. Westside proved to me the value of my own personality and uniqueness and therefore allowed me to gain confidence in myself in all sectors of my life. It can be very hard as a teenage girl to take pride in your own differences and qualities, but over the years Westside helped me develop that pride."

A Senior at Archer School for Girls, Grynberg is headed to University of Pennsylvania next Fall, with plans to major in Cognitive Science.

Several other advanced level dancers were highlighted in an assortment of classical solos, including graduating dancers Samara Koseff and Natalia Burns, with fellow advanced dancers Jasmine Harrison, Daniella Zhou and Kalea Harrison. The small house of Westside Ballet community supporters, although obviously biased, gave enthusiastic standing ovations throughout all four weekend performances.

A VIP preview of the live performance was conducted on Saturday, May 8th. The event will be publicly filmed and released in June. Excerpts will be posted on social media.

Determined to never stop moving despite the challenges faced during the pandemic, Westside Ballet persevered. Online Zoom classes and limited in-person classes continue to bring the joy of movement to dancers in the Los Angeles area and beyond. An outdoor dance studio was also constructed in Fall 2020. The school's indoor studios currently offers classes at 50% occupancy, with plans of 100% occupancy come June 15, meeting with the new governmental guidelines for LA County and California.

Providing dancers at all levels with a continuation of their year-round training, Summer Sessions including exposure to other dance disciplines (jazz, contemporary, and character). In addition to the regular two 3-week sessions Summer Sessions, Westside School of Ballet offers supplementary intensives, including talented guest faculty from: New York City Ballet, soloists Indiana Woodward, Harrison Coll, & Georgina Pazcoguin; plus Westside's celebrated alumna, Abigail Simon (American Ballet Theater, Joffrey Ballet, and Broadway's 'An American In Paris').

Founded in 1967 by Mounsey and Rosemary Valaire, the school is the cornerstone of the arts in the Santa Monica region. Westside Ballet of Santa Monica is the sister entity - a pre-professional nonprofit performance company composed of dancers from the school, having developed many of classical ballet's most luminary performing artists known worldwide. Most the artistic staff are products of Westside, ensuring a uniform and consistent approach to classical ballet training. Now, Mounsey's daughter, Allegra Clegg, and Artistic Director Martine Harley strive forward amid unavoidable change.

After the first shutdown, the company began an ambitious campaign to garner $150,000 in support. On a skeleton staff, they were able to save the studio from closing and launch online classes. The "1500 Angels" campaign raised over $215,000 to date. The task is now set to raise $350,000, to ensure the school can stay open and sustain itself for the next 54+ years.

For forty-eight years, Westside Ballet of Santa Monica's Spring Performances and Nutcracker Seasons have delighted Los Angeles audiences and served as a premier pre-professional performance outlet for young aspiring dancers. Westside Ballet's yearly production of The Nutcracker is a Los Angeles tradition dating all the way back to 1973 - the longest-running Nutcracker production in Los Angeles.

The performance company's storied history starts with its first-generation direct legacy descent from the prestigious New York City Ballet and the Royal Ballet. New York City Ballet's founding artistic director, George Balanchine, choreographed the breathtaking ballets Serenade and Concerto Barocco. Mounsey was a principal ballerina in the original production of New York City Ballet's Serenade.

During the 2019-2020 school year and prior to the pandemic, Westside Ballet partnered with the Santa Monica Boys and Girls club and St. Anne's School satellite program to offer a weekly after-school ballet class. Due to the closure of schools for this academic year, a Sunday afternoon introductory ballet class is now offered to children ages 6 to 11 years old at Westside Ballet's outdoor dance studio. The goal is to bring the joy and magic of dance and the performing arts to a diverse community that has a curiosity for classical ballet.

Pre-COVID, Westside Ballet provided approximately $100,000 in scholarships annually. Westside Ballet established an Endowment Fund to expand both merit and need-based scholarships. The Chow Family Scholarship Fund was established in 2018 and over $150,000 has been raised to date; major donors of this fund requested the funds be used to actively recruit People of Color. In Summer 2020, a new scholarship was established by a new nonprofit, Dance in Color, and named for Westside Alumnus Adrian Blake Mitchell. Two young dancers are receiving this scholarship for the current 2020-21 school year.

Even amidst such upheaval, the staff, faculty, and students "dance forward." Being vigilant to local, state, and federal COVID guidelines, Westside continues to offer classes for children and adults. With programs for all ages, the summer classes are also catered to suit every level of study.

For more information please visit: https://www.westsideballet.com.

Photo Credit: (1) Todd Lechtick; (2) Anne Slattery.


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