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Fall Arts 2016: A Changing of the Guard

In Culture, Music


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Dalia Rawson. Photo by Paul Tumason.

Dalia Rawson
Founder & Director, The New Ballet School

Dalia Rawson is totally adamant on one point: Ballet is far more than “girls in pink tutus spinning around in circles.” She chafes at the classification of the rigorous dancing technique as “high art,” as if it is better than other forms and accessible only to the most elite connoisseurs. Rawson (unrelated to San Jose Jazz’s Brendan Rawson) leads The New Ballet School, endeavoring to introduce her lifelong passion to locals and teach young performers.

“We don’t want to be a school where rich, white kids learn how to dance,” she says. “It’s not what we are. We have a robust outreach program. We want to touch everyone in the San Jose public school district. We offer over $100,000 a year in scholarship training to students with the interest and the aptitude to study ballet.”

A homegrown talent, Dalia has performed for years in the area. She founded her school to fill the void left by the shuttering of Silicon Valley Ballet a few months ago and the San Jose Repertory in 2014. Teaching students from 18 months to 22 years old, the school has already become an international hub, taking students from China and Ecuador for their summer intensive program and sending graduates to Harvard, Princeton, Columbia and Cornell.

“Students who go through this type of rigorous training really develop skills for focus and creative thinking that lead them to be successful in all types of fields—not just ballet or the arts,” Rawson says. “It gives young people an opportunity to focus on a goal throughout their young lives. And we think that helps grow an exceptional human being.”

Rawson has led performances at public schools, the Tech Museum and at Revival, an outdoor ballet and classical music showcase hosted by The Commons in St. James Park. Right now, she’s working on a production of The Nutcracker that will fold in stories from local history and is slated to be staged at the Hammer Theatre, former home of The Rep.

Starting in September, she will open rehearsals on Fridays from 1-2:30pm, so lunch-breaking workers can see dancers in the process of practicing and putting together a ballet. “I think that everyone in this area feels a deep affinity for creation, imagination and innovation—and ballet is a part of that,” she says. “Seeing the virtuosity and the athleticism of the work up close, it does change people’s perspectives.”

— — —


Drew Clark.

Drew Clark
Founder, The Commons

One night, not long after Drew Clark moved to San Jose from Montreal, a young woman handed him a particularly incendiary flyer while he was walking around downtown with some friends.

The leaflet, much like those dropped by the Green Berets over Vietnam and the CIA over Taliban-controlled territories in Afghanistan, was meant to spur counterinsurgent action. But instead of calling upon South Bay denizens to take up arms or feed information to intelligence officials, these handbills challenged the locals to go to shows.

“San Jose is lame because you are lame,” Clark says, recalling the message on the flyer, which also had a calendar of upcoming musical performances, art galleries and other community events.

The point, he says, was to show that there was plenty going on in San Jose—the only thing missing was the audience. Or, alternatively, the message was: “If there’s nothing to do, you might as well do something yourself.”

Clark decided he would do something himself. Not long after, he began organizing local parties and ultimately he hit upon The Commons, an event series which aims to “recontextualize classical culture with the goal of building new audiences.”

Clark believes that a reason many of the bigger high arts organizations in Silicon Valley are suffering is that their model is outdated. Holding events in large opera houses is nice, but it just isn’t getting younger audiences in the door. At the same time, younger, classically trained musicians are having a hard time making a living in a shrinking marketplace.

The Commons addresses both of these problems by hiring up-and-coming, classically trained musicians and performers, as well as staging events that appeal to younger audiences.

So far, under The Commons name, Clark has hosted a “black metal opera”; a “Sadie Hawkins” dance, complete with swing dancing lessons and a full big band; and Revival, a ballet performance showcase held outdoors at St. James Park, featuring dancers from Dalia Rawson’s New Ballet School.

The Commons also recently teamed with the BAMN SQUAD to produce a show called Trap Ballet. Through live ballet set to trap beats, it tells the story of a young ingénue who is sucked into a life of crime and drugs.

Ultimately Clark says he is pursuing The Commons because he feels that Silicon Valley deserves, and is capable of supporting, a stronger arts scene—just so long as the non-lame folks continue to stick around and create.

“We could go to L.A. and we could go to Oakland and San Francisco,” he says of the people the works with. “But this is the place that needs us.”

— — —

Larry Hancock.

Larry Hancock.

Larry Hancock
General Director, Opera San Jose

When Larry Hancock took over as general director of Opera San Jose, the company was in bad financial shape. According to Hancock, the organization was seeing houses filled at only 50 percent capacity, and 2009 until the retirement of Irene Dallas, OSJ’s founding director, at the end of the 2013-14 season, the opera was running in the red and regularly dipping into its cash reserves.

The state of Opera San Jose’s finances was not all that surprising. As Hancock, an industry veteran, observes: “We’ve lost 40 opera companies nationwide over the past 10 or 12 years.” The real surprise is what came next.

Under Hancock’s leadership San Jose Opera may just be turning around. The organization didn’t touch its cash reserve last season and ticket sales are higher than they’ve been since 2010.

Unwilling to call a single year’s improvement a trend, Hancock says he isn’t guaranteeing that OSJ will continue to stay in the black, but he is doing his best to make keep patrons interested in the opera.

That means seeking out the new and cutting edge, as well as bringing in Broadway musicals—something OSJ has never done, but which they will try this year.

In the 2016-17 season Opera San Jose will stage Silent Night—an opera about the so-called “Christmas Truce,” a series of impromptu and unofficial ceasefires organized by troops along World War I’s Western Front on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day of 1914. This coming year, OSJ will also present a production of South Pacific, the classic Rogers and Hammerstein musical about racial prejudice.

Bringing in the new and acclaimed works of opera is a point of pride for Hancock, who says San Jose is as deserving as any other major city of top-notch opera. As for the introduction of Broadway musicals, he is hopeful it will work to bring in larger audiences and also beef up the resumes of his singers, who are working in a shrinking marketplace and who could benefit from being able to branch out into the world of touring Broadway shows.


Coming to a Stage Near You: Fall 2016

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