DanvilleSanRamon.com

Newsfront - April 13, 2007

Diablo Ballet in dire financial straits

Company sets hopes on Blackhawk fundraiser, increased ticket prices

by Natalie O'Neill

Edward Stegge pulls his leg straight up to his ear and points his toes toward the ceiling, a warm-up before ballet rehearsals begin. As a dancer for Diablo Ballet, he is part of the 11-member ensemble who has helped keep high quality ballet alive in the East Bay.

But although critics have called the company the "best suburban troupe in the state," Diablo Ballet will be forced to close its doors unless it can raise $500,000 by July, Artistic Director Lauren Jonas said this week.

"We need people to support the arts in their own back yard," said Kerry Silverstone, a Danville resident and Diablo Ballet guild member.

The company is based in Walnut Creek and teaches intermediate ballet classes to Danville and Alamo students. Devoted Danville ballerinas switched to this location after Danville Ballet in Alamo Plaza closed last August.

After recently losing its president and founder Ashraf Habibullah to his expanding software company, the ballet is struggling to stay on its feet.

"I feel I must turn this organization over to leaders who can give it the time and energy it deserves," Habibullah said in March.

Habibullah was the main benefactor responsible for bringing in income and contributions from colleagues, individuals and his own personal donations, Jonas said.

As a result of his departure, the ballet is increasing ticket prices by 20 percent and asking individuals and corporations to support the company by making donations, coming to performances, and attending a fashion show fundraiser April 21 at Blackhawk Country Club.

The goal of the fundraiser is to raise $25,000 through a fashion show, wine tasting and silent auction. The evening will begin with dinner, and then dancers will model and perform in the clothes displayed. Cost per person is $125.

"Some people think: 'Why should we go if there's a possibility it might close?' But if we don't do everything in our power, then it will," Jonas said.

Jonas has temporarily taken on the role of both artistic director and executive director and said Diablo Ballet is in search of someone who can take over executive direction. The person would ideally be able to give special attention to fundraising and finances, she said.

There's great love for ballet in Contra Costa, Jonas added, and for many Danville residents Diablo Ballet helps keep the art close to home.

"For a lot of people it means not having to cross the Bay Bridge," Jonas said.

"Why go all the way to the Swiss Alps when we've got the Rockies right here? You don't have to go far to get beauty and richness," Silverstone said.

Along with offering classes and performances, Diablo Ballet helps grade school students in Contra Costa communities through its Dance Development Educational Outreach program, exposing them to ballet and encouraging them to express themselves creatively and physically.

"It teaches them about art as expression and how it improves self esteem," Jonas said.

The Diablo Ballet will also put on "Theater Encounter," an interactive free performance for underserved children throughout the East Bay. Hundreds of students are bussed to the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts in Walnut Creek annually, and this year's show will run the morning of April 18.

"It's the first time most of these kids have ever stepped into a theater," Jonas said.

On an individual scale, the best and biggest thing people can do is to buy tickets and come see the ballet, Silverstone said.

"Try it once, that's as much attention you'd give a new restaurant. If you don't like it, you don't have to come back," she said.

To make donations or purchase tickets, visit www.diabloballet.org or call Diablo Ballet at 943-1775.

Contact Natalie O'Neill at noneill@danvilleweekly.com

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