Gift of dance

Superstar grads of Chico Community Ballet return for Silver Anniversary performance

DUO RE DUX Chico Community Ballet alumni Erin Parsley, left and right, and Andrew Allagree, center, will perform at the dance company’s gala anniversary event on June 4.

DUO RE DUX Chico Community Ballet alumni Erin Parsley, left and right, and Andrew Allagree, center, will perform at the dance company’s gala anniversary event on June 4.

Photo Illustration by Carey Wilson

When Andrew Allagree joins his childhood friend Erin Parsley on stage next weekend, it will be the first time the two have danced together—and in Chico—in more than a decade.

As teens, both were members of Chico Community Ballet, a youth company that this year celebrates its 25th anniversary as a top-flight pre-professional dance training ground. On June 4, Allagree and Parsley, now professional dancers and choreographers, will participate in a silver gala dance performance to mark the occasion, performing a classical pas de deux they once performed in high school, as well as a jazzy piece Parsley choreographed entitled “Is You Is?”

It’s a homecoming that has both dancers reflecting on just how much their early dance training shaped them. “It was amazing preparation,” says Parsley, 29, who danced lead in several CCB productions before heading off at age 18 to dance in San Francisco, New York and Chicago. “The quality of what Chico Community Ballet does is higher than a lot of professional companies.”

Each year, the company, lead by Director Deborah Jorritsma and Associate Director Catherine Sullivan Sturgeon, performs one full-length ballet in Laxson Auditorium, complete with elaborate sets and costuming. The anniversary gala will feature excerpts from the ballet La Fille Mal Gardàe, as well as original choreography danced by members of the current crop of talented young company members.

Allagree, who danced with the Joffrey Ballet in New York, right out of high school, says his early years with CCB provided tools to help him through near-tragedy in his life. In November 1999, Allagree was struck by Bickerstaff’s brainstem encephalitis, a mysterious and potentially fatal disease that left him nearly paralyzed. “In the space of 45 minutes, I went from being absolutely fine to being hardly able to move,” he recalls.

If he survived, Allagree thought he would likely be disabled. But eight months later, with the help of intensive daily rehabilitation, he began to recover. Soon he was able to walk with assistance. He started taking dance classes again, tentatively, but had no intention of resuming a performing career.

Then one day an old friend phoned him from New York. “There’s a little start-up project no one knows about yet,” he told him. “No big names. Just come to New York and see what happens.”

That hush-hush project ended up being the Tony Award-winning musical Movin’ Out, choreographed and directed by modern-dance giant Twyla Tharp to songs by Billy Joel. Allagree auditioned and was chosen as a member of the original cast. The show premiered on Broadway in 2002 with Allagree dancing a lead role.

For the gala performance, Allagree brings his piece “Here I am Before You,” which he created for Chico Community Ballet’s male members, some of whom will graduate this spring. “They’ve been growing up together as young male dancers,” Allagree explains of the work, set to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. “A few are moving on; a few are staying. That’s an awfully big change.”

Allagree, who now, at 30, is training to become a hospital chaplain in Oakland, will dance a solo in that piece drawn from another process he has witnessed—his experience with a cancer patient he met while working as a chaplain. “He went through the stages of grieving: denial, bargaining, struggling and battling death,” Allagree says. “But, gracefully, he entered it.”

At next weekend’s gala, Allagree says he’ll be celebrating these transitions as well as the “amazing gift” that Chico Community Ballet has given to him. “This life that I have had would not be possible without it,” Allagree says. “This show feels almost like a ritual honoring that.”

Auditions for Chico Community Ballet are held each year in August at Chico Creek Dance Centre, 1144 W. First St., the company’s studio headquarters. For more information, call 893-9028.