Rock the ballet

How did Sacramento musicians, artists, ballerinas and designers team up for an evening of song and dance?

Dancers from the Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet rehearse for this Friday’s performance.

Dancers from the Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet rehearse for this Friday’s performance.

Photo By Jonathan Mendick

Ballet + Live Local Music is this Friday, September 17, 7 p.m. at Crest Theatre, 1013 K Street; only $12. Purchase tickets at the box office or at

Crest Theatre

1013 K St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 476-3356

It’s after 8 on a summer weeknight in Midtown and a light, pre-autumn rain—the season’s first—just started falling. Inside a building encased by glass windows on I Street, young teenage dancers crawl, leap and sway to the rhythm of local rock band Exquisite Corps. Several dancers are visibly tired, stretching and stopping for snacks in between takes. The late-night dance schedule has been taxing on their bodies. Spectators outside on the sidewalk gaze in curiously at the rehearsal before stepping in to have a closer look.

These artists, who have been practicing for nearly eight weeks, hours on end—and no doubt after already hard and long days at other jobs—aren’t getting paid to do Ballet + Live Local Music, a collaboration between local bands and ballet dancers. They’re driven purely by a love for dance and music—and a passion to find new ways to get Sacramentans to give a damn about performance art, dance and live music.

You can’t put a dollar amount or quantify the preparation that goes into any live artistic performance. That’s especially true for a behemoth of an event like this Friday’s rock ballet at the Crest Theatre. So, it’s no surprise, then, that the title of the performance is written like a math equation: The end result is simply the sum of two Sacramento nonprofits, a hodgepodge of local musicians, dancers and visual and performance artists all donating time to raise money for arts education.

The weeks of prep work are perhaps most taxing on the dancers from Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet, who are predominately of high-school age and have had to rehearse for a performance that spans the entirety of the three-hour show. The 20 or so ballet students are pre-professionals, or the best of the school’s more than 200 students. And though they typically only perform twice per year, in 2010, they’ve had to practice for Ballet + Live Local Music while at the same time rehearsing for their August 6 performance of Sleeping Beauty. And soon, the ballerinas will be in the thick of practicing for their annual Nutcracker show in December.

Cierra Diaz (standing) plays Orpheus as Exquisite Corps, led by Brian Valenzuela, jams.

Photo By Jonathan Mendick

“There are all sorts of reasons why we’re doing it,” says teacher and choreographer, Zara Hayes, of what motivates the dancers. “There are only so many scholarships you can give out to kids. Music lessons are getting cut from schools. We need to educate [people] in some manner.”

The two nonprofits making the rock ’n’ roll ballet happen are Concerts 4 Charity, whose mission is to help foster a healthy local music scene while supporting music and arts education; and the Pamela Hayes Classical Ballet, which is dedicated to teaching and preserving classical ballets.

Of course, Ballet + Live Local Music is anything but classical. It’s part music festival, but with performance-art flourishes—further embellished with photography and set and costume design. Plus, local bands Sister Crayon, Drifting Shapes, Doom Bird and Exquisite Corps will play their tunes as the dancers do their thing.

Several bands are bringing in auxiliary members, such as orchestral musicians, opera singers and faculty from the McClatchy High School band program.

The ballet dancers themselves will leap to a grand jeté with muscle and grace, while wearing costumes designed by local couture designer Lindsay Rickman and masks created by local sculptor and installation artist Danny Scheible. What’s more, the production will feature a multimedia set designed by Gioia Fonda, of the Tangent Gallery, and photographer Jesse Vasquez. Dances will all be contemporary, explains Hayes, who is also assistant director of the nonprofit ballet company run by her mother, Pamela.

Julia Feldman plays Eurydice.

Photo By Jonathan Mendick

“[The performances] all have sort of a story, but some have more of a feeling to them, like someone wooing a lover,” Hayes says of the dances. “It’s great education for the [dance] students—freeing up their body to trust their technique.”

The first Ballet + Live Local Music was held in 2007 in front of a sold-out crowd of about 300 people on the Sacramento Theatre Company’s main stage. A similar show was in the works last year—but a month before the show, the venue canceled the event, realizing it had double-booked that night.

“We didn’t even know what to expect when we pulled it off,” says Clay Nutting, who’s helping produce the show, of the 2007 event. “I don’t think anybody in the audience, onstage or behind the scenes knew what the hell was going to happen.” The proceeds from the performance will go to local families who are struggling with the cost of their children’s arts education.

“I think for everyone involved, it’s important individually,” says Scheible, who estimates that he’ll have spent at least 100 hours helping design masks for performers. “Everyone wants to do this show. For everyone, it’s a creative endeavor to further their own art. They’re just trying to make something better.”

Exquisite Corps singer Brian Valenzuela suggests that the joy of the collaborative process and the mission of creating a sustainable arts community are reasons enough to participate. His band will perform while dancers act out the Greek tragedy Orpheus.

“I don’t think there’s too many people in this town doing music and artwork and making money off it,” he says. “Everybody is doing it purely for the love of doing it, [or] to inspire new musicians and to be able to support them. [It’s important] just to be a part of that, to keep the craft alive.”