On November 27, 1994, I saw the premiere performance of State Street Ballet at the Center Stage Theatre in Santa Barbara. I knew I was seeing something special, something different, professional ballet, but with a contemporary edge.
The next day, I screwed up my courage and took a morning adult ballet class at Gustafson Dance in their State Street studio, alongside some of the dancers I had seen the night before. The new ballet studio was launched by Rodney Gustafson, formerly with American Ballet Theatre, and his ballerina/wife Allison.
Though quite intimidated, I came back for more classes and soon became a regular. Standing at the barre one morning after class, Rodney walked up to me and said, “I’m starting a professional ballet company. Would you like to be on the board?”
“Yes,” I said enthusiastically, having visions of dressing up, going to luncheons, and chairing galas. The first board was small … Tim Mikel, Milly Colahan, the late Baroness Fe Bland, Rodney and Allison Gustafson, and me. Tim, Milly and I took Company class at the “over thirties barre” and after class, we’d have a board meetings at the café next door to the studio. There was no money to hire out, so Milly did costumes, Tim and Rodney did Company management, and I did publicity. (I still have my press clipping binders, which will go to the Company archives someday, though by now I’m sure all the original press clips are in digital files.)
In my first month on the board, I remember inviting a certain gentleman to the studio to watch a dress rehearsal. We were hoping for a contribution from him. As he left, he said to me, “You won’t be here in six months.”
Well, during my time on the board during the next seven years, I did dress up a few times – for the performances and the annual gala (I chaired the first several galas) – but we were a working board. And the Company did come close to shutting down many times, but something or someone always came to the rescue, sometimes just hours before curtain time.
If the truth was known, I’m guessing I wasn’t the first ballet board member who would have loved to have been on the stage. However, as it turned out, my contribution to the ballet world was on the other side of the curtain. I learned a lot and treasure those years of hours working in the trenches for a few minutes on cloud nine. I could go on, but I’m a believer in holding posts to 400 words, so I’ll sign off with a big CONGRATULATIONS on their 25th Anniversary to State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara and to Rodney Gustafson on sticking to and achieving his dream!