OAKLAND BALLET: THE FIRST 25 YEARS (1965-1990); by William Huck; San Francisco Performing Arts Library and Museum Journal No. 3, 399 Grove St., San Francisco, CA 94102.
The fact that great institutions develop around great people has been once more reinforced by the story of Ronn Guidi and the Oakland Ballet, as chronicled by William Huck in his informative journal."In 25 years, Guidi has created a school, a company and a repertory that embodies this country's great thirst for movement, grace, music, history and excitement," says Huck. "In this way the Oakland Ballet is one of our truest examples of the fabulous dance boom that has brought art and beauty into the lives of so many Americans."
Not that people such as Guidi consciously set out to make something great. Rather, they instinctively begin stirring the waters around them until a little island uniquely their own shapes up under them, which grows and develops until it becomes an institution.
Such has been the story of the great dance directors: George Balanchine, Ninette de Valois, Lucia Chase and Oliver Smith, Robert Joffrey, Arthur Mitchell, the Christensen brothers - Lew and Willam; and in modern dance, Doris Humphrey, Martha Graham, Jose Limon, Alvin Ailey, Alwin Nikolais - the list could go on and on. Of course, each of them have had vital associates, both financial and artistic, who helped bring their plans to life.
Whether he intended it in the beginning, the Oakland Ballet has been Guidi's life project during the past 25 years, as its one and only artistic director.
A native of Oakland, Guidi began his ballet training with the colorful Raoul Pause, a student of Chicago's famed Oukrainsky and Pavley. Working first in Pause's programs and shows, Guidi came to the time when he wanted to go independent.
The resultant Oakland Ballet started humbly in 1965 with six dancers, giving performances in whatever space possible, but began its Christmas specialty, "Hansel and Gretel," in its first year. It met stiff competition from the Oakland Metropolitan Ballet and languished as Guidi choreographed for other organizations.
But good male dancers came to Guidi - Ron Theile (a baseball player) in 1969, and Michael Lowe (a tennis player) in 1973. Both are still with him.
Riding a burst of creative energy from 1969 to 1973, Guidi turned out 17 choreographies for his company. Still there was no permanent home. Then he had a chance to begin sharing the Paramount Theater in downtown Oakland with the Oakland Symphony, if he would mount a "Nutcracker."
Guidi had avoided "Nutcracker" before but did his own highly successful version, harking back to E.T.A. Hoffmann mysticism, which has toured the West Coast extensively. In the late '70s he popped off another series of winning choreographies, including his "Blue Danube," "Carmina Burana" and one of his finest works, "Sibelius."
But it was time for guest artists to advance the company, now consisting of 36 members, and Oakland Ballet made some astute connections, beginning with Eugene Loring, who set his "Billy the Kid" on the company in 1976, then came back the next three years to do others, including "The Tender Land," another Copland score.
Chancing upon the information that Massine was living in the Bay Area, Guidi sought out the aged choreographer to set his "Boutique Fantasque," connecting himself with the Diaghilev tradition. In 1978 he staged Fokine's "Sheherazade" and Massine's "Le Soleil de Nuit." Thus he developed a conduit into two traditions - the American past and the European-Russian style.
But the company's glory time came, nationally and internationally, through staging the ballets of Bronislava Nijinska, sister of Vaslav Nijinsky. Guidi found Nijinska's daughter, Irina, living in California, and had her supervise "Les Noces" ("The Wedding") "Les Biches" and "Le Train Bleu."
Oakland Ballet has earned plaudits for those works, which it seemingly stages better than almost anyone else. Critics remark how a little roughness around the edges is really an advantage for works that rely so heavily on emotion and spirit, which the company projects tellingly.
Guidi's interesting repertory includes a highly regarded "Giselle" and "Polovetsian Dances" staged by Frederic Franklin, Kurt Joos's "The Green Table," and several Agnes De Mille ballets, including "Fall River Legend," and Anthony Tudor's "Lilac Garden." And new choreographies are being constantly developed by Theile, Guidi and visiting artists.
As Huck sums up, Oakland Ballet has one of the broadest-ranging repertories in the country, comprised of classical, Diaghilev-era ballets to accentuate modern art, great American works to bring the dancers to their own cultural roots, and a challenging contemporary repertory.