Now in its 14th year, the Laguna Dance Festival is entirely striking — the variety of genre is striking, the caliber of talent is striking, and the execution of its mission to present world-class dance in an intimate setting for the local community is striking.

The Laguna Dance Festival was running on all cylinders Saturday night during the sold out performance of the “Stars of Dance” mixed repertory program. The 11-work dance spectacle invited its audience to consider the breadth of concert dance as they took in everything from August Bournonville’s classical “Flower Festival in Genzano” as performed by The National Ballet of Canada’s Skylar Campbell and Jordana Daumec to the highly athletic, contemporary work “Knockturne” performed by Diavolo Architecture in Motion’s Madison Olandt and Kimara Wood.

Judging by several standing ovations for various pieces throughout the program, the “Stars of Dance” show was indeed a presentation of quality. Founder and artistic director Jodie Gates seems to know exactly where to go and what to do with this continued blossoming of dance in Laguna Beach as she and executive director Joy Dittberner seek to increase public appreciation for the art.

Below are some takeaways from the weekend’s presentation of prestigious dance companies and artists from across the continent.

Ballet West principal dancer Beckanne Sisk makes for an ideal “White Swan.”

In this pas de deux from the iconic Swan Lake ballet performed in Laguna Beach by principal dancers Sisk and Chase O’Connell, Sisk demonstrated all the desired vulnerability and delicateness that comes with dancing the role Odette. Sisk’s featherweight movement qualities were perfectly suited to the role of the white swan as emotion rippled through her back and arms into her hands with harrowing fluidity.

Ballet has a sultry side.

Two duets in the “Stars of Dance” program were comprised of sexy, sinuous movement that touches, but never fully crosses the line. “Light Rain,” performed by O’Connell and Sisk to music by Douglas Adams and Russ Gauthier looks fresh and unexpectedly original even almost 40 years past its premiere. The audience marveled over the innovative partnering and voluptuous imagery achieved by Sisk’s acrobatic performance in this duet choreographed by the late Gerald Arpino.

Ballet West’s Beckanne Sisk and Chase O’Connell in “Light Rain.” (Photo courtesy of VAM)

“For Pixie,” choreographed by Danielle Rowe and performed by San Francisco Ballet principal dancers Joseph Walsh and Dores André, had a wonderful forward motion to it as the two dancers were physically and metaphorically entwined and perfectly in sync throughout the intricate choreography. The pair came together with emotional intensity and sharpness that fit with the evocative strains of soul singer Nina Simone’s “Wild is the Wind.”

Students from USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance surprised and impressed.

It is no surprise that the university’s innovative approach to dance education attracts talented dance students. What is surprising, and pleasantly so, is that students’ individual talent is expounded to create a company of young artists who hold their own and even surpass the very impressive roster of professional dance artists at the Laguna Dance Festival.

In three evocative works, “On The Double,” “Monger,” and “Busk,” choreographed by Gates, vice dean of USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, Barak Marshall and Aszure Barton, respectively, the USC dancers fully-embodied the concepts of dynamics, power and strength. Each of the 3 pieces could have stood to go on for longer than time allowed, as the impressive technical aptitude of the dancers was second only to the committed delivery of exceptional choreography. Jake Tribus, digging into a deep and surprisingly mature reserve of technique, power and imagination, opened “Busk” with a solo that made it seem like his body could do just about anything.

David Bowie music as dance reveals deeper levels of the glam rock icon’s artistry.

As an encore to the West Coast premiere performance at The Music Center earlier this year, Complexions Contemporary Ballet brought “Star Dust,” choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s tribute to the late rock star to the intimate Laguna Playhouse stage. The dancers communicated their strongest moments in powerful gesticulations that captured the sensuality and creativity that is infused in Bowie’s music. “Star Dust” added another dimension to the familiar music that elicited positive reactions from the audience– as evidenced by an audible “wow” from the audience at the beginning of the piece. The musical legend himself would have approved of this surreal exploration of melody, rhythm and spirit through breathtaking movement.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet performs “Stardust,” their tribute to David Bowie, as a part of the Laguna Dance Festival. (Photo courtesy of Ani Collier)

Kaitlin Wright is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at

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