Danse Superbe

Ballet Hawaii’s New Digs

By Carol Egan | Photography By Dennis Oda

FOR THE PAST FOURTEEN YEARS, BALLET HAWAII’S studio was in the Dole Cannery. It consisted of two dance spaces bisected by large pillars, a dark and tiny office and an even smaller costume storage space. You entered the cavernous building either from an outer walkway-in which case you had to avoid moving bodies and stationary pillars. While an improvement for the hundreds of dancers from their last digs (including a former Kaka’ako fire station and the Chinese Cemetery in Manoa), this move to new quarters last Spring marked Ballet Hawaii’s rebirth.

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The new studio’s entrance at 777 South Hotel Street opens into a welcoming waiting area where students, parents and visitors can make themselves comfy on several chairs and sofa. At holiday time, an oversized Nutcracker doll greets you from the reception desk. Framed posters and photos of dancers adorn the walls. To the right of the entry, reside administrative and artistic personnel and a Ballet Boutique shop. To the left are two of the three dance studios.

The 10,822 square feet space is located near Ward Avenue. According to Executive Director John Parkinson, it was one very large empty cavern when first considered. Today, thanks in great part to invaluable assistance from board member, Larry Takumi, and architect Doug Allen, it is divided into three dance studios and all the necessary offices.

No wonder the Ballet Hawaii staff feels elated. The contrast between the current studio and the former one at Dole is extreme.

The largest of the three dance studios, with dimensions greater than the Blaisdell stage, is perfect for rehearsing Nutcracker and other major productions. Each studio is well-lit and air-conditioned with high ceilings. All are equipped with barres, mirrors, sprung floors, pianos and audio systems.

“We now have classes for people from age three through adults,” says Artistic Director, Pamela Taylor-Tongg. Parkinson adds, “We have nearly 600 students. With the addition of the third studio we now have the opportunity to offer adult and community classes of all kinds.” The latter include Zumba, Modern, Hip-Hop and Pam Sandridge’s COREography, a blend of Pilates and Bones for Life. All are offered at reasonable rates and require no membership fee.

Ballet Hawaii, the largest and most active of this state’s ballet schools and companies, not only offers classes, it also presents several concerts a year, and acts as a presenter for dance companies from elsewhere. Its annual Nutcracker (December 16-18, 2011) takes place at Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall. Outstanding soloists from leading companies are brought to Honolulu to join BH students onstage. This year’s cast includes the phenomenal Chinese dancer, Chi Cao, who recently starred in the film Mao’s Last Dancer.

BH also schedules annual spring recitals and summer productions. The latter have included Romeo and Juliet, Coppelia, Giselle and Peter Pan. All offer a chance for students to dance with superb guest artists. Community performances, such as the Breathe Concert on February 10 at Hawai’i Theatre, offer additional opportunities for young dancers to hone their skills.

As a presenter of international dance groups, this year Ballet Hawaii will host the Martha Graham Dance Company (February 4) and Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance (February 18) at Hawai’i Theatre.

The 35-year-old organization has come a long way from its founding as the Honolulu City Ballet in 1976. With the new studio it will continue to grow and provide our community with quality dance classes and exceptional performances.

A Star Arrives in HNL

Accomplished dancer and the star of Hollywood film Mao’s Last Dancer, 32-year-old chi cao will make his debut appearance in this season’s Nutcracker performance at the blaisdell concert Hall, Dec. 16-18. We managed to catch up with the graceful glider at his home in London, and we pressed him to share how an all-star dancer ends up on the silver screen.

“It was all a coincidental, ‘right place right time’ sort of thing,” cao says. “The main character in the film was student of my father’s [former director of the beijing Dancing academy]. Since we grew up together and had similar careers, he always paid close attention to my development. He had me in mind to play him, and introduced me to the director and producer. and this role needed to be filled by a dancer, not an actor.”

Moving to London when he was 16 made cao qualified to play the role, he assures.

“I experienced all the things the character does. excitement. Loneliness and missing my family,” he adds.

Shanghai-born (he was raised in beijing) cao has recently had the chance to dance for his father, who still teaches in china.

“The nutcracker is very meaningful to me. It’s the first full-length ballet I did, and I’ve performed it in australia and Houston, among other places. I hope it can bring the best out of me, especially for the people of Hawai’i,” he concludes.

To The Stage

Theater Listings

The international phenomenon, Riverdance makes its thunderous appearance in Honolulu. Dec. 7-11, Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall, 596-7858

It’s the middle of December in 1943, and with the world at war, no one really feels like celebrating Christmas. A Jivebomber’s Christmas is a musical about how a group youths at a Japanese internment camp try to raise a little holiday cheer. Through Dec. 10, Kumu Kahua Theatre, 536-4441; Jan. 20, Maui Arts & Cultural Center (MACC), 242-7469

Cinderella gets a visit from her Fairy Godmother, resulting in the ultimate date that may change her life forever-as long as the slipper fits! The beloved Rogers & Hammerstein musical Cinderella features songs “Do I Love you Because You’re Beautiful?” “Impossible” and “Ten Minutes Ago.” Dec. 2-18, Diamond Head Theatre, 733-0274

Expect a musical blend of classical violin music and hip-hop when Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR) and Elan Vytal take the stage. Dec. 7, Kahilu Theatre, 885-6868; Dec. 9, MACC, 242-7469

It’s a night celebrating the Waimea cowboys with a chance to view the film The Last of the Hawaiian Cowboys, Dec. 8, Kahilu Theatre, 885-6868

If you’re more of a “Space Cowboy” then rock on over to Steve Miller Band, touring the islands this winter. Dec. 9 at Neal S. Blaisdell Arena, ticketmaster.com; Dec. 10, Hilton Waikoloa Village, ticketmaster.com; and Dec. 11, MACC, 242-7469

A Cazimero Christmas gets audiences in the holiday spirit with the Cazimero Brothers featuring performers Leinaala Kalama Heine, Halau Na Kamalei and The Royal Dance Company. Dec. 9-11, Hawaii Theatre, 528-0506

The Slack Key Masters series hosted by George Kahumoku continues with a concert by Grammy Award winners Daniel Ho and Tia Carrere. Dec. 15, MACC, 242-7469

If you’re looking to ramp up energy for New Year’s Eve, there’s Mele Kaliki Rocka featuring Jane’s Addiction on Dec. 30 at Neal S. Blaisdell Arena, ticketmaster.com

Garrison Keillor’s beloved radio variety show, Prairie Home Companion, returns to Honolulu on New Year’s Eve. Dec. 31, Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall, ticketmaster.com

The Rocket Man himself, Elton John, returns to Honolulu. Jan. 6-7, Neal S. Blaisdell Arena, ticket-master.com

Chicago-based singer, songwriter and violinist Andrew Bird brings his unique blend of swing, jazz and rock to Honolulu. Jan. 12, Hawaii Theatre, 528-0506

The Tony Award-winning play, God of Carnage, makes its Hawai’i premiere. This play by Yasmina Reza is about two pairs of parents who attempt to discuss an altercation between their children in a civilized manner. Jan. 12-29, Manoa Valley Theatre, 988-6131

Contortionists and acrobats astound audiences as the New Shanghai Circus brings its breathtaking show to the Islands. Jan. 13-15, Hawaii Theatre, 528-0506; Jan. 16, MACC, 242-7469

Uncommon Time-Taiko, Tabla and Timbales is a collaboration between three drumming masters: Kenny Endo on taiko, John Santos on Latin percussion and

Abhijit Banerjee on tabla. This world premiere performance is Jan. 20 at Leeward Community College Theatre (LCC), 944-2697 or 455-0385

The Lion Dancer is about Ansen’s love-hate relationship with his Chinese heritage, and how he works through it by entering a lion dance competition. Jan. 20-Feb. 18, Honolulu Theatre for Youth, 839-9885 x720

Broadway star Ben Vereen is best seen live, and here’s your chance to experience his talent. His Honolulu appearance is a fundraiser benefitting the Performing Arts Programs of the University of Hawai’i Manoa Outreach College and Leeward Community College, Jan. 20, Kahilu Theatre, 885-6868; Jan. 27, MACC, 242-7469; Jan. 28, LCC, 956-8246 or 455-0385

Broaden your knowledge and hear captivating speakers-who are experts in their creative fields-at TEDxMaui 2012. Jan. 22, MACC, 242-7469

Lois-Ann Yamanaka’s classic prose comes to life in the world premiere of Saturday Night at the Pahala Theatre. Jan. 26-Feb. 26, Kumu Kahua Theatre, 536-4441

Hawaii Opera Theatre kicks off its 2012 season with Verdi’s Aida. Jan. 27, 29 & 31, Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall, 596-7858

The Martha Graham Dance Company, the oldest dance company in America, brings Prelude and Revolt, a montage of Graham’s work, to Hawai’i. The show explores the legendary dancer/choreographer’s decades-long career that shaped contemporary dance as we know it. Feb. 2, Kahilu Theatre, 885-6868; Feb. 4, Hawai’i Theatre, 528-0506; and Feb. 7, MACC, 242-7469

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