Southern California’s Laguna Dance Festival just announced its 16th winter season featuring a series of virtual interactive events to continue the festival’s mission of performance, community engagement and education. “Dance Like No One’s Watching” which airs on Friday, December 4, 2020 at 6 p.m. (PST) is designed to help raise funds that will directly assist the arts and artists through these unprecedented times of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Included on the festival is the premiere commissioned work by acclaimed international Flamenco dancer Irene Rodríguez, filmed on location in Laguna Beach, and three free Meet the Artist panels, plus two weekends of master classes.

Irene Rodríguez - Photo by Nelson Ramírez de Arellanos

Irene Rodríguez – Photo by Nelson Ramírez de Arellanos

“The first 75 guests to purchase tickets will receive an autographed fan with which they can learn a flamenco-style fan dance taught by Ms. Rodríguez for patrons of all ages and genders. The night will highlight performances by talented recipients of Laguna Dance Festival’s 2020 Young Artist Scholarship program, which despite the organization’s decreased funds and fundraising opportunities due to the pandemic, is nevertheless awarding scholarships. A special surprise announcement by a Laguna Beach celebrity will take center stage to round out the evening. Guests donating $100 or more will have access to the online Dec. 4 performance and the entertaining fan dance instruction. The organization’s goal is to raise $50,000. Donations can be made at”  November 10, 2020 Press Release.

“One advantage of the virtual world is that you can dance with abandon as if no one’s watching,” said Joy Dittberner, executive director of Laguna Dance Festival. “You need not care whether you do all the steps correctly. We hope that arts lovers near and far will enjoy this presentation and contribute generously to make sure our organization has the resources to continue bringing dance and dance education to audiences in whatever form and to encourage young dancers to pursue their passion.”

“Like all the performing arts, dance is best when experienced in person, so we have to find creative ways to engage our audience with the same energy we experience when going to the theatre. We landed on flamenco, a flamboyant dance style that we think will translate well to an online experience. Irene is a dynamic artist whose movements you will be able to experience up close in the comfort of your home. Another advantage is the opportunity to expose our community locally and nationally to our local artists, performances, and mission. Distance is not a factor, just the love and joy of dance.” noted festival founder and artistic director Jodie Gates. Ms. Gates is also the founding director and professor at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.

The Laguna Dance Festival has a long history of presenting internationally known dancers, choreographers and companies. Because the pandemic has caused dance companies and performance venues to cancel and/or postpone performances, everyone has suffered greatly financially. The Laguna Dance Festival, as well as artists around the world, continue to find ways, however, to bring dance to their communities.  One way is that the festival has offered free live solo performance at The Promenade on Forest Avenue in Laguna Beach, free online dance classes, and virtual performances.

Laguna Dance Festival’s 16th season offers opportunities for dance lovers to dig deep into their passion with fascinating, free online panel discussions with:

  • renowned flamenco dancer Irene Rodríguez on Sunday, Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m.
  • Maria Kowroski, principal dancer with New York City Ballet, and Desmond Richardson, co-founder of New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet, on Wednesday, Dec. 2 at 5:30 p.m.
  • Jodie Gates, former Joffrey ballerina and Laguna Dance Festival’s artistic director, will share favorite clips from her performing career on Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 5:30 p.m.

Laguna Dance Festival will offer a virtual dance intensive over two weekends for dancers wishing to hone their craft: Dec. 5-6 and Dec. 12-13. These limited-participant Zoom sessions will bring together internationally renowned dance artists from Complexions Contemporary Ballet, New York City Ballet, and Gibney Dance, with career advice from Jodie Gates. NYCB ballerina Maria Kowroski, dance icon Desmond Richardson, and Jake Tribus from Gibney Dance will teach online technique classes in ballet and contemporary.

2020 Season Artists

Irene Rodriguez - Photo by Christopher Duggan

Irene Rodriguez – Photo by Christopher Duggan

Irene Rodríguez is a Cuban treasure, a world-famous teacher, choreographer, and performer. She worked as dancer and choreography consultant of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and directed the Flamenco and Spanish Dance Program School at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 2019. Rodríguez founded her own company, Compañía Irene Rodríguez. She directed Havana’s most prestigious Spanish dance academy, which she also founded. In 2018, the King of Spain granted her Spain’s highest civilian honor, the Order of Isabella the Catholic. She has served as the artistic director of The Print of Spain, an international festival in Cuba. She is the recipient of numerous honors, awards, and commissions, including this recently commissioned piece for the Laguna Dance Festival, filmed in Laguna Beach.

Maria Kowroski, principal dancer with New York City Ballet, is a Michigan native who began her ballet training at age seven. She became an apprentice with New York City Ballet in the summer of 1994, the same year she received the Princess Grace Award. She was invited to join the company as a member of the corps de ballet in 1995. Kowroski was promoted to the rank of soloist in 1997 band, and 1999, was promoted to principal dancer. She has performed as a guest artist with the Mariinsky Ballet and with the Munich Ballet.

Desmond Richardson, co-founder of New York-based Complexions Contemporary Ballet, has been hailed by The New York Times as “one of the great modern dancers of his time.” He has mastered a wide range of dance forms including hip hop, classical, modern, classical ballet, and contemporary ballet. He remained the principal dancer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater from 1987 to 1994. Richardson has worked in television, film, and video in the United States and abroad. He has performed with many musical artists including Michael Jackson, Prince, Aretha Franklin, and Madonna.

Jake Tribus of Gibney Dance is a graduate of USC’s Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. He recently joined Gibney Dance; a New York City dance company founded in 1991 by choreographer Gina Gibney.

For more information please visit the Laguna Dance Festival HERE.

By Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: Irene Rodriguez – Photo by Alfredo Cannatello