First Time in 48 Years: Westside Ballet Spring Performance & Soiree to Honor Patricia Neary May 15th at the Broad Stage Postponed Indefinitely

By Jewels Solheim-Roe

For forty-seven years, Westside Ballet of Santa Monica's Biannual Spring Performances and Nutcracker Seasons have delighted Los Angeles audiences and served as a premier pre-professional performance outlet for young ballerinas. This will be the first season, due to the Covid-19, that the company's five decade legacy of performances––as well as all future performances––are under threat.

The Westside Ballet's storied history starts with its first-generation direct legacy descent from the prestigious New York City Ballet and the Royal Ballet. Founded in 1973 by Yvonne Mounsey and Rosemary Valaire, Westside Ballet of Santa Monica is a training company that has produced many of classical ballet's luminary performers known worldwide. New York City Ballet's founding artistic director, George Balanchine, choreographed the breathtaking ballets Serenade and Concerto Barocco. Yvonne Mounsey, was a principal ballerina in the original production of New York City Ballet's Serenade.

Due to this special relationship, The George Balanchine Trust grants permission to Westside Ballet to perform Balanchine's ballets and also arranged for the legendary NYCB ballerina Patricia Neary to stage and coach the Westside Ballet advanced pre-professional dancers in the ballet's demanding choreography. Ms. Neary staged Serenade for Westside's Centennial Gala Celebration & Spring Performance, honouring Yvonne Mounsey in June of 2019. This Spring, Ms. Neary was not only going to stage Balanchine's brilliant contemporary classic Concerto Barocco for Westside's 2020 Spring Performance – but was going to be honoured for the 2020 Spring Performance Fundraiser. Rehearsals began in early February 2020. Balanchine's contemporary classic Concerto Barocco is considered a perfect marriage of pure choreography and the exquisite music of Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D minor.

The program, "Mix It Up! Classics Old and New," was to feature iconic ballets from George Balanchine's Concerto Barocco, to excerpts from ballets most recognizable classics, Giselle, Coppélia and Sleeping Beauty. Also highlighting the program was the return of Balanchine's signature Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, featuring principal dancer Mirabelle Weinbach and guest artist Chasen Greenwood, and Who Cares? Pas de Deux, set to the music of Gershwin, and featuring Westside's own principal male dancer Zane Tahvildaran Jesswein.

The 2020 Spring Performance also included a rare experience for the youngest members with the Westside Ballet premiere of Jerome Robbins' delightful Circus Polka, set to the music of Stravinsky.

Current Artistic Director, and Westside Ballet alumna, Martine Harley (succeeding Mounsey since 2013) explains that this year's Spring Performance had dancers that had trained since early childhood for these coveted roles in some of classical ballet's most cherished works. "Our dancers this season were more readily prepared for this repertoire than in previous seasons" says Harley. "Their strength and achievements in the first weeks of the rehearsal process is what makes this situation even more heartbreaking. Their early mastery may have been due to the rigorous nature of the preparations for our 2019 Centennial Gala and Spring Performance, when most of our advanced and intermediate company dancers trained tirelessly under Patricia Neary for four months, preparing for Serenade which was reviewed as one of the best Serenade performances they had ever seen. Many Los Angeles patrons of the arts have told us that watching our pre-professional dancers is like watching the Olympics. Although they are not professionals technically, they train just as hard, and many are in their prime, refining their raw talent through the expert training that Westside Ballet provides."

An example of such 'Olympian level dancing,' would be Brentwood School Senior Mirabelle Weinbach, who has been a principal dancer with the nonprofit company since her Freshman Year, and has trained with Westside since the age of five. This year, Ms. Harley had cast Mirabelle in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, as her 'swan song' – both figuratively and literally. Having performed leading roles in the Nutcracker (Sugar Plum Fairy, Dew Drop Fairy, Snow Queen, Clara) and Spring Performances; Mirabelle was featured in Westside's Centennial Gala last spring as the Russian Girl in George Balanchine's Serenade, as well as the principal role in the 4th Movement of Yvonne Mounseys Classical Symphony.

A Pacific Palisades resident, Mirabelle was given early acceptance to Princeton last December. "This is a very scary time for everyone, and I try to stay positive and be grateful for all that Westside has given me through the years," states Mirabelle. "I try to keep up my conditioning and stamina by taking online classes daily, and just try to accept 'What Is' in all of this. I was so thrilled to be cast in my dream role, and felt so lucky to be honored in this way by my teachers and mentors, as my parting performance. But I then think about all the artists around the world in similar situations, and I feel a sense of solidarity in this devastating time for the classical arts."


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