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A Step in the Right Direction : The decision by Channel Islands Ballet to stage its own 'Nutcracker' production may help sow fertile fields of dance in the county.


As the curtain rose on the newly formed New West Symphony in June, one thing was clearly missing: plans to stage Ventura County's annual holiday presentation of "The Nutcracker" ballet.

For the past 15 years, the Ventura County Symphony had been producing the perennial favorite. But when the group merged with the Conejo Symphony in June, plans for the traditional performance were not renewed.

Enter the Channel Islands Ballet Company. For a decade and a half of "Nutcracker" performances, the Channel Islands Ballet had been under contract to the symphony to provide the dancers. The seasonal productions provided the dance company its largest audience. So when the production was dropped, company directors decided to take over the show. The Sugar Plum Fairy 'n' gang were given a reprieve.

"This is such a traditional event in the community, we couldn't let 'The Nutcracker' die," said Kathleen Noblin, owner of Ballet Ventura, the official school for the company. "Plus the show is very important to us. It's a tremendous venue for our girls to dance in."

In addition to their usual artistic duties, the ballet company will now have to take care of the business end of the operation, which includes raising more than $100,000 to stage the event. Tickets sales are expected to cover one-third of that amount, but the remainder must be obtained through fund raising.

"We're going to the community to help us," Noblin said. "It's expensive, but it will be an outstanding production."

Paul Polivnick--currently director of the New Hampshire Music Festival--has been hired as conductor, Noblin said, and musicians are being auditioned to assemble a full orchestra.

Noblin is determined that "The Nutcracker" will survive. It may be a hard job, but she's accustomed to challenges--and to success. It was three years ago next month that Noblin opened Ballet Ventura.

"The original school for the ballet company had closed down a couple of years beforehand, and without a school to train the dancers, a company can't survive," she said.

"I was upset about this, so I kept trying to talk someone into opening a school. Finally, my husband said, 'Well, why don't you just go ahead and open one yourself?' So I did."

Her first task was to find a partner to handle the creative side while she took care of the administrative end. That's when she was introduced to Clarissa Boeriu.

Boeriu was a successful ballerina behind the Iron Curtain and a ballet teacher in Rome before moving to the United States. Until then, she had very little desire to work as a teacher in Ventura or to become the artistic director of the Channel Islands Ballet Company, the resident company of the Oxnard Civic Auditorium. After all, Oxnard may be well known for strawberries, factory outlet malls and burritos, but it is not known for ballet. At least not yet.

"If it hadn't been for my husband getting his job at UCSB and moving here, over my dead body I'd be here," Boeriu said. But she was here, and she wanted to work in her field, so Boeriu accepted the offer. Now she says she loves her work and it's become one of the most challenging and fulfilling jobs of her career.

And she hopes the day will come when some of the country's top ballet dancers will say they began their careers in Ventura County.

Boeriu, Noblin and the board of directors have already taken steps to make the Channel Islands Ballet the first regional ballet company in the county. Regional status is one level away from being a professional dance company.

"If you're regional, then people know you're serious," Noblin said. "You're used as a steppingstone to becoming a professional dancer."

Regional Dance America, the governing board that oversees regional companies, has so far accredited only two ballet groups in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties: the Santa Barbara Festival Ballet and, recently, the Santa Barbara Chamber Company.

Representatives from Regional Dance America, having viewed a Channel Islands class and a performance, invited the company to participate in the final phase of accreditation. This entails traveling to one of the board's two yearly meetings, then performing for and being evaluated by its directors.

If accepted, the company will be required to perform each year at the regional festival, which is held in a different location within the 10 Western states, to retain its status.

"That's a lot of traveling around, and it takes a lot of money," Noblin said. "We have the heart and we have the talent, but we just don't have the funds right now. We have to hold off for a while."

But the lack of money and title in no way translates into a lack of ambition. Boeriu has her eye on a few young local students she believes are destined to become stars. And she's not the only one. Several of her pupils have received full scholarships this summer to study at prestigious ballet companies throughout the United States.

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