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Steely Resolve Drives Diablo Ballet Leader

Diablo Ballet’s Lauren Jonas has kept her company together for an unheard of 18 years. She will appear at the PJCC on Thursday ahead of her troop’s March 30-31 performance at Hillbarn Theatre.

The Peninsula’s tie to ballet goes back to the late 1970s, when an improbable figure became one of its most influential advocates.

When Serra High alum Lynn Swann cited his ballet background as a key factor in his football development after making some of the most sensational catches in Super Bowl history as a Pittsburgh Steelers wideout, he single-handedly turned conventional notions about what had always been viewed as a feminine pursuit upside down.

On Thursday night, another significant ballet figure will make an appearance less than four miles from the high school campus from which Swann launched his Hall of Fame career.

Lauren Jonas, who heads one of the longest continuously running ballet groups in the Northern California, will speak at the Peninsula Jewish Community Center at 7 p.m. in advance of her Diablo Ballet’s March 30-31 appearance at .

Jonas, artistic director of the 18-year-old troop, will discuss the importance of professional dance.

“I hope personally that people who attend Thursday night will get a glimpse of me as a person, the person behind the company itself,” Jonas told Patch.

“Sometimes it’s important to know that there is a human being and that they get to know the person behind the scenes.”

The person behind the scenes is herself a former elite professional dancer who performed internationally for ballets in Houston and Oakland.

Thursday night’s appearance is personal for her, she said, because she’ll have a chance to talk about the role of her Jewish faith as a driving force in her work.

Jonas has by all accounts been as committed to promoting philanthropy as she has promoting her ballet group.

The Diablo Ballet’s charitable work includes visiting about 5,000 underserved schoolchildren each year, teaching kids – many of whom live in high-crime areas – “to express themselves through movement in a safe environment,” she said.

The Diablo Ballet’s appearance at Hillbarn figures to offer audiences a rare view of advanced ballet.

“The great thing about Hillbarn is that it’s an intimate kind of venue; its only 175 seats so you’re going to see everything that you don’t get to see when you’re go to some place like the San Francisco Ballet,” Hillbarn spokesman Dan Meagher said.

“You’re going to be right up close and you’re going to see the dancers using every muscle to do lifts and to do turns and you’re going to see them sweat. You’re going to see a lot of things that you don’t see when you go to the big performing venues. That’s one of the things that makes the Hillbarn venue so exciting; you’re going to be right up close to all the action.”

Meagher described Jonas as one of the most significant figures in the Bay Area ballet scene, noting her professional background and business instincts have been instrumental in keeping her group together through a financially turbulent period spanning four decades is almost unheard of for any art group.

“She’s very driven, and very determined,” Meagher said.

The same could be said for another ballet dancer with four Super Bowl rings.

Jonas said she’s aware of Swann’s influence on the ballet, and Meagher acknowledged that his group has discussed the relationship between ballet and competitive sports, including football, noting that the athleticism, discipline, attention to precise details and coordination, tie together.

“Ballet is great training for football players and other athletes because the demands that are put on a body in ballet are absolutely incredible,” Meagher said. “Just like a professional athlete.”

Jamie White (Editor) March 14, 2012 at 04:54 PM
Wow, what a cool story, Gideon! Love the headline, too -- I'm sure the talk and the show will be amazing : )

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