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After the gold-rush, 'let's dance' -- Marin Ballet

By Renee RenoufSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / December 1, 1980



San Rafael, Calif.

Dominican College lies in the older part of San Rafael. As an institution in Marin County, Calif., it shares the once-upon-a-gold-rush ambiance from which the current myth o "Marvelous Marin" arises. Over the years college students have seen the locale go from lumbermen to summer retreaters to affluent ferry commuters.

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A World War II shipyard served as economic catalyst to the area's secluded, woodsy, rural Bay Area setting. And hand in hand with the postwar expansion, and with the seekers of California sunshine, nature, and civilized amenities, came seirous ballet.

Instrumental in the formation of the Marin Ballet Association was the late Leona Norman. Her ceoncept of sustained, leisurely training was backed by parents and other supporters. In 1972 the association bought an unused chapel and remodeled it with funds from Cowell Foundation. Dominican College was but a five-minute walk distant, and talk immediately began about collaboration between the school and Marin Ballet.

Discussions with a former president of Dominican College led to the association of Marin Ballet and Dominican College in the establishment of a BA degree in dance with a ballet emphasis.

Under Marai Vegh, Marin Ballet provides the technical training and classes. To head its new dance department, Dominican selected Carol Teten, whose background from Sarah Lawrence College, five years of teaching and choreographing in Israel, and a master of arts degree from University of California at Los Angeles have led her into the reconstruction of historical dances.

As diminutive and determined as her colleague Maria Vegh, Carol Teten speaks directly and succinctly. "The first year has been auspicious. We had a dozen students, two of whom danced with Marin Ballet. Auditions were required.Enrollment in the Dominican dance program doesn't mean that Margaret Swarthout, Marin Ballet Company's artistic director, automatically takes a student into the company. She's ex-Royal Ballet and is equally selective with the Marin Ballet School students.

"It also does not mean I automatically can include students in 'Dance Through Time,' the company I run which performs historical dances from the Pavanne to the polka, the waltz and the Swim. We recently have mounted a reconstruction of Fanny Elssler's cachucha, and it takes a very special talent and imagination to reflect bygone eras with the depth of character and cultural understanding which makes it convincing. Five of my students the first year showed this unusual aptitude and I used them."

The dance opportunities depend on those who enroll. The second year has doubled enrollment with more than 20 students.

Mrs. Teten explained, "I look for creative potential and Maria looks for technical potential. We do aim for professional dancing careers, but we are aware that is not meant for everyone. We are interested in developing an awareness of alternative careers in dance so that this enthusiasm is not lost to the field as a whole."

Marin Ballet's "Summer '80" provided an amazing gamut of training and exposure. Historical dance, composition, drama, mime, modern dance, and master ballet classes with teachers like Robert Barnett of Atlanta Ballet, modern dancer Mary Anthony, and Mme. Alexandra Danilova were shared by Dominican students as well as Marin Ballet summer enrollees.

"Summer '80" also represented Marin Ballet's first major funding from the Buck Fund of San Francisco Foundation, a support source with continuing potential. Dominican sponsored a series of six panels called Dance Horizons. Each week, recognized professionals in the field locally and nationally attended to discuss facets of dance from production to promotion, performance to choregraphy and criticism. Hopes are that the panel programs will continue and expand.

Proof of the value of such a program does indeed stretch over time. But when a college department can double its enrollment in two years of operation, the signs are there that Carol Teten and Maria Vegh have organized a college-course winner.