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David Wilcox, Artistic Director, Long Beach Ballet
October 23, 2012 - A number of Long Beach residents have special talents and bring culture and diversity to the International City. David Wilcox, artistic director of the Long Beach Ballet, is one of those residents.
Born and raised in West Covina, Wilcox has been involved in ballet since age 11. His mother encouraged him to study the Royal Academy of Dance syllabus, where she was an accompanist. Wilcox continued his studies in London, and by age 19 he began a professional career as a dancer in Germany.
Upon his return to Southern California in 1978 from a seven-year stint with the Berlin Ballet, the Nuremberg Ballet and the Heidelberg Ballet, Wilcox spent some time away from ballet. In 1981, he was given the opportunity to take over the Long Beach-based Southern California ballet academy. He re-branded the academy as the Long Beach Ballet, and Wilcox formed a professional dance company under the Long Beach Ballet brand in 1983. With the company, Wilcox could hire students from his academy or from other academies. While the company grew rapidly, it dissolved after 15 years.
Wilcox has traveled the world as a dancer and choreographer. More recently, Wilcox has produced and directed eight ballet tours to Asia with the Long Beach Ballet academy. He has also become the only American choreographer to have staged three full-length ballets in China, which are The Nutcracker, La Bayadere and Cinderella. Wilcox recently sat down with the Business Journal to discuss the 30th anniversary of the Long Beach Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker, the upcoming performance of Cinderella by the Ballet of Guangzhou, China, and his goal of reestablishing a ballet company in the next couple of years.
LBBJ: As a youth studying ballet, did you know you wanted to become a professional dancer?
Wilcox: Ballet just became my whole life, but I was not as interested in being a dancer as I was in choreography. I can remember when I was about 14 or 15 saying, “I want to be a choreographer someday.” But my real passion, even though I didn’t realize it when I was 14 or 15, was putting on productions. I’ve done it since I was 10 years old, or younger. I used to put on carnivals in my backyard. I’d create the rides and create the games and stuff like that. I would always put on a show. When I was a dancer in Germany, I would put on parties for 100 people with a cabaret show attached. It was always a big production with dropping balloons and lighting. It was just my first nature to do that stuff, and I didn’t even think about it at the time, except for the fact that I love doing it.
After being a dancer for seven years, I left Germany with a sour taste in my mouth about ballet. I was part of a system, like a factory worker, in Germany. It was a union job. I was a government employee in Germany. I just felt there was no inspiration, no passion. I was just like an assembly line workhorse. That’s what I felt like. So I longed to get out of there to come back to America and struggle. I really wanted to come back and struggle, and not just be taken care of over there. So I came back here and, after not having been involved in ballet at all for over a year, sort of fell into teaching at this school, which had been a ballet school for 25 years. The owner approached me and my ex-wife to take over the school. That was in 1981.
LBBJ: Tell us about the Long Beach Ballet. Who are your students and where do they come from?
Wilcox: We have about 500 students and it’s only ballet. We don’t mix it up with anything else. We don’t teach jazz. We don’t teach tap. This is a classical ballet academy, purely. I would say that 90 percent of our students are from Long Beach, and then we have some people from Seal Beach, Lakewood and the beach cities like Manhattan Beach. We have some from Los Alamitos.
LBBJ: This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Long Beach Ballet.
Wilcox: Of The Nutcracker. January will actually be 32 years in this building, with our school. But we are doing the 30th anniversary of The Nutcracker, because that’s what everybody knows.
LBBJ: Let’s talk about the company in itself. Who supports the Long Beach Ballet, and how does the company raise funds?
Wilcox: A large part of our budget, for upgrading the school itself, is from tuition. Though we do offer a lot of scholarships to people in need or who don’t have the funds. A large part of our budget is from ticket sales for our productions, especially The Nutcracker. And then we have a director’s circle committee, which is some of the parents. The chairwoman of the committee, Charlotte Ginsburg, is a major supporter of the ballet. She loves the Long Beach Ballet and has supported us for about seven years. She helped me put together this director’s circle committee, which is a group of people who help us to raise money. In fact, she was essentially the patron of the Aquarium ballet we just did. She primarily sponsored it. She’s made a big difference in helping us achieve some of our goals.
LBBJ: How would you say the company is doing in terms of finances and growth? Has it been consistent?
Wilcox: When we first took over the school in 1981, there were only about 50 students and two dance studios. We now have, as I said, about 500 students and four studios. We don’t advertise because all of our students come from word of mouth, from our reputation. Pretty much all of our classes are full. We took over Rose Liquor to add the fourth studio. So in just those two years after taking over Rose Liquor we’ve grown 25 percent. Now I need a fifth studio. Our budget will be about $1.6 million. For a little ballet school, that’s doing pretty good I guess.
LBBJ: In what ways does the Long Beach Ballet work with the local community?
Wilcox: For years and years we did a program called “Backstage at the Ballet.” It was a grand scale lecture demonstration, kind of like what the symphony does at the Terrace Theatre. This is the first year we will have done it again in a long time. . . . It is for elementary school students in 3rd, 4th and 5th grade. The idea came about in 1986 when the Long Beach Symphony asked us to partner in their grand scale lecture demonstrations, where they bring in the kids to see symphonic music. We did a joint venture with them where they played excerpts from Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo” and we actually danced it on stage for them. The conductor would speak a little bit about the music and then I would speak a little bit about the dance, and we would present to the kids. [After a year] the symphony didn’t want to do it with us anymore. And . . .
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