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Jodie Gates is a groundbreaker in the international world of dance. As a performer, teacher and choreographer, she has traveled the world. Her well-crafted career has taken her throughout North and South America as well as Russia, Australia, Asia and Europe. And, as any true hero, she brought the fruits of her quest back home to her village, with the Laguna Dance Festival.
She began her career as a professional dancer in 1981, when she joined the Joffrey Ballet in New York City as a principal ballerina. The company was under the artistic direction of co-founder Robert Joffrey, who was known for creative, modern ballets.
In 1995, she became a principal dancer with The Pennsylvania Ballet, where she performed classical ballets. In 1999, Gates moved to Frankfurt, Germany, where she taught, staged and produced ballets around the world for William Forsythe's Ballet. Productions included the Paris Opera Ballet, the Scottish Ballet, the Zurich Opera Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet and Teatro La Scala.
Her choreography work is just as impressive as her performance resume. She has choreographed ballets for Germany's Staatsballett Berlin, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, American Ballet Theater II, Washington Ballet and The Juilliard School.
In addition to her roles as a performer and choreographer, Gates is also a teacher. From 2006 through 2013, she was on the dance faculty at the University of California at Irvine. Currently, she is serving as Vice Dean and Director of the new University of Southern California's Gloria Kaufman School of Dance, which will accept its first students in 2015.
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To the residents of Laguna Beach, Gates' most recognizable accomplishment is the creation of the Laguna Dance Festival. Since founding it in 2005, she has put her decades of experience to work for the benefit of the community, offering rich educational and cultural opportunities to the small beach town.
"Any form of art in people's lives enriches them; music, dance painting," said Nancy Meyer, founding board member of the Laguna Dance Festival. "The opportunity for audiences to see the top companies in the world perform in a small menu is exciting. These are companies who would normally go to big venues. Here there are only about 400 seats so there's usually interaction and you can meet the dancers."
In addition to performances, the non-profit organization enriches the close-knit community with films, lectures and master classes featuring prestigious dance companies and choreographers.
"Anyone in the area who is interested in dance can take a class from a master choreographer or dancer that they would normally never have the opportunity to take," said Meyer. "I've seen people who never been to dance come to these events and it opens up a new world to them."
"The dance festival is important to Laguna Beach because it provides a glimpse into what is going on tin the world of dance," said founding president Janet Eggers. "I think that what Jodie brings is the professionalism that she has always displayed in her career. She presents stuff that will educate the audience as well as entertain them and she makes it easy, comfortable and fun."
The community of Laguna Beach has embraced the festival. Each year they welcome the dancers and visitors who come to share in the experience. "It's cool to have this kind of thing in the community," said Eggers. "Our people have a passion for the arts and, because of Jodie, the Laguna Dance Festival is something to be proud of."