Cover Story - October 26, 2011

Dance debut

The new Menlowe Ballet features original work with a cultural touch

by Renee Batti

Even as the economy continues to ail, Bay Area residents who value the art of dance have reason to feel significantly richer this year with the grand entrance on the Peninsula scene of Menlowe Ballet.

The dance company, founded earlier this year, is based at the Menlo Park Academy of Dance studios, and is set to give its premiere performance on Nov. 5 at the Bayside Performing Arts Center in San Mateo.

DEBUT! will showcase three works choreographed by Menlowe Ballet co-founder and artistic director Michael Lowe, whose career includes some 28 years as an Oakland Ballet dancer and choreographer.

The Nov. 5 performance will include the world premiere of Mr. Lowe's "Cirque" — a lively, richly textured story-in-movement of "a dysfunctional circus" whose performers ultimately find the connecting thread to unite them, Mr. Lowe says.

Along with Mr. Lowe, Lisa Shiveley of Atherton and Sarah-Jane Measor, co-owner of the Menlo Park Academy of Dance, are company co-founders. Ms. Shiveley is executive director of the new enterprise, and Ms. Measor — who is married to Mr. Lowe — is the assistant artistic director.

The company was launched after a successful performance in January of one of Mr. Lowe's works, "Chuntian," in Fresno, according to Ms. Shiveley, who studied and performed ballet for many years as a child and young adult. She says she got to know Mr. Lowe several years ago when they both took a class at the Academy of Dance, but she knew about him long before.

"I idolized him most of my dancing life," she says, explaining that she had seen him perform a number of times when he danced with the Oakland Ballet.

Ms. Shiveley traveled to the "Chuntian" performance in Fresno, and was so impressed by it that, when talk began to percolate about the chances of keeping the momentum alive among the performers by forming a new company, she offered her services and start-up funding.

"I was so moved as part of that (Fresno) audience," she says. "Dance has the power to move people and give them greater access to their own humanity. In doing so, we get more connected to the essence of who we are, and to one another.

"It's an honor to be part of something that moves people in this way, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity."

"Chuntian," also on the Nov. 5 program, was inspired by the watercolors created by Mr. Lowe's mother, he says. It is of a genre of dance he has become noted for: a contemporary form that borrows from classical dance, but is rooted in cultural themes. The title means "In the Spring" in Mandarin.

Mr. Lowe's early work, "Bamboo," put him on the map in the world of choreography, he says, noting that for its premiere performance, he both directed the dance and conducted the music, performed by Melody of China. "Bamboo" inspired the exquisite "Double Happiness," which will be performed in the company's second major performance, this spring at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.

In creating the company, Mr. Lowe says he looked for dancers who, first and foremost, have "clean and strong technique, followed by good instincts (and) musicality."

Asked why the Peninsula needs one more dance company, Ms. Shiveley notes that Menlowe Ballet "is not looking to compete" with other dance troupes, but to augment the choices for local audiences. "And the cultural aspect of what Michael offers is really not offered much elsewhere," she adds.

Mr. Lowe says the company's intent "is to offer Bay Area audiences a poignant dose of heart and soul, creating an opportunity to look at something from a different perspective."

In addition to "Cirque" and "Chuntian," the Nov. 5 company debut will feature a performance of "Plague."

Debut performance

• "DEBUT!" will be performed at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5, at the Bayside Performing Arts Center, 2025 Kehoe Ave. in San Mateo. Tickets are $25 to $40.

• Visit or call 510-522-6096 to order tickets, get more information about the dance company, and watch several performance videos.


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