Features & Columns

New Ballet School Rises from Ashes at Reinvented Hammer 2.0

The New Ballet School is opening up its headquarters for anyone who
wants to stop by and watch the dancers rehearse
Lunchtime guests can come to the New Ballet School to see up-and-coming dancers hone their craft. Photo by Al Morales

Last spring, after Silicon Valley Ballet circled the drain for the final time, Dalia Rawson got to thinking. As director of the ballet's training school, which likewise collapsed with the pro company, she realized the need for a new endeavor, a new professional ballet training program with a focus on dancer health and child development.

Hence, the New Ballet School was born, using primarily the same team that ran the old school for many years.

Staff had to volunteer at first. Families and students had paid tuition through the summer and those funds were lost due to the financial ruin of the professional company. But now that the New Ballet School is out of the starting gate, the company is poised to present a totally reimagined version of the Nutcracker in the totally reimagined Hammer Theatre Center, or "Hammer 2.0" as some are calling it.

"It was due to the passion and dedication of a lot of people that we were able to fully launch, and now we're at a point where we're in a future-funding model," Rawson says. "Tuition that comes in now goes to future programs. We've gotten over that hump through a lot of volunteer hours and some generous donations from a few close ballet family friends."

There's more. As of right now, the New Ballet School is opening up its headquarters for anyone who wants to stop by at lunchtime and watch the dancers rehearse. That is, every Friday from 1pm-2:15pm, from now until Dec. 9, and then again after the holidays. Anyone can tromp up to the third floor of 40 N. First St. in downtown San Jose and have a look at the artists in motion. The dancers are ages 17-22, right on the cusp of their professional careers, and they're essentially putting in eight-hour workdays. Many dancers have traveled here from other parts of the country to train. Inside, plenty of open chairs are available, and guests can bring food and be as loud as they want. Photographers also regularly stop by to hone their own craft. What an idea.

"For a lot of people who think they don't like ballet, I feel like they haven't been exposed to it in a way where they can get really close and see the passion, and the athleticism, and the virtuosity of the dancers up close," Rawson says. "This is a really easy way for us to provide that opportunity to San Jose."

Also, the New Ballet School is one of the first locally grown companies jumping at the opportunity to launch the newish Hammer Theatre Center. If this seems like a strange twist on musical chairs, it probably is. From the ashes of the ballet comes a new ballet school to help launch a theater from the ashes of another failed San Jose arts organization. I'm not quite sure how to interpret that one, but it's a sign that people are not giving up.

Perhaps the best aspect of all is the version of the Nutcracker promised by the New Ballet School. This won't be the same beaten-to-death production you've seen a thousand other times in a thousand other venues. Tchaikovsky's music will still be there, of course, but everything else will be set in San Jose circa 1905, with period costumes and a skyline including the Electric Light Tower. The Land of the Sweet is replaced by the Valley of Heart's Delight.

The usual Nutcracker characters will instead be based on local people or even crops that one might have encountered during that era. For example, the Flower Waltz is led by a California Poppy rather than the traditional rose or the Dew Drop Fairy. Instead of the same old Mother Goose or Mother Ginger, there's a character named after Casa de Fruta in Hollister. There's even a Gilroy garlic harvester who becomes enchanted by a rattlesnake. Out in the lobby, History San Jose plans to install a pop-up gallery to showcase toys and dolls from 1905 plus other historical information.

All in all, Rawson is looking forward to reimagining Hammer 2.0.

"It is a fantastic theater for dance," she says. "It's a fantastic theater for anything, but especially for this type of a dance production. There isn't a bad seat in that house."