Imagine celebrates anniversary

Sharida Rejon, Features editor

Dance performances, cake, and country music were all a part of the 20th anniversary celebration for Imagine Ballet Company, a pre-professional ballet company in Kern County.

The celebration took place on March 22, in which the company offered a birthday themed show titled “Imagine That!” which incorporated a variety of dances including classical pointe ballet, contemporary pointe ballet, upbeat flat dances, and even square and line dancing.

The finale of the show was a tribute to Buck Owens, where a multimedia piece with footage of the singer and country stars talking about Owens and his influence was shown in between choreographed pieces with the dancers.

“We thought it would be great to honor Bakersfield on our 20 years of being here, so we did the tribute to Buck Owens,” said Christine Whitaker, the vice president on the board at Imagine Ballet Company. “People think traditionally of ballet as only classical music, but there’s a lot of contemporary and classical that you can put into other kinds of music,” she said.

“I think it has been great to teach the kids about their heritage because they’re learning more about Bakersfield and what we have to offer,” she said. “They are also learning about the rich culture that Buck Owens brought to Bakersfield and continues to bring through his music,” said Whitaker.

Two of the pieces that were performed during the show, “Hear Within” and “Watershed,” will also be performed at the annual Regional Dance America festival in Spokane, Wash., in early May.

“There is an emerging choreography program in Regional Dance America, where they try to help choreographers who are just getting started,” said Kristen McLaughlin, artistic director of Imagine Ballet Company. “One of our choreographers, Kelly St. Pierre, is still a dancer herself, but she is starting to explore her own choreography, so we had her create a piece for our company and it got chosen to go to the festival. It was one of 10 dance pieces chosen out of 25 that were shown.”

Performing at the prestigious Regional Dance America festival is only one of the several opportunities that Imagine Ballet Company provides for its dancers.

“IBC was a vision of a group of people back in 1993 who thought that the caliber of dance in Bakersfield was such that it could support a ballet company that would help foster the dance in Bakersfield that would give its members opportunities to pursue goals and careers in dance,” said McLaughlin.

“Working with the dancers is the best part,” she said. “They are so joyful and they have such a passion for dance that they have a goal for their future in dance and I really get inspired by finding ways to help them get where they want to go.”

Whitaker also explained how Imagine Ballet Company benefits its dancers.

“IBC gives kids the opportunity to participate in the arts, and we as a foundation through the support of Kern Arts community and private patrons, try to provide an avenue for these kids to be able to not only have pre-professional experience but also through Regional Dance America, where we also provide a place for them to go where they can be exposed to national ballet companies, perform in front of them, and potentially get scholarships to these companies,” said Whitaker.

“We’ve had many alumni who have gone on to dancing professionally, be in music videos, they are running other art studios, they’re perpetuating art so it’s like a paying it forward,” she said.

Lindsay Monroe, a 12-year-old member of the junior Imagine Ballet Company, believes that the organization will help her achieve her ultimate goals in the dance industry.

“I’d like to become a professional ballerina,” said Monroe. “My ultimate goal is definitely becoming a professional dancer because I love dance and the company really helps me work with other people in the dance world and advances me in dance.”

Amy Cox, a high school junior who is a member of the senior Imagine Ballet Company, also believes that it will help her with her future plans.

“I want to continue to dance in college and double major in dance and something in the medical field,” she said. “IBC gives me so many opportunities, especially through Regional Dance America, where it lets colleges see who you are instead of going to a general audition where you are just a number on a piece of paper. It lets them know who you are first.”

In addition to helping its dancers, Imagine Ballet Company also benefits the community.

“IBC is also able to give back to the community through teaching community classes and doing community performances to inspire children to think outside the box, to think about the arts, to be creative,” said McLaughlin.

“Our vision is to provide a forum of dance so that the kids can participate in the arts, but also so that we can provide arts for the community, which are being cut out in education left and right” said Whitaker.

“The arts do things for our culture and for our students that are immeasurable,” she said. “IBC provides an art experience, an entertainment experience, that a lot of people drive to places like L.A. to see. We have talent like that in Bakersfield.”