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Beyond Performance: Jodie Gates

Festival Director

Published September 1, 2011.
Gates in Pennsylvania Ballet's Coppelia (by Paul Kolnick)

“I was at the top of my game and ready to move on. I had performed every role I wanted to and worked with choreographers such as Jirí Kylián, William Forsythe and Robert Joffrey. I was 40 and didn’t know what path I was going to take.”

That’s Jodie Gates, former ballerina with The Joffrey Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and Frankfurt Ballet, who, after a 25-year performance career, decided to make Southern California home. It was 2005 and Gates was starting to focus on her own choreography and teaching, choreographing and staging works of William Forsythe for major companies, when she began to consider starting a dance festival.

“I came to Laguna on a whim and noticed a void,” says Gates. “During my career I’d danced at wonderful festivals—Jacob’s Pillow, Spoleto—and since what I got out of festivals was a full experience in the art form, I thought I wanted to do the same here: bring high-quality dance to the community.”

She began knocking on doors showing a picture of herself dancing and saying, ‘My name is Jodie Gates and I have an idea. Will you help me?’” Her reputation from years with The Joffrey proved a draw, with the community rallying around her. Now in its sixth year, the Laguna Dance Festival, which takes place each spring and/or fall and has presented groups including Trey McIntyre Project and Ballet X, has a budget of $165,000, raised mostly from grants, sponsorships, patrons and ticket sales. “Part of my success as a dancer was my focus, drive and perseverance. I’m also highly motivated, a perfectionist, and I’m hyper-aware of my surroundings. I can clearly articulate my needs and wants.”

Gates’ most pressing needs and wants involve funding, which she says is her biggest challenge. “After that,” she adds, “it’s putting the puzzle together to make a good curation, something I learned from Robert Joffrey. He was a dance historian who could put together a stellar evening. I also try to look at innovative dance companies and artists as well as try to tie into what is relevant historically to our culture.”

In addition to helming the festival, Gates has been asso-ciate professor of dance at University of Califormia, Irvine, since 2006, a position that allows her to involve students in the festival. (Last April Complexions did a weeklong resid-ency at UCI.) Gates says a typical day might include attending a festival board meeting, fulfilling university commitments, coordinating future choreographic projects (to date Gates has made 42 dances for companies including Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet) and a gym work-out.

“When you’re a dancer,” says Gates, “you’re invested in yourself, but as a festival leader, I’m more invested in community. I believe I’m on the path I’m supposed to be on and I’ve learned that because I’m able to be creative and also work from a more organizational standpoint, I can make a difference. My reward,” she says, “is being embraced by the community.”

Originally published in Beyond Performance, a supplement to Dance Magazine and Dance Teacher, September 2011