Marin Ballet celebrates 50 years of dance

April 10, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Marin Ballet is celebrating 50 years of service this year and it's bringing back some of its alumni for a spectacular reunion. One of those performers is now a major artist with the Boston Ballet who came from humble beginnings in the Bay Area.

Boston Ballet dancer John Lam is coming home to dance for the Marin Ballet's 50th anniversary.

"Marin Ballet has been part of my life and career since I was 4-year-old and I think it's great to come back to my hometown and celebrate this amazing anniversary with Marin Ballet," said Lam.

Lam's current artistic director at the Boston Ballet, Mikko Nissinen, was also artistic director at Marin Ballet years ago when Lam was around 10.

"John showed from the get go, tremendous potential. He was what we call super talented," said Nissinen.

Lam didn't have the same advantages as lot of kids in wealthy Marin County.

"My parents are refugees from Vietnam," said Lam.

His family lived in the low income Canal District of San Rafael and he was in a community daycare program while his parents worked full time to support three kids. That's where he first heard of Marin Ballet Scholarships.

Marin Ballet co-founder Phyllis Thelan brought up the idea of scholarships more than 20 years ago, after seeing a dance program in New York that worked with inner city kids.

"It takes a village to do this," said Thelan. "We got scholarships and I think our idea was all we had to do was simply put it out there, 'Hey, everybody, we have scholarships...come and get them.'"

But Thelan learned it took someone to find those children and take the scholarship offers to them. That person is Felecia Gaston from Performing Stars of Marin.

"I had scholarships offered by the Marin Ballet and I went to the child care center. I said, 'Who wants to take ballet?' and John was the only boy of eight girls that said, 'I do, I do,'" said Gaston.

"The only reason why I was able to go to Marin Ballet was because of Performing Stars of Marin," said Lam.

Performing Stars acts as a bridge for low income kids so they can have access to cultural activities outside their community, like the Marin Ballet.

"It's knowing the community, it's knowing the parents, it's knowing their children and having their trust," said Gaston.

"They were a very huge influence in making sure I had my ballet shoes, my uniform, making sure I had transportation," said Lam.

"Performing Stars got him involved, we took it from there, trained him and moved him off to the National Ballet of Canada, where he completed his training and then went on to a professional career," said F. Lawrence Ewing, the executive director of Marin Ballet.

Ewing says the school is so proud that Lam will reunite with other alumni and inspire young dance students at the 50th anniversary celebration.

"It's like family to me and so I'm honored to be invited back to show them this is what happens with a child that comes from the Canal District," said Lam.

Performing Stars of Marin honored Lam at an event on Friday at 11 a.m.

The Marin Ballet's 50th anniversary celebration is Saturday, April 13, at the College of Marin.


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