Culture Report: Southern California Ballet's New Blood


Voice of San Diego

By Kinsee Morlan

For most ballet companies across the country, ticket sales from annual performances of “The Nutcracker” account for a large chunk of their operating budgets.

“We live off ticket sales from ‘The Nutcracker’ for the rest of the year,” said Martha Leebolt.

Leebolt and her husband Toby Batley are the new artistic directors of Southern California Ballet. The professional dancers took on their leadership roles in September, when the company’s founding director Sylvia Palmer-Zetler retired after 30 years.

Southern California Ballet’s upcoming performance of “The Nutcracker” will be the duo’s directorial debut. They did a little tightening and streamlining, but because it’s their bread and butter, they didn’t want to fiddle with too much, too fast.

“We haven’t messed around too much with the actual show this year,” Batley said. “We just had so much to do, and it’s so new to us and such a big job.”

Change will come, though. Southern California Ballet will continue as a classical ballet company dedicated to professional performances as well as training kids. But Leebolt and Batley, who’ve performed in ballets internationally, say the company’s shift can be seen in next year’s programming.

In the spring, they’re bringing back “Coppélia,” a fun, lighthearted piece that the company hasn’t performed in 15 years. Eventually, they’d also like to start writing and producing original ballets.

The duo said they’ll also be doing a bigger marketing push next year, working to turn something that’s long been perceived as the company’s biggest weakness – the fact that they’re headquartered in a far-flung venue in Carmel Mountain Ranch – into its biggest strength.

They said people assume they have to see “The Nutcracker” and other ballets at the Civic Theatre or some other fancy downtown venue in order to see world-class performers, and that good shows couldn’t possibly be happening in the suburbs.

“We want to show our face and make sure people know we’re here and that you don’t have to go all the way downtown to see a quality ballet performance,” Leebolt said. “We’re up here, and we’re doing just as good of a job.”