The Laguna Dance Festival uniquely offers sensational world-class dance on a theatre stage, art galleries and site-specific outdoor venues. Where else can an audience experience top-quality performances from international and national touring companies — get that up-close feeling during the performances — and have an opportunity to meet the dancers themselves?
The Laguna Dance Festival transforms the distant world of stage dance into the proximity of a living room setting because of its capacity to bring the best dancers in today’s world onto the varied and unique stage venues of Laguna Beach.
Attracting both dancers and dance lovers to this idyllic resort setting, Laguna Dance Festival is dedicated to audience awareness and appreciation through major annual performances, as well as education and small group opportunities, as well as through major annual performances.
Since its inception, Laguna Dance Festival has presented companies such as Complexions Contemporary Ballet, The Parsons Dance Company, Hubbard Street 2, Trey McIntyre Project, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, BalletX, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, MALPASO and Ballet BC, among others. Additionally, it has showcased the world’s most exciting talents from the Broadway stage, TV and screen and including principal dancers from The Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and The San Francisco Ballet.
Jodie Gates, Artistic Director and Founder
Jodie Gates is the founding director of the award winning Laguna Dance Festival in Southern California. The dance festival is dedicated to dance education and presentation with a mission of facilitating collaborations with artists and developing audience awareness and engagement in the community through dance.
Ms. Gates has recently been appointed the Vice Dean and Director of the University of Southern California, Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. Under her direction, the dance school hosts a revolutionary new program, opening its doors to the first freshman class Fall 2015.
For thirty years Ms. Gates has established a remarkable career as an educator, director, choreographer and dancer. She is inspired by innovation, risk-taking and the pushing of boundaries, counterpoised with an abiding respect for tradition. Her professional performing career includes; former principal ballerina with the Joffrey Ballet, Frankfurt Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and international guest artist touring and performing throughout North and South America, Mexico, Russia, Asia, Australia and Europe. She has been featured in numerous television programs, celebrated festivals, and in the course of her performing career she was invited to perform for President’s Ronald Reagan, George Bush Senior and President Bill Clinton.
As an internationally recognized choreographer she has created over 50 original dance works. Receiving critical acclaim, her work has been called “visually compelling, powerful, beautiful,” by the Philadelphia Inquirer and “richly textured and profound,” by the Orange County Register. She has recently created works for Cincinnati Ballet, Staatsballett Berlin in Germany, Colorado Ballet, Ballet West, ABT II, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, BalletX, The Juilliard School, Washington Ballet, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and several other companies nationally. She is also responsible for teaching, staging and producing William Forsythe’s ballets, including productions at Paris Opera Ballet, Scottish Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Prague National Theater, Zurich Opera Ballet, Teatro La Scala, Houston Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet. . From 2006 – 2013 she was a Professor of Dance at the University of Irvine, California.
Her honors include recognition from the American Association of University Women for her leadership, dedication and contribution to the arts, and most recently she received the 2014 “Artist of the Year” honor from the LBaa Arts Star Awards. She has been acknowledged by American Ballet Theater for her choreographic excellence named the Altria/ABT Fellow, and was a 2012 recipient of the esteemed Jerome Robbins ‘New Essential Works’ program.
Board of Directors
Karen Wilson, Chairman – began her life-long passion for the non-profit world in high school and college, bringing her volunteer experience to both Special Olympics and PTA as she raised her family. When Karen “retired” in 2002, she took some time off to play – she learned to surf and golf, and spent time traveling the globe with her husband and friends.
In 2009, Karen co-founded Impact Giving, a women’s collective giving organization, dedicated to having 1,000 women collectively award $1 million per year to non-profits organizations locally and globally. That same year, Karen joined the Board of The Laguna Dance Festival, a unique company bringing world-class dance to the small stage venue. Karen is currently enjoying her work with The Laguna Dance Festival and Impact Giving, and spending time with her grand-twins.
Deb Schlesinger, Secretary – always loved ballet. She studied dance and musical theater from childhood until she had her son at age 30. To be pragmatic, Deb formally studied something “practical” in the event her musical, dancing and acting career did not materialize. Alas, it did not, and she spent the next twenty-five years in a career involving various aspects of healthcare.
Deb and her husband Rob are active supporters of arts and music. The Schlesingers are members of the Laguna College of Art and Design’s Presidents Council, were members of the Laguna Art Museum’s Advisory Circle and supporters of Laguna Beach Live!, where Rob currently serves as a member of the board of directors. Deb was also a member of the Laguna Playhouse Women as well as serving as the president and member of the board of the Southern California Association of Healthcare Risk Management. Deb and her husband Rob live in Laguna Beach with their cat Fenway. They love to travel, and have grown children and grandchildren scattered in various places from the east to west coasts. Deb is excited to be a part of the Laguna Dance Festival and looks forward to supporting dance performance in Laguna Beach..
Ward Bukofsky, Treasurer – Ward has over 40 years experience as a practicing CPA and business executive, including over 15 years as a senior partner in a Beverly Hills CPA firm and the large regional firm into which it merged; and eight years as COO/CEO of a boutique financial services firm in Irvine. He currently works exclusively with one family as their “financial consigliere” overseeing all aspects of their financial lives.
Mari Bukofsky began dancing at an early age. She graduated from the UCLA dance program with a B.A. in choreography. Having an interest in psychology and the therapeutic aspects of dance she obtained her masters degree in Dance/Movement Therapy and went on to practice in clinical and residential settings. Mari then obtained an MFT before establishing a private practice. She continues to mentor and supervise Dance/Movement Therapy students.
Mari and her husband Ward have raised two daughters and they are now thrilled to have become grandparents. After moving to Laguna Beach in 2008, Mari has enjoyed the practice of yoga, the care of canines and travel. She is excited to leap from her love of dance to being a part of the Laguna Dance Festival board.
Kathy Conway – Kathy and her husband Michael have lived and worked in Laguna Beach for 35 years. They have a CPA firm and Kathy ‘s clients are many local businesses. They have 4 children, 8 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren. They love sports, especially tennis and the Lakers, her rose garden and traveling especially to Big Sur and New York City.
She was the treasurer of Laguna Art Museum for 12 years, chamber of commerce for nine years, the Woman’s Club and various other wonderful non-profits. For the past few years she have really enjoyed being part of the Laguna Dance Festival.
She has had the pleasure of experiencing the Joffrey Ballet, ABT, City Ballet, Complexions, and many other dance Companies. It is so exciting to be able to bring them to Laguna Beach.
Mary Dawe, a California native, has lived in Laguna Beach with her husband Michael, an attorney, for forty years. A recently retired speech pathologist, she is a lover of dance, particularly contemporary and modern ballet. She is a past board member of School Power and long time member of the National Charity League. She is a welcome addition to the Board.
Sue Freeman moved to Laguna Beach from Atlanta, Georgia over 30 years ago where she founded the first singles magazine. She and her husband, John were very involved in local philanthropy and she served on the board of the Friendship Shelter. Sue was in the vacation rental business for many years. She is a yoga enthusiast, a patron of the arts, loves to travel and spends lots of time with her four kids, seven grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Stacy Hagen has been involved in dance her entire life. She danced from a very young age through college at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo where shestudied Business and Accounting. After several years with KPMG in San Jose, she started a financial consulting practice then spent some years working from home while raising her two daughters. She is currently the owner of a dance studio in Rancho Santa Margarita, South County Dance, Stacy is also a partner in an app company, Dance Apps Inc. Using her financial background, Stacy is a national volunteer for her sorority, Sigma Kappa, as the West Coast Finance Coordinator. She thoroughly enjoys mentoring the next generation of female leaders. A lifelong lover of dance, Stacy is thrilled to be supporting dance and dance education as a Board member of Laguna Dance Festival.
Ryan Kingslien – Artist, motivational coach, and teacher, Ryan is the founder of the first online school for digital arts: Zbrushworkshops and Uartsy. He’s an enthusiastic lifelong learner and shares his passions in webinars, writings and video lessons, while also devoting time to digital art and programming. Ryan’s studio is on Coast Hwy in Laguna Beach.
Nancy Meyer is active in many non-profits including Laguna Dance Festival, United Way of Orange County and the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine at UCI. Bringing the arts to the people of Orange County has been one of her primary passions for many years. Nancy is a partner of Buttoned Up, Inc., a company that produces a line of products for getting all parts of your life organized. She lives in Laguna Beach with her husband Michael, where they raised their four children.
Amanda Paraquellos is an attorney, mother of two and a ballerina in her own right. She was accepted to dance with the Joffrey out of high school but the timing was not right so she went on to college at the University of Michigan and then attended the University of Iowa College of Law. She is now a Laguna Beach resident, partner in the law firm of Sugg & Paracuellos, LLP and still takes two ballet classes per week. She brings to the Board 20 years of experience as a business lawyer as well as her enthusiasm and extensive knowledge of dance.
Robbie Prepas has a passion for dance and has been a supporter of Laguna Dance Festival for years. A Nurse Practitioner and Nurse midwife, when not delivering babies, Robbie is most likely hiking, doing yoga, playing with her four grandchildren or walking her dog Hanna on the beach. Robbie and her husband Steve, an ophthalmologist, founded a medical foundation called Project Repair the World. For years now they have been traveling around the world to developing countries performing free eye surgeries. Robbie is also a member of the Disaster Medical Assistance Team that deploys to areas stricken by natural disasters. She has served in Haiti, Texas after Katrina, and most recently spent 2 weeks working in New York after Hurricane Sandy.
Edie Tonkon – has experience fundraising for several organizations: SchoolPower, Friendship Shelter, Jewish Family Services as well as the Laguna Playhouse where she has served on the board. Presently she is on the board of the Kevin Armstrong Foundation, which sets up extracurricular sports programs for the middle schools in Santa Ana. Additionally she is the Trustee of the Melvin J. Tonkon Memorial Scholarship for Laguna Beach High School. Ms. Tonkon is also a past teacher and trained as a career counselor for college.
Joy Dittberner, Executive Director moved to Laguna Beach in 1999 with her husband Tom and quickly became involved in the community. For eight years she served on the Board of Friendship Shelter, a homeless shelter for adults. She spent a year as a docent at the Marine Mammal Center sharing all she knows about pennipeds with visitors. Joy functioned as Volunteer Coordinator for the Laguna Dance Festival for four years prior to joining the board. Joy brings more than twenty years of experience in business development, marketing, sales and professional relations working in the pharmaceutical industry to the table. She loves yoga, travel, hiking and scuba diving. She is excited and honored to be involved with the Festival as it continues to bring world class dance to Laguna Beach. She is a graduate of UCSB in Biology and earned an MBA from the University of Utah.
Deena Harros, Operations Manager – joins LDF as Operations Manager, a position she also holds for Laguna’s First Thursdays Art Walk. Deena is also social media marketing coordinator for Crystal Cove Alliance. In her spare time, she is principal and designer of Dandelion, a handmade jewelry and accessories business. A graduate of California State University, Fullerton, with a degree in Business Administration, Deena brings excellent management and technology skills to help keep the festival back office operating at peak efficiency.