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 — and get that up-close feeling during the performances — as well as have the opportunity to meet the dancers themselves in an intimate setting!
The Laguna Dance Festival transforms the distant world of stage dance into the proximity of a living room setting, all because of it’s 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 and Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, 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.
Edie Tonkon, Secretary – 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.
Kathy Conway, Treasurer – and her husband Michael have lived and worked in Laguna Beach for over 30 years. They have a CPA firm and include among their clients many local businesses and charitable organizations, including The Laguna Canyon Foundation and The Foundation for the Great Park of Orange County. Among her volunteer activities Kathy has served on the boards of Laguna Art Museum as Treasurer for 11 years, as Treasurer of the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce for nine years, the Treasurer of the Women’s Club, as well as other non-profits and as Treasurer of LDF for the last two years.
Kathy and Michael have four children, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren. They love sports, particularly tennis and the Lakers, her rose garden, and traveling, especially Big Sur and New York City. They have enjoyed watching dance locally and in their travels, like The Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet, and Complexions. She finds it so exciting to be able to bring members of these companies to Laguna Beach each year.
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.
Susan Giusto lives in Laguna Beach with her husband Steve and two daughters, Grace and Cathryn, both of whom participate in dance and the arts. She grew up in Orange County and was involved in the Pageant of the Masters as a child and has supported the arts at local schools since moving to Laguna in 2000. Susan’s also involved with National Charity League, Laguna Presbyterian Church and Chairs the Parent Advisory and Fundraising committees for NANT, a pediatric cancer research consortium based out of Los Angeles. She is the founder of the Friends of Cathryn Fund which supports research and families touched by pediatric cancer. Susan’s an avid runner, hiker and lover of all things Laguna. She’s very excited to be involved with Laguna Dance Festival!
Ilene Glassman moved to Laguna Beach in 2001 and joined the board of the Friendship Shelter where she was Development Chair, Vice Chair/President Elect, Board Chair/President and task force chair. During her ten years on the board, the revenue doubled, the number of professional staff hired tripled and the program effectiveness doubled.
Prior to moving to California, she was involved in The Junior League of Peoria, Project Upgrade, Planned Parenthood and Lakeview Museum in Peoria, Illinois. She has a Bachelor of Music Education degree from Northwestern University and Master of Arts in Leadership in Human Services Administration from Bradley University. She looks forward to watching the Laguna Dance Festival grow in the years to come.
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.
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.
Deb Schlesinger 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.
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 has served on the Board Friendship Shelter, a homeless shelter for adults. Joy functioned as Volunteer Coordinator for the Laguna Dance Festival for four years prior to joining the board. Joy brings twenty-three years of experience in business development, marketing, sales and professional relations working in the pharmaceutical industry. She loves yoga, travel 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.
Michelle Maasz, Operations Manager – As a young girl Michelle aspired to work as an arts advocate. She realized this dream as an undergraduate at University of California, Irvine, interning in several arts management positions. After graduating cum laude in 2014 with a double major in Dance and Art History, Michelle managed events and internal marketing for the UCI School of Humanities. Michelle went on to work for several Southern California dance organizations while teaching ballet at studios throughout Orange and San Diego county. Michelle first interned for the Laguna Dance Festival in 2013, and is excited to rejoin the organization in her new role as Operations Manager.