Cynthia Coughlin - A Central West Ballet Leader
Words of Appreciation
By René Daveluy
Cynthia Coughlin is retiring after over 12 years of strong leadership as Executive Director of Central West Ballet. I have had the pleasure of working with her on many important achievements during her tenure. In my thirty three years in the world of dance, having had the opportunity to learn from many dance pioneers, I got a close up look at the inner workings of ballet companies, bookings, artistic matters and managerial departments.
The daily operations of ballet companies largely function through the leadership of two entities; the artistic and executive directors. This relationship is often depicted as dream versus reality. In fact, there is much more involved than meets the eye. Problem solving and challenges due to funding and deadlines are what drives the discussions. Depending on the geography of the company, its community and population base, the executive and artistic directors will compose with what is in front of them, and what can be achieved while balancing the status of the company and its budgetary responsibilities. Sometimes you have to weather through difficult financial situations. At other times you can make a move and take a risk. Both directors are the sum of their parts. Cynthia Coughlin’s legacy will live among those who took Central West Ballet from a youthful and energetic ballet company to an emerging professional quality institution.
As a close witness to her leadership, I can say that Cynthia honestly shared with everyone in our community her passion for the company, for its dancers and its future dreams. Her stance as an ambassador for Central West was elegant, tasteful, and forceful when needed. She drove a hard line with the finances, yet in times of need, would generously find ways of providing the resources to achieve the projects at hand. This is because she held the company close to her heart.
Together, we enabled Central West Ballet to take the chance of standing on its own. Without Cindi’s valiant and forward thinking, her ability to react quickly and her willingness to create an environment in which we could operate (thus where the company could exercise its path to a new unprecedented vision), Central West Ballet might very well have missed out on important opportunities. We found many avenues that were positive and productive. We were able to make a greater difference for so many throughout the community.
It took years to achieve important milestones for the company. New studios, the creation of a new Academy, finding momentum and grant opportunities. Rolling with the punches, yes, their were many. That’s when Cynthia showed her skillful social qualities, smooth diplomatic attitude and connective capability. Cynthia has a natural charisma, great manners, but she also has a tough outer shell. She is someone who can command a meeting, handle a crisis, and yes, put together a tasteful and important event.
It is with a gratefulness for everything that she brought to the company that I write these words, not only for myself, but for many who worked closely with her. Cynthia will always hold a special place and true appreciation in our hearts.
- René Daveluy, Artistic Director
History in the Central Valley
Central West Ballet's 30th Anniversary Gala was held on February 8 and this special evening of dance was a chance for everyone to enjoy a wonderful look at the evolution of the Company since its inception in 1987. It was also a great time for directors René Daveluy and Leslie Ann Larson to celebrate the work done under their tenure since 2004.
"Leslie and I were at the beginning of our forties when we took on leadership of the Company 13 years ago and this adventure was in many ways the most wonderful of our dance careers". Daveluy and Larson say they have witnessed many superb moments during the development of Central West Ballet as it became a resident company of the Gallo Center for the Arts. "We started in the high school system", Daveluy goes on to say, "back then, it really was a community effort to get everything done with the dedication of parents, volunteers and the beautiful creativity of many seamstresses, carpenters and entire families to get the shows produced".
Daveluy says the Gallo Center changed everything in 2007. "The arrival of the Gallo Center challenged everyone to step up to the next level, including Central West Ballet", he goes on to explain, "however, with Central West, the advantages were that some pioneering elements, such as discipline and a well organized system helped in making the transition to the Gallo Center". Daveluy says the system Larson and he inherited had a good foundation. "With the visionary work of Founding Artistic Director Gretchen Vogelzang and Founder Juline Schmitz, there was common ground for a solid vision, and setting up the company to evolve further into the future". Daveluy adds that the work of Coleen Patterson as one of the subsequent Artistic Directors of Central West Ballet maintained the crucial discipline needed in keeping the company moving forward. "Coleen was organized and dedicated to every aspect of the company". In their years working with CWB's Board and Executives, Daveluy and Larson say they are grateful to many exceptional individuals and the visionary work of CWB Board Presidents Anne Porteous, Ann Endsley, Sandra Cash and through the entire time, Hugh Rose III, who has given his support in all aspects to keep the company going. "We have been graced with so many dedicated board members who have given their time, money and resources from one fundraiser to the next, it is astonishing". Daveluy also says his relationship with Executive Director Cynthia Coughlin has produced many memorable and significant seasons for CWB. "With Cynthia, we have seen many projects come to life; a very successful two year run of a James Irvine Grant for Dance Initiative, an Academy of Dance, a new relationship with the Grand Theatre Center for the Arts in Tracy and continued solid seasons at the Gallo Center".
Daveluy points out that the group of dancers that started under his tenure had special aptitudes to realize the goal of a professional company. "They were talented, feisty, charismatic and passionate", he goes on to say, "what Leslie and I did is take all the raw elements, focused these with increased professional work and added industry standard costumes and resources to the already wonderful local work". Daveluy says he produced some of his best ballets with the dancers of Central West in those early years. "It was inspiring for Leslie and I and an exciting time for the dancers, everything felt new and unexpected, a rollercoaster ride every season", he says, "everyone was delighted to experience something special at each turn, it was magical, thrilling and it seemed there was no end to the adventure". Daveluy says he looks back at this time period with admiration for the headlining performers who developed under his directorship, "they were and still are amazing and unique".
Professional Goals - Caniparoli and Balanchine
Central West Ballet has risen to professional levels under Daveluy and Larson. Their contacts with other seasoned professionals brought in experience from the field to propel the company forward. Over the years, some illustrious names in the world of dance helped in nurturing the dancers. It became natural to see John Hart CBE in rehearsal coaching the dancers. Jeffrey Rogers, former Principal Dancer of Ballet West came to Modesto to teach, coach and train the dancers in everything from stagecraft to theatrical fencing. Jan Clark Fugit, a long time professional and master teacher coached, taught and choreographed on the dancers. Eventually Wendy Van Dyck of San Francisco Ballet and Zippora Karz of the New York City Ballet came in as re-stagers.
Daveluy says two choreographers had a significant impact on the Company through the last decade. "My most significant move was to bring in ballets by Val Caniparoli and George Balanchine to the company", he goes on to explain, "one evening at the office, I took the phone and called Val to ask if he would let us dance one of his choreographies. He was most gracious and sent me a few ballets on DVD to choose from. I took the hardest, a ballet entitled Violin, a beautiful piece with intricate Pas de Deux moves and tough ensemble sections. It was a pivotal moment in changing the dancers' perspective and giving the company a new path". Central West Ballet presented Caniparoli's Violin, then a work for women entitled Songs and a trio titled Suite from 2010 to 2012.
From 2013 to 2015, Daveluy brought in Balanchine ballets, starting with an excerpt from Serenade, a milestone for Central West Ballet. "I contacted the Balanchine Trust and we established a relationship that enabled us to grow the company's artistic profile even further". The company went on to perform Balanchine's Valse Fantaisie and the concert version of Who Cares? In recent years Ronn Guidi, Founding Artistic Director of the Oakland Ballet lended his support and coached the dancers in his choreography Trois Gymnopédies.
An Ongoing Spirit
In a tough economy and competitive environment, Daveluy has worked tirelessly to keep Central West Ballet's seasons original and exciting. His work with Executive Director Cynthia Coughlin and CWB's Board of Directors over the years has weathered many storms and situations. "I have always kept a belief in Central West Ballet's future as a professional entity", Daveluy goes on to say, "with the growing responsibility of keeping the Company's budget balanced, we shifted some of our attention to building a dance academy to offer quality training to students from all around the Central Valley and opening our own pipeline to channel those who wish to become Central West members down the line. We have kept our commitment in financially helping the dancers, and have found new projects to make the company''s repertoire unique and creative".
Daveluy says the company has gone through wonderful changes and as always, has a bright future ahead, "Central West Ballet is a unique company. It isn't a copycat. It's an original. It has a maverick quality to it. The dancing is genuine, the passion is always there and the dancers are magical. I want to see Centra West Ballet keep its uniqueness and shoot for the stars, aligned and all".