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Blankenship Ballet Company of Venice: Same name, different location

May 14, 2009 |  1:47 pm

5.30.09 Bertha Suarez Blankenshiip & Raydel Caceres Due to a neighborhood dispute over parking and crowd control at its former digs in a long-unused portion of a Christian Science Church in Venice, the Blankenship Ballet Company of Venice has left the Westside and taken up residence downtown at Vibiana

The company, which moved into the 1905 structure owned by the Venice church in 2007 and last performed there in January, is continuing its tradition of occupying historic religious spaces by planning to perform at Vibiana, a multi-use venue that occupies the former St. Vibiana's Cathedral.

The Spanish-Baroque structure, built in 1876, was severely damaged in the 1994 Northridge quake and became the center of a preservation battle when the Catholic archdiocese threatened to raze the building. It was reopened in 2005 as a venue for performances and events.

The ballet troupe isn't Vibiana's first "resident" company, exactly; all rehearsals are temporarily taking place in rented space at the Latino Theater Company headquarters in the Los Angeles Theater Center (LATC) nearby at 514 S. Spring St. And the dance company so far has scheduled only its first performance at Vibiana, one of Blankenship's occasional Cuban Ballet Extravaganza evenings featuring former dancers from Ballet Nacional de Cuba and Pro Danza de Cuba. That performance will be May 30.  

But both Mark Blankenship — who founded the company with his wife, Cuban ballerina Bertha Suarez Blankenship, to showcase the bravura Cuban performing style — and Vibiana spokeswoman Anika Warden say they are looking forward to a long partnership. Warden said that the two parties are discussing a bimonthly performance calendar and called the venue's first ballet performances "a driving factor in creating our performing arts base." 

The Vibiana space can accommodate up to 1,000 audience members, rather than the few hundred that could pack into the dance company space inside the Christian Science Church, and downtown has more nearby parking lots available than in the former Venice neighborhood. Mark Blankenship says the plan is to also offer "reasonably priced" valet parking for the May 30 performance. And after the show, audiences will be able to party with the dancers on the patio with live Cuban music and Cuban food.

But, despite being markedly farther from the beach, the company will still be the Blankenship Ballet of Venice for the foreseeable future, says Mark Blankenship. He refuses to focus on what he calls a "banal dispute" with the Venice locals and the church and cites the enthusiasm of many in the Venice community when Blankenship Ballet opened its doors there in 2007. Plus, he adds, the company is still without a permanent space to reestablish its community dance programs. "Who knows? That space could be in Venice," he says.

— Diane Haithman

Photo: Bertha Suarez Blankenship and Raydel Caceres at Vibiana. Credit: David Paul