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Ballet troupe’s founder, artistic director to retire after 15 years

By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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“The Nutcracker” will be Pat Colgate’s last show as artistic director of the Placer Theatre Ballet, a company she founded 15 years ago. Colgate and a group of parents formed the company after several successful performances of “The Nutcracker,” and over the years it has formed into an opportunity for hundreds of dancers to shine in Placer County. As artistic director, Colgate has had her hands in every aspect, from directing and finding music to spending her spare time sewing costumes. “The first one I did, I made all the costumes,” Colgate said of the first “Nutcracker” performance. “I made them from things I found at thrift stores. I cut down wedding dresses and gowns for tutus and formal dresses for the youngsters in the wedding scene.” Now “The Nutcracker” features more than 100 dancers in an array of colorful costumes, and several years in the company added a spring show to its season. “She just has an incredible background and has brought so much to Placer Theatre Ballet,” said Heather Atherton, whose daughter takes ballet classes from Colgate. That experience consists of 50 years of professional dancing, beginning with two years in the Boston Ballet and then a role in “Hit the Deck” in New York City when Colgate was only 16 years old. She was called to audition, and she and her family knew it was an opportunity not to be missed. She toured in the show with Gene Nelson and then returned to her family, who by then had moved to San Francisco, to finish high school. Colgate opened her own dance studio in San Francisco and danced with a company in the Bay Area until 1995, when she moved to Rocklin. Some of her favorite productions include “A Chorus Line,” “Follies, “No, No Nanette” and “Good News.” Since founding Placer Theatre Ballet, Colgate has directed every “Nutcracker” performance for 14 years, except for one when she took time off to have both hips replaced. She also directed the spring shows, including “Snow White,” “Cinderella” and “Alice in Wonderland.” She has even danced with the company when needed, such as when a stepsister was ill and couldn’t make it to a performance of “Cinderella.” “She’s amazing,” said 12-year-old Ashley Marvin of Lincoln, who is one of two girls playing Clara in this year’s holiday show. “Instead of correcting something, she can really give you something to thrive on.” This year, Placer Theatre Ballet board president Shea Wing took on directing “Coppélia,” a comic ballet, after Colgate decided to do only the winter show and teach private lessons. An accomplished ballet dancer himself, Wing has been involved with the Placer troupes for about five years, helping out backstage and performing onstage when needed. He’ll step into a new role in 2012, leading the company as artistic director. “We’re transitioning into great hands,” Atherton said. “I thought maybe he wouldn’t have the time,” Colgate said, “but he did take on the responsibility, and I thought, ‘Wow, he’s going to do a fantastic job. He really is.’ He loves it as much as I do.” Wing, a Colfax resident, attended the San Diego School of Performing Arts and United States International University, and taught ballet in Southern California before moving to Placer County 12 years ago. He met his wife, Brooke, in dance class when they were 10 years old. The couple has three children – two boys and a girl. “I’m very honored that I was chosen,” Wing said. “I just hope that I can fill Pat’s shoes, so to speak. I know I’ll never be able to do that, but I want to carry on her vision and I’m thrilled to have the opportunity.” As artistic director, Wing will oversee direction of the entire organization, including producing and directing or finding directors for shows, planning seasons and making sure the company stays true to its mission of being a pre-professional company for young dancers. Wing is involved in this year’s “Nutcracker,” playing the role of the Snow King. While he and other adult performers are willing to step in as needed, he said, the company’s focus will always remain on the children. “We have dancers who have never done a performance in their lives to dancers who are about to step into professional companies,” Wing said. “I want to give everybody who really wants to be involved an artistic outlet, a place to perform.” As Wing takes over artistic direction of Placer Theatre Ballet, Colgate will focus on spending time with her family and teaching in Roseville, where she said her nine dance classes keep her happily semi-retired. She said that although it’s time to move on, she’ll miss the troupe, especially the child dancers. “I think that’s why I’ve stayed in this for so many years,” Colgate said. “The joy on those kids’ faces when they’re performing – it’s absolutely amazing. It is so rewarding.” Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at krissik@goldcountrymedia.com.