Theater & Dance

Choreography by: Michael Lowe and Dennis Nahat
Produced by: Menlowe Ballet
When: 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. November 8 and 15; 2 p.m. November 9, 2014
Where: Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, 555 Middlefield Road, Atherton, California
Tickets: $28-$49; visit or call 800-595-4849

Michael Lowe
Teru Takahashi / Menlowe Ballet
Menlowe Ballet founder Michael Lowe, right, at rehearsal.
Admirable goal: Making dance part of the community
Menlowe Ballet brings its refreshing thinking to its home town
October 30, 2014

Menlowe Ballet is rehearsing for its fall season program, "Legend," a widely accessible program for audiences of all ages, which will be performed at the Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center on November 8, 9 and 15, 2014.

One of the newer dance companies on the San Francisco Peninsula, the group takes its name from Menlo Park, where it is based, and the last name of its founder and artistic director, Michael Lowe.

Lowe, born and raised in the Bay Area, has danced with a number of companies in California, including Oakland Ballet, as well as the North Dakota Ballet and the Old Souls New Shoes Dance Company with Mark Morris.

Menlowe Ballet performs in various styles; classical as well as contemporary ballet, and what Lowe refers to as "cultural ballets," which are pieces that borrow storylines, music, costumes, and movement motifs from different cultural traditions.

Lisa Shiveley, executive director of Menlowe Ballet, has known Lowe since she was a young dancer in the East Bay and took classes from him. They became friends, and in 2011 when Lowe decided to form a company, she readily agreed to take on the business side of the project.

Shiveley says Lowe likes to describe himself as the only artistic director with a Mohawk. Despite the unconventional look, the choreographer has a calm, wise presence, and at 60 years old, he is a well-known figure in the Bay Area dance scene.

The company's aim, says Shiveley, is to incorporate the arts into the local culture the way sports have. The troupe cultivates a diverse audience, from all age groups and sectors of the community. They perform in the local theater, sharing the events calendar with high school football and area music groups. They donate entire performances to special audiences, such as the elderly and schoolchildren.

In addition to directing and choreographing for his company, Lowe teaches at Menlo Park Academy of Dance, which has several large, airy studios that also serve as rehearsal space Menlowe Ballet. He often recruits students from the school to perform with Menlowe Ballet.

"The students are used well in the pieces, not just in gratuitous little parts," says Shiveley, adding that they greatly benefit from being involved in a professional theater experience.

At the smallish Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center, the proximity of the audience to the performers allows for the emotional involvement of the viewer, says Shiveley. She hopes that intimacy, accessibility, and a sense of being part of the community will be a winning combination for the young company. "We have an opportunity to create a much larger audience if we change the expectation of what they're going to experience," she says.

Shiveley likes to be part of the audience at the company's shows, and mingles with the crowd during intermission to hear their comments.

"I feel so proud to be part of this. People are so moved," she says, somewhat emotionally. "They feel connected to people around them and to their own humanity."

Menlowe Ballet performs two seasons per year, and employs about 15 dancers per season, the majority of whom are local. Like many small companies, it's an ensemble, with no particular hierarchy among the dancers. They have a small budget, so little efficiencies are important. Sometimes Shiveley puts dancers up in her own home overnight during the rehearsal season, if they have a long commute.

The current season, "Legend," includes two ballets choreographed by Lowe. The first, "Plague," is a contemporary ballet that grew out of Lowe's experience when his mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The closing piece in the program will be the world premiere of "Legend of the Seven Suns," a dance adaptation of a Mongolian folktale.

Between the Lowe ballets will be a classical divertissement-style piece called "In Concert," choreographed by Dennis Nahat. A former dancer with Joffrey Ballet and American Ballet Theater, Nahat was the artistic director of Ballet San Jose (formerly Cleveland San Jose Ballet) for almost 30 years.

The variety and accessibility of the program make this a great show for seasoned dance watchers and novices. alike. Bring your family — there is a matinee performance available on each of the three scheduled dates.

Email Virginia Bock at

Dennis Nahat
John Gerbetz / Menlowe Ballet
Dennis Nahat at the rehearsal of his "In Concert" with Menlowe Ballet dancers.