She dreamed of dancing with the best. Now she’s in ‘Best of the West’ to inspire others.

When Carolyn Lippert was a young ballet dancer growing up in Fresno, she loved attending Lively Arts Foundation “Best of” events that brought in professionals from the nation’s best ballet companies to perform. Lipper would sit watching in the Saroyan Theatre audience at the world-class artists and think to herself: I can do that. I want to do that.

Now she’s one of them.

Pictured above: A scene from Oakland Ballet’s Luna Mexicana.”

Lippert is one of a strong lineup of professional dancers performing on Sunday, Nov. 4, in “Best of the West,” which features a diverse lineup of offerings from some of the best companies in the state.

And also the entire country, thanks to Lippert. Since 2015 she has danced with American Ballet Theatre, based at New York’s Lincoln Center. She is a member of the company’s Corps de Ballet.

Are you a member of The Munro Review? Win a pair of tickets to ‘Best of the West’

“Every time that Diane (Mosier, artistic director of Lively Arts) brought in professionals, it made me even more sure that was something I wanted for myself,” Lippert says.

She will dance a variation from “Jardin Anime,” which is a scene from the classical ballet “Le Corsaire.” Backing her up as the corps de ballet will be 18 student dancers of the Central California Ballet, representing the Shirley Winters Ballet and the California Arts Academy. The music is vastly familiar to Lippert because the piece is part of the ABT repertoire. But in New York, she dances in the corps. Here she will be in the spotlight.


The best thing? Her little sister, 16-year-old Anna, will be in the corps as well.

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Along with the New York presence, the rest of Sunday’s lineup is devoted to top-notch California companies. One that Mosier is most excited about is Pacific Dance Ballet Theatre, based in Los Angeles. It will perform excerpts from “Gayane” by Aram Khachaturian. Mosier explains:

Natasha Middleton, the director of PDBT, has dancing/performing in her blood. Her father, Andrei Tremaine, is in his 90s and was a past ballet dancer for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. Natasha is the niece of late great dancer/actress Yvonne De Carlo. … “Gayane” is a rarely performed ballet by American companies because of its combination of classical ballet with Armenian folk dance moves. The arms, head and body alignment are out of the box for most classically trained rigid dancers.

Other companies represented are:

• Oakland Ballet, which will perform “Luna Mexicana,” a tribute to Dia de la Muertas.

• Smuin Ballet, which will perform “Fly Me to the Moon.” Also featured is another dancer with Fresno roots, Erin Yarbourgh, who trained and danced locally with Central California Ballet. She went on to dance with Oakland Ballet, then with Smuin Ballet, which is named after the late director of the San Francisco Ballet who formed his own dance company over 20 years ago.

• Milissa Payne Project, which is led by another former Central California Ballet dancer. It’s known for innovative choreography and dancers trained in classical and modern dance.

• Menlowe Ballet, which will perform “Kimono Wednesdays.” Artistic director Michael Lowe has been a Valley favorite for many years. “Michael’s choreography is like watching a moving canvas of art,” Mosier says.

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And then there’s Carolyn Lippert, whose “Le Corsaire” performance is sure to be a highlight.

She was born into a ballet family. If the last name sounds familiar, you’re right: Her mother, Carla Stallings Lippert, has taught at California Arts Academy for years. Carla was a dancer and soloist at American Ballet Theatre for 11 years before going to the Boston Ballet, where she danced for nine years.

Carolyn Lippert backstage at American Ballet Theatre.

For Carolyn, then, there was always ballet. Among her earliest memories are practicing at the old Severance Building before it was remodeled. She started as a bonbon in “The Nutcracker,” working her way up the age-level ladder to bigger roles. She got her first pointe shoes at age 10 — whereupon her mother told her she’d have to choose between ballet and gymnastics. (Who wants to drive to all those lessons?)

By 16 she was off to New York to join the ABT Studio Company in 2011. Stints with the Washington Ballet and as a corps de ballet member of the San Francisco Ballet followed before she returned to ABT in 2015.

“For a while, I moved every year,” she says.

Carolyn is 24 now, and she hasn’t danced as a professional in Fresno — until now.

She’s been on stage at the Saroyan many times in her life, but never as a star.

“I’m excited,” she says. “I just hope to inspire some young dancers just the way I was inspired.”

Show info

‘Best of the West,’ a Lively Arts Foundation presentation, 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 4, Saroyan Theatre. Tickets are $25-$68 with student discounts available.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

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