Dancers charm entertainment residents

Dancers with the Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Society performed at the Motion Picture and Television Fund retirement home in Calabasas recently as part of its outreach program. Photo by Betty Bailey / TMT

The Malibu Ballet and Performing Arts Society is known for its outreach work, bringing dance and musical performances to people who might otherwise not have an opportunity to enjoy the arts. Last month, the ballet society’s dancers and musicians gained a new audience at the Motion Picture and Television Fund Retirement Home in Calabasas.

About 100 residents gathered in two venues at the retirement home for the June 23 performance. They watched as dancers from Malibu Civic Ballet, directed by JoAnna Jarvis, and the jazz company D-Gen, directed by Marisa Grima, performed pieces they’ve worked on during the year. The musical theater company, Centre Stage, headed by Diane Linder, added vocal and instrumental acts to the event, including a piano concert by 13-year-old Nathan Ben Yehuda.

“I just loved it,” said MPTF resident Joan Tannen. “They were all so talented and there was sort of an accomplished charm about them.”

“Absolutely wonderful!” said resident Jo Paris, another MPTF resident and a former contract analyst for Universal Studios. “They were well trained and enjoying themselves. And that 13-year-old pianist has no equal.”

The Motion Picture and Television Fund Retirement Home has been in place for 84 years. Its residents are former members, or spouses, of the entertainment world.

“You have an audience made up entirely of people who are emphatic to the entertainment industry,” said outreach organizer Deborah La Gorce Kramer. “When you walk down the hall to the hospital wing, you walk through photos of people who have lived there. The pictures on the walls are of people who are part of the community of patients.”

One current resident is Ruth Tompson, a former Disney employee of 40 years.

“When I was a youngster, I lived on the same street that the Disneys did,” Tompson said. “I went to Los Feliz Grammar School and I’d pass by their studios on the way. Eventually they invited me in. I sat out in the back with Roy when he would take those pictures of Steamboat Willie and things.”

Later, when Tompson worked for a writing academy, Walt Disney recognized her from those early days and invited her to work for him. She showed her gold retirement ring, fashioned in the shape of Mickey Mouse, to the ballet performers.

“I thought they were great,” Tompson said of the ballet dancers. “I like to watch the kids try. I thought they were all good.”

Performers traveled between a large common room, filled with chairs, and a hospital ward, where residents watched from wheelchairs or hospital beds.

“At first I was a little nervous,” said dancer Nicole Wirht, 17, who performed a ballet for patients in the hospital wing. “I was surprised to see the shape they were in. Some of them were smiling and clapping. Some couldn’t show it physically but you could see it in their eyes and in their faces. You could just tell by the look on their faces that they really appreciated it. It felt good to dance for them.”

Pianist Ben Yehuda also played in both venues.

“When he was in the hospital he was discussing a piece of music by composer Villa Lobos,” Kramer said. ” It turned out that one of the residents in the hospital audience was a personal friend of Villa Lobos.”

A group of five high school seniors was on hand to perform, even though the event was just two days after graduation.

“We didn’t expect any seniors to be there,” Kramer said. “They hadn’t signed up. School was over and they didn’t want to commit to it. They showed up and wanted to have another chance to dance the piece that JoAnna (Jarvis) had choreographed for them.”

Kramer said the residents and the home’s administrators could not have been more gracious.

“They sent thank you notes,” Kramer said. “They appreciated that we made the effort and everyone was so touched by the quality of the performance.”

Kramer said the ballet society is making plans for a holiday performance in December.