Southern California Ballet’s Martha Leebolt and Toby Batley
Martha Leebolt and Toby Batley are the new artistic directors of Southern California Ballet. / Photo by Bill Cooper
Martha Leebolt and Toby Batley are the new artistic directors of Southern California Ballet. / Photo by Bill Cooper

For most ballet companies across the country, ticket sales from annual performances of “The Nutcracker” account for a large chunk of their operating budgets.

“We live off ticket sales from ‘The Nutcracker’ for the rest of the year,” said Martha Leebolt.

Leebolt and her husband Toby Batley are the new artistic directors of Southern California Ballet. The professional dancers took on their leadership roles in September, when the company’s founding director Sylvia Palmer-Zetler retired after 30 years.

Southern California Ballet’s upcoming performance of “The Nutcracker” will be the duo’s directorial debut. They did a little tightening and streamlining, but because it’s their bread and butter, they didn’t want to fiddle with too much, too fast.

“We haven’t messed around too much with the actual show this year,” Batley said. “We just had so much to do, and it’s so new to us and such a big job.”

Change will come, though. Southern California Ballet will continue as a classical ballet company dedicated to professional performances as well as training kids. But Leebolt and Batley, who’ve performed in ballets internationally, say the company’s shift can be seen in next year’s programming.

In the spring, they’re bringing back “Coppélia,” a fun, lighthearted piece that the company hasn’t performed in 15 years. Eventually, they’d also like to start writing and producing original ballets.

The duo said they’ll also be doing a bigger marketing push next year, working to turn something that’s long been perceived as the company’s biggest weakness – the fact that they’re headquartered in a far-flung venue in Carmel Mountain Ranch – into its biggest strength.

They said people assume they have to see “The Nutcracker” and other ballets at the Civic Theatre or some other fancy downtown venue in order to see world-class performers, and that good shows couldn’t possibly be happening in the suburbs.

“We want to show our face and make sure people know we’re here and that you don’t have to go all the way downtown to see a quality ballet performance,” Leebolt said. “We’re up here, and we’re doing just as good of a job.”

You’re reading the Culture Report, Voice of San Diego’s weekly collection of the region’s cultural news.

Turning a North Park Hotel Into a Giant Art Gallery

Artist Eric Wong is aware of the ongoing issues that plague San Diego’s art scene and stymie its growth.

The lack of serious art collectors in San Diego is one of the biggest complaints that comes up when people ask why the city’s cultural climate isn’t as robust as other places like Los Angeles or New York.

Through a project called Fallen Tree Exhibitions, Wong is working to solve that problem.

On Friday and Saturday, Dec.15-16, dozens of artists and a few galleries will take over more than 20 rooms of the Lafayette Hotel on El Cajon Boulevard in North Park, transforming it into an art alternative art fair called “Hotels/Motels (Unofficial Art Fair 2017).”

James Watts art san diego
Sculptures by San Diego artist James Watts will be showing at the Lafayette Hotel. / Photo courtesy of James Watts

Wong, an artist who’s also married to an artist, said he wants the event to create connections between artists and galleries. He also sees the fair as a fun, accessible intro to San Diego’s cultural scene.

“It’s really important me to broaden cultural patronage, to excite interest in circles that generally don’t have access or are aware of what’s happening in San Diego in the arts,” he said.

Two large arts venues in Barrio Logan closed this year. Wong said using alternative spaces like hotels to show art is one way to keep the city’s art scene alive.

“The idea of pop-up galleries I think is not the solution,” he said. “But it is a step in the right direction that can excite a market and lure in future investors to open galleries and project spaces in the future.”

Puppets for Grown-Ups, a Big Win for Comic Con and More Arts and Culture News

After a year off due to venue issues, Teatro Máscara Mágica is back with its annual holiday performance of “La Pastorela.” This year’s edition will honor Chunky Sanchez, the local musician and Chicano hero who died last year. (Union-Tribune)

• Animal Cracker Conspiracy, a collective of experimental puppeteers, is putting on a show for adults at the Marie Hitchcock Puppet Theater in Balboa Park Friday.

The Urban Collaborative Project, a group that works to improve neighborhoods in southeastern San Diego, is celebrating the grand opening of a community gathering space in Lincoln Park.

Kids paint a mural near the intersection of 50th Street and Imperial Avenue in Lincoln Park. / Photo by Lisa Corsair

•  A jury sided with Comic-Con International in San Diego in a trademark case against Salt Lake Comic Con, which will have to drop “comic con” from its name. (Comic Book Resources)

• The National City City Council voted to restructure its lease with A Reason To Survive, the struggling arts nonprofit. The arts group rents a city-owned building and the new lease will significantly cut its rent.

• IDW’s San Diego Comic Art Gallery is going through some operational changes. (The Beat)

• See the first episode in a new documentary web series about unconventional farmers in San Diego and Baja California.

• Meet the new artist in residence at the Lux Art Institute in Encinitas. (Union-Tribune)

• Holiday tradition alert: Bach Collegium San Diego’s annual performances of “Messiah” is happening Monday.

Check out the new Imperial Beach Library’s mosaic mural.

• It’s your last chance to see boats decorated with holiday lights sail through San Diego Bay this year.

• Get yourself an instant anthology of poetry by San Diegans at Verbatim Books in North Park this week.

• The Museum of Photographic Arts is taking on some big issues like cultural appropriation in a talk this week.

Food, Beer and Booze News

• The San Diego Coffee Network is hosting a cold brew competition Saturday.

• Chula Vista’s Third Avenue is officially a beer destination. (Reader)

The Third Avenue archway in Chula Vista / Photo courtesy of the Third Avenue Village Association

• I’m one of the non-millionaires San Diego Magazine’s Troy Johnson references when he mentions the folks living in Lemon Grove, a neighborhood that is now home to an Italian bistro Johnson calls a hidden gem.

• Hillcrest’s luring folks to shop in the neighborhood by offering martinis and free photos with a naughty Santa.

• Restaurateur Trish Watlington is selling her Red Door restaurant in Mission Hills to focus on food sustainability and education. (Eater)

• Wowza, talk about a ringing endorsement for Born & Raised. The word “ravishing” is used. (Union-Tribune)

• Thorn Brewing Co. is officially open in Barrio Logan. (Reader)

• Cotton candy cocktails sound like something I can get behind. (Union-Tribune)

Kinsee Morlan is engagement editor at Voice of San Diego. Email her at with arts and culture news and tips. Want to recommend this culture newsletter to someone? Share this sign-up link.

Kinsee Morlan was formerly the Engagement Editor at Voice of San Diego and author of the Culture Report. She also managed VOSD’s podcasts and covered...

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