Shery Gilbert, Artistic Director
Ms. Gilbert, began her training in Los Angeles at the Lichine Studio under the tutelage of Irena Kosmouska, later moving to Long Beach Ballet and eventually to the Orange County Ballet under the direction of Michael Panieff. While recovering from knee surgery, she obtained a BFA at the University of California, Irvine. It was there that she met Antony Tudor, the associate director of the American Ballet Theatre. Mr. Tudor became her mentor and changed the way she approached Classical Ballet. Ms. Gilbert became a member of Ballet Nacional de Panama. She continued to study with Jillana, former NYCB Principal and Wilhelm Burmann in New York City. In addition to founding Laguna Dance Theatre and Laguna Ballet, she continues to actively coach dancers of the New York City Ballet, Miami City Ballet and Nevada Ballet Theatre. Ms. Gilbert is also a member of the caDance Advisory Board and sponsor of the caDance Festival 2005 & 2006.
Katherine Rochon-Thomas, Ballet
Katherine is an alumna of Laguna Ballet, where she trained under Shery Gilbert. She continued her training at SAB, PNB, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and Dallas Fort Worth as a scholarship student and trainee. Katherine developed an interest in The Pilates Method and studied and taught under Master teachers Diane Diefenderfer and Ron Fletcher. In addition to running FyneLine Body Conditioning, Katherine continued to teach and perform throughout Orange County and Colorado for Defores, Ballet Pacifica, The Crystal Cathedral and Belliston Ballet Academy. In 2015, Katherine returned to Laguna Dance Theatre as a teacher and choreographer; and currently directs The Sugar Plum Tea for Laguna Ballet.
Nicole Douglas- Ballet
Nicole grew up in Massachusetts and trained with Walnut Hill School for the Arts. She danced with Colorado Ballet’s Studio Company for two years performing in Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Peter Pan, and Contemporary Repertoire. After recovering from a hip injury, she joined Ballet Magnificat’s trainee program in Jackson, Mississippi. In 2010 she began teaching in Massachusetts & Mississippi. Nicole Joined LDT in 2017.
Sara Windal, Ballet
An Orange County native, Sara trained in Orange County and on full scholarship at Stanley Holden Dance Center in LA. She attended summer intensives in San Francisco Ballet, Paris, France, and Pacific Northwest Ballet and studied privately with Rebecca Wright and Patrick Frantz. She was awarded a Full scholarship to Pacific Northwest Ballet School and performed with the Company in Symphony in C, Midsummer’s Nights Dream, Nutcracker, Brahms Schoenberg and a world premier ballet by Kent Stowell. She joined Hartford Ballet as an apprentice and then spent many years as a Principal dancer with Anaheim Ballet. Sara performed lead dance roles locally in The Glory of Christmas, West Side Story, and Pippin and was featured in an Oingo Boingo MTV music video. Sara graduated from UCLA with BA in English Literature and did graduate work in New Testament studies. She has been teaching ballet since 2000 and has been teaching at LDT since 2006.
Sven Toorvald, Ballet
Sven Toorvald is an alumnus of Westside Ballet who has danced with Houston Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Company. Sven is also an alumnus of AFT, the American Film Institute. His highly-regarded documentary, The Ballerina Interviews, premiered on PBS in November 2003.
Ellen Cretti, Pre-Ballet/Tap/Jazz
Mrs. Cretti is a former Manhattan Rockette who toured cross-country with Bob Newhart, Ricky Nelson, The Four Seasons, and the New Christy Minstrells. Ellen has choreographed and performed in numerous musical and dance productions including Rosie in Bye Bye Byrdie, The Boyfriend, Mame. South Pacific, Oklahoma. She played the lead roles in original musical productions of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella at the PAF Playhouse in New York. She performed in Guys and Dolls under the direction of Brian Dennehy. She trained in musical theatre and assisted in classes at Hurbert Berghof Studio in New York City. She was the Founder/Director of the Hillside Studio, for Dance and Drama in Huntington, New York for ten years. She taught at the Royal Dance Center in Florida from 1985-1999. Ellen relocated to California and has been with Laguna Dance Theatre for fourteen years. She has a gift to teach preschoolers and has successfully developed a dynamic children’s dance program here at LDT.
Stephanie Dai is a dancer, freelance artist, and recent graduate of the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance’s inaugural BFA class. Trained in the improvisational technologies of William Forsythe, Stephanie currently plays with marrying the aesthetics of contemporary and hip hop into a rich, personal style. Her versatility and distinct improvisation work has allowed her to headline events with the hip-hop crew, Miniotics, be featured in a UNIQLO commercial directed by Solange Knowles, and perform as a soloist in the original works of Bill T. Jones and Sonya Tayeh. Stephanie hopes to continue freelancing while combining her love for movement with other passions such as visual media and pedagogical research to create interdisciplinary works of art.
Emily Ortega- Lyrical, Jazz
Emily Ortega’s love for dance started at the young age of 3. Inspired by her family’s history of dance, she knew it was something she wanted to pursue. Emily is trained in all styles of dance. She has competed and won multiple titles at regional and national competitions. Emily is currently pursuing her professional career as a dancer with the Movement Talent Agency and is consistently training with the industries top choreographers. Emily’s desire for teaching began around the age of 16 while assisting classes. Sharing her passion with students and watching them grow and evolve into the dancers they aspire to be is what motivates Emily to present the best to her students.
Emily began her training at Laguna Ballet under the direction of Shery Gilbert at the age of six. She attended summer intensives at Boston Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. While dancing at Laguna Ballet, she performed many leading roles including the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker and Odette in Swan Lake. She is Body Arts & Sciences International (BASI) certified in Pilates. Emily earned her BS in Kinesiology from California State University, Fullerton and will graduate from Chapman University with a Doctorate in Physical Therapy in 2021.
Marisa Fiore-Severen-Social Media & Website
Marisa began her training at LDT in 1987 and received a BA in Theatre and Dance with an emphasis in Dance Performance from Chapman University. She is also certified by the American Ballet Theatre in the Primary through Level 5. Marisa is a Body Arts & Sciences International (BASI) certified Pilates instructor with a specialization certification in dance from BASI and founder of Laguna Corps Pilates at Laguna Dance Theatre in 2006. Marisa’s repertoire includes leading roles in Laguna Ballet’s The Nutcracker, Coppelia, and other classical ballets along with original works by Shery Gilbert. Marisa has been an assistant choreographer for Laguna Ballet’s productions since 2003. Marisa’s family relocated to Florida in early 2019 and she will continue working remotely managing LDTs Social Media/Website, and guest teaching for Laguna Ballet