Sally Streets, East Bay director emeritus of Berkeley Ballet Theater, received the Isadora Duncan Award for Sustained Achievement Monday night for her work as a dancer, choreographer, instructor and mentor.
“She’s a brilliant artist and a funny woman who has accomplished so much,” said Lauren Jonas, Diablo Ballet Company’s artistic director. “She’s run a dance school. She’s a choreographer. And she works directly with students. While there are a lot of women in dance, there are not a lot of women directors. Sally’s real and approachable, she’s a very natural person with no outside baggage.”
“Sally’s a true master teacher of ballet and a mentor to so many,” said Frank Shawl of Shawl-Anderson Dance Center. “Professional dancers study with her because they can learn from her. She has a great eye. She has the ability to see what a person needs to work on. She can help them change the way they look at dancing.”
“I started ballet about the age of nine with Dorothy Pring in Berkeley,” Streets said. “Once I stepped into that studio, I knew I wanted to be a dancer. That’s were I met Victor Anderson and Anya Linden [now Lady Sainsbury]. She was my best friend as a child. I grew up and joined New York City Ballet and she went back to England and became a ballerina with the Royal Ballet.”
Streets danced briefly in New York, with Mia Slavenska’s Ballet Variante and New York City Ballet, before returning to Berkeley where she married Alexander Nichols. Three children and eight years later Streets returned to dance with Alan Howard’s Pacific Ballet Company and then Ron Guidi’s Oakland Ballet.
In 1979 Streets was asked to teach at Berkeley Ballet Theater. Shortly thereafter the founder left. Streets resuscitated the floundering company and dance school, which has launched numerous performers into the national and international dance scene, including her daughter, Kyra Nichols, principal dancer with New York City Ballet.
Streets also taught at San Francisco Ballet, the Royal Ballet in London and the New York City Ballet.
Streets’ two sons, Robert and Alex, also followed her into the footlights. Robert danced briefly before pursuing a spiritual path; Alex, a lighting and set designer, still works in the business and has won several “Izzys” for his designs.
National dance critic and former dancer Paul Parrish has known Streets for 20 years.
“Sally’s not into ‘pink’ dancing. She’s very much about honest dancing and the efficiency of movement, not the mystique, not that morbid atmosphere that sometimes surrounds ballet,” Parrish said. “She’s one of the great teachers. For a ballet dancer Sally has a huge following in modern dance. She understands both the anatomy and the physics of dance. She requires everything of a dancer, technically, imaginatively, but especially musically.”
“You have to be aware to function as a dancer,” Streets said. “It’s given me a strong will. If I want to do something I think I can, I never think I can’t. It might be foolish at times but —” she trails off laughing.
She has chosen to make her career in the Bay Area. “Some dancers want to go to New York to feel they’re dancing in the big city,” she said. “Some people don’t mind where they dance, they just want to dance. I think a lot of people stay here and dance because they like living in the Bay Area. I went all over the world in my travels with ballet. After all was said and done, I wanted to live here.”