Gymnastics coach choreographs water dances for brand spanking new SeaWorld present
UCLA women’s gymnastic coach Valorie Kondos-Field loves to dance.
That’s not exactly the professional and athletic background you’d expect from a woman who led the women’s gymnastics team to seven NCAA titles.
“I’ve always liked gymnastics, but dance is my passion,” Valorie Kondos-Field said by email from Washington, D.C., where she was attending meetings with Senate and congressional members and staff on the need for change in the culture of USA gymnastics, specifically regarding sexual and other abuses.
Her love of dance started at the age of 7 when she was diagnosed with scoliosis. Doctors told her that dancing would help in correcting her curved spine, so she decided to study ballet.
“I had to get into ballet because it would be the best thing for my back,” she said. “I didn’t necessarily love ballet, but I love to dance.”
She trained and started dancing professionally at the age of 12 with the Sacramento Ballet and the Capital City Ballet in Sacramento, her hometown.
“I got paid to dance when I was 12,” she said. “I got paid for the Nutcracker season and several others. I didn’t make a living at it but I was getting paid for it.”
At 22, she joined the Washington Ballet company in D.C., and as she was about to begin rehearsals for her first season, she learned of a job opening on UCLA’s gymnastics team for a dance coach. It was not long before she did her bourrée into college gymnastics.
In 1982, she was given a full scholarship to work as the gymnastics and dance coach for the women’s team. About eight years later, she called into the athletic director’s office and was told that some changes in the department were on the horizon — they wanted her to be the new head coach.
“You realize I don’t understand anything about gymnastics,” she said. “We trust you and we understand that, and you’ll figure out the rest.
“OK,” she said.
Kondos-Field and dance may have parted ways for a while, but in 1991, their paths crossed once again when she received a phone call from a producer at SeaWorld San Diego. He wanted to know if she knew how he could hire black gymnasts for a show he was doing in Germany.
“I know two great black gymnasts,” she said. “I asked him who was choreographing it. He said he didn’t have anyone yet, so I gave him my credentials and he hired me for that show and the SeaWorld show he was producing for the following year.”
She has choreographed about eight shows for SeaWorld, and this is the start of her 28th season with the organization. The current offering is Cirque Electrique, an acrobatic jet ski blade show staged on water. Formerly named Cirque de la Mer, it was one of SeaWorld’s most successful daytime shows.
“The name was changed because all the other shows were at night and featured LED lights, so it went too,” she said. “It was only supposed to last two years. It’s now in its 18th year.”
According to her, the show is absolutely “jaw dropping.”
“I just love it,” she said. “I love being a part of the creative team for all parts of the show — choreography, lighting, costumes, music. I really believe in the work that SeaWorld has done, especially these past 30 years with helping to understand and preserve sea life.
“I know what I can offer SeaWorld is small, but in my small way, I feel that I am lending my talents to helping to bring SeaWorld back to a thriving educational sealife reserve.”
Not only did Kondos-Field reunite with her roots of dance at SeaWorld, she also reunited with Christine “Peng-Peng” Lee, a former UCLA champion gymnast whom she directed in the all-new show, IllumiNight.
“I am truly living my best life,” Lee said.
“She is absolutely electric on stage,” Kondos-Field said. “She opens the show with a killer laser light beam number and transitions into the (DJ) host — rapping, dancing and getting the audience in an energized mood.
“She was born to be a performer on stage.”
SeaWorld’s summer shows
Here are eight illuminating shows, including Cirque Electrique and IllumiNight, happening at SeaWorld San Diego, all part of the summer nighttime extravaganza Electric Ocean.
Cirque Electrique: A captivating and mesmerizing show that features the return of world flyboard champion Jake Orel and the debut performance of Mark Gomez, USBA world freestyle jet ski champion. Dressed in advanced LED suits, aerial performers will bounce, fly in and over the waters of Mission Bay.
IllumiNight: This new nighttime interactive show gets audiences to move to the electrifying pulse of the music while high-flying acrobats, floating sea life and a tribe of dancers perform at this high-energy dance party.
Club Current: DJs spin the hits while deep-sea dwellers rub fins dancing with sea creatures like Manny Ray, Loggerhead, Cora del Fuego and many more ocean-themed characters.
School of Glow: This sea-inspired light installation immerses guests in color and light as waves of fish and bubbles dance to upbeat rhythms.
Sea of Life: Along this pathway, guests will encounter a dazzling display of gigantic schools of fish swimming about to synchronized music.
Atlantis Ignites: The park’s water coaster, Journey to Atlantis, takes thrill-seekers on a 100-foot projection mapping undersea adventure. Riders beware — you may experience an occasional soaking.
Manta re/CHARGED: Ride the ray and feel the rush on this double-launch, adrenaline pumping, roller coaster that features new special effects, colorful lighting and pulsing music.
Laser Reef: SeaWorld’s grand finale caps off the night with a canopy of laser beams that submerge guests below in rays of color, floating sea life and an energetic soundtrack.
Cirque Electrique and IllumiNight
When: Nightly until Aug. 12, and they run weekends-only until Labor Day (Aug. 18-19, 25-26, Sept. 1-3).
Where: SeaWorld San Diego, 500 Sea World Drive, San Diego.
Admission: Online pricing: $59.99 ages 3 and up single-day weekday ticket; $69.99 ages 3 and up single-day ticket any day; children under age 3 are free. Taxes and fees not included in ticket price. On-site tickets: $89.99.
Phone: (619) 222-4732.