Ballet's Tomorrow

In These Hands—7 Who Are Moving Ballet Forward
Published in the June/July 2009 issue.

Since Pointe debuted 10 years ago, the ballet world has seen many changes. New companies like Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company have altered the choreographic landscape; there’s more knowledge about the physiology of the dancing body; and the classical world has co-opted some ideas from the postmodern dance scene. One can only imagine the transformations that will occur in the next decade, but we’re placing our bets on the following seven dancers, choreographers, teachers, artistic directors and companies. Whether they’re experimenting with movement ideas or taking artistry to the next level, we believe each of them will make an impact on the future of our artform.

Franco De Vita

It’s not easy to impress Franco De Vita, principal of American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, but dancers from all over the world are trying. Why? De Vita handpicks each student who will have the opportunity to train at ABT’s elite institution.

It has taken De Vita and his colleagues four years to build JKO. But perhaps his most important achievement (in collaboration with Raymond Lukens, Kevin McKenzie, Rachel Moore and an advisory committee) has been creating ABT’s National Training Curriculum.

Now, even if you aren’t able to learn from De Vita himself, you can train with an instructor who’s teaching according to the guidelines he helped develop. “We try to teach dance in the most classical, pure way,” De Vita says. “We want to produce dancers with no affectations who are able to switch from The Sleeping Beauty to Forsythe.”

ABT’s Guidelines for Ballet Training incorporate elements of the French, Russian and Italian schools into an age-appropriate, results-based plan. The curriculum also includes ABT Guidelines for Dancer Health, written by an experienced team of experts. ABT’s teacher training course launched in February 2008, and De Vita says “one part of my dream is done—already we have over150 affiliated teachers!” — Kate Lydon


Erid Underwood

His edginess and dynamism keep him in demand for ultramodern work.

Lithe, graceful Royal Ballet soloist Eric Underwood shines in classical roles as a danseur noble with impeccable finesse. But, like all ballet dancers looking for international success today, he can’t simply rest on his classical laurels. He’s developed an edginess and dynamism that keeps in him in high demand for ultramodern work, appearing in six of the last seven new productions by the company at Covent Garden, including the critically acclaimed Chroma and Infra by Wayne McGregor. Underwood views this demand as “lucky,” but concedes that “choreographers may see I’m bringing a different movement quality, or I can interpret what they want into something that they can appreciate.”

Underwood is happiest that this new choreography leads to more roles in the Royal’s classic repertoire, which is why he transferred from ABT in 2006. Cast as the Gaoler in Manon recently, Underwood hopes to dance more MacMillan roles, including Romeo. “I’ve got my fingers crossed” he says, unnecessarily trusting to luck, since it’s the strength and variety in his repertoire that marks Underwood as a great—and, no doubt, busy—dancer for the future. —Graham Watts


Boutique Companies

There’s a new type of ballet company cropping up. Using a “boutique” approach to running their companies, Dominic Walsh Dance Theater, BalletX and Trey McIntyre Project have each  carved out distinct identities based on their respective director’s personal aesthetics. This trio of renegades stays on the ballet forefront by borrowing from the postmodern dance business model: handpicking dancers for special projects, using flexible organizational structures that exist within their means and staying true to their artistic vision. Walsh, who’s become known for fearless works like his graphic novel–style Sleeping Beauty, says, “We’ve cultivated an audience that wonders what I am going to do next.” In terms of creative output and unique branding, these small companies have found large voices, proving you don’t need size to be significant. Their lean style simply allows more room for gutsiness. The future will benefit from their willingness to take risks and be boldly different. —Nancy Wozny


Jorma Elo

Finnish-born Jorma Elo is one of the ballet world’s “it” choreographers. He has made works for Boston Ballet (where he’s resident choreographer), American Ballet Theatre, New York City Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater, to name just a few. Elo’s gymnastic, technical blend of classical and contemporary movement is not only distinctive, but also so distinctly appealing that he’s already begun to inspire imitators.

“As a dancer, I had the privilege of working in a very rich pool of styles,” says Elo, who danced for choreographers like Jirí Kylián and William Forsythe. “I have an instinctive way of moving, but my ‘style’ is what comes out when that is filtered through other experiences I’ve had.” Elo’s pieces, which often incorporate multimedia, tend to spiral into aggressively mysterious abstraction, pushing even further beyond the geometric, cerebral works of Forsythe and Kylián.

Elo is optimistic about the future of ballet, but isn’t sure what it will bring. “I actually try not to think about that,” he says, with a laugh. “My plan is to make pieces that are exciting for me and the dancers—and, hopefully, for the audience—in a particular moment.” —Margaret Fuhrer


Kathryn Morgan

In a company that has based its reputation on showcasing Balanchine’s speedy, technically difficult steps, New York City Ballet’s Kathryn Morgan brings something strikingly different to the stage: a lyrical quality, a sense of charm, femininity, poise and artistic maturity. “I’m more into the emotion of ballet than the technique,” says 20-year-old Morgan. “In every part, I want to convey the character so the audience forgets about the steps and gets involved in the ballet.” After only three years in the corps, Morgan’s already performed principal roles in Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina and Stars and Stripes, as well as Peter Martins’ Romeo + Juliet. Does she represent a new direction for an NYCB that no longer is solely Balanchine-based? She hopes so. “I want to become a principal,” Morgan says, “and I want to take this company to a whole new level.” —Jennifer Stahl


Prince Credell

If you’re looking for the future, keep your eye on Prince Credell—this 26-year-old dancer is actively hunting it down. Formerly a member of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Credell recently transferred to Ballet du Grand Théâtre de Genève. “I felt like this company was taking major risks in terms of commissions. Here in Europe, Kylián, Forsythe and Naharin are respected contemporary masters, but they’ve been done for a while. People are already looking for something new,” explains Credell. An athletic mover with a commanding presence and an innate sense of phrasing, Credell doesn’t want to be limited by falling into any one category of dance. He is eager for opportunities to stretch his abilities in more theatrical pieces that use text, multimedia and a broken fourth wall. “Classical ballet is timeless,” he says, “but now, more than ever, dancers are being asked to take risks beyond what they learn in technique and variations classes.” —JS


Peter Boal

A ballet company is not an island, according to Pacific Northwest Ballet Artistic Director Peter Boal. “I worry about any artform becoming elitist,” says Boal. “The day you separate from your community, you are in trouble.” Boal’s broad-reaching approach of openness and risk-taking is a savvy template for survival in tight economic times. He’s attracted nontraditional audiences through initiatives such as Celebrate Seattle, a three-week festival that included neighboring dance companies Ballet British Columbia, Oregon Ballet Theatre and Spectrum Dance Theater, among others. He also implemented $5 Fridays, where whole families can watch rehearsal. “People told me to expect a small crowd,” Boal remembers. “Now we make room for 250 and it has been sold out since day one.” Boal sees himself as a curator at PNB: This year alone he’s brought in 30 artists, from new conductors to guest teachers. He also reaches into his own company to cultivate choreographers such as dancers Kiyon Gaines and Olivier Wevers. “We continually have a flood of innovative voices coming into the field,” says Boal. “Ballet continues to fascinate, mystify and enlighten people and I don’t see that ever changing.” —NW