New York Theater Ballet's Amanda Treiber (center) with Steven Melendez and Choong Hoon Lee in Antony Tudor's Trio Con Brio

Richard Termine, Courtesy New York Theater Ballet

No Small Feat: Dancing in a "Petite" Ballet Company Comes With Unique Benefits

Amanda Farris has never danced in a company with more than 20 dancers. "Growing up we have these notions that we're aiming for the big companies, and that's the only place success lies," says the California native, who dances with the 11-member Diablo Ballet outside San Francisco. Yet Farris' impressive rep says otherwise: Over the course of her career she's performed everything from Giselle to Balanchine's Apollo to Trey McIntyre's Blue Boy.

Small troupes tend to slip under the radar. But they offer unique benefits that are harder to find in big ballet companies, such as frequent opportunities for featured roles and forging deep connections with colleagues. The intimate working environment also provides ample opportunities for artistic growth. We spoke with dancers working at small ballet companies across the country to learn what they love about the careers they've made.


Tilton, dressed in a white princely outfit and standing in a tendu with his arm in the air, holds Farris, who's balanced on pointe in a back attitude in a cambre back. She wears a purple floral dress.

Diablo Ballet's Amanda Farris and Raymond Tilton in Norbert Vesak's Tchaikovsky Dances

Bilha Sperling, Courtesy Diablo Ballet

More Chances to Shine


Dancing with a small group makes it impossible to be overlooked in the company's ranks. No one gets stuck in the corps "waving a rose," says New York Theatre Ballet's Amanda Treiber. "Everyone is truly a soloist." Treiber, who's been a member of NYTB for 12 seasons, was drawn to the 12-dancer chamber troupe because of the range of work they do. The company's rep includes everything from condensed classics for young audiences to 20th-century masterworks by the likes of Antony Tudor and José Limón to groundbreaking contemporary choreography.

With fewer dancers, it's also harder to be typecast or boxed into one style. "You need to be able to do anything and everything," says Farris. "Especially if there's an injury and you have to jump right in. Being a versatile dancer is so important."

Diablo Ballet boasts a season complete with full-lengths, mixed bills and plenty of live music. Farris notes that they often work with Bay Area collaborators. She describes working with Val Caniparoli on the role of Ophelia in his Hamlet and Ophelia as a career highlight. And at smaller companies, dancers have more opportunities to work closely with choreographers and répétiteurs throughout the creative process.

Hill is in a high arabesque pench\u00e9 with her face parallel to the floor. She wears an orange dress and ballet slippers, and is held under her armpits by Vessell, who is standing in a lunge and wearing black pants and no shirt.

Northwest Arkansas Ballet Theatre's James Vessell and Lilly Hill in Karen Castleman's Late Summer Cycle

Stephanie Saclolo of Wilde and Wilder Photography, Courtesy Northwest Arkansas Ballet Theatre

​Close Ties

Close working relationships are truly at the core of smaller troupes. James Vessell, a dancer with the 12-member Northwest Arkansas Ballet Theatre in Bentonville, Arkansas, now in its second season as a professional company, notes how important it is to be yourself in such an environment. "You're with these people all the time," he says. "They're your family."

Elise Mosbacher, now in her 10th season with Missouri Contemporary Ballet in Columbia, Missouri, echoes this sentiment. "It's not to say that we all get along 24/7," she says of her seven fellow dancers at MCB. "That's not how families work, but we know how to work and interact with every other dancer. It's very cohesive and that all comes out in how we perform together as a group."

Artistic directors can also be more personally invested in every company member. At MCB, director Karen Mareck Grundy entrusts each of her dancers to delve into her distinctive style. The company's rep is based heavily on Grundy's own choreography, which Mosbacher describes as "ballet with a twist," influenced by Grundy's background as a classically trained dancer and Las Vegas showgirl. Each company member has a significant responsibility to carry out the artistic vision, and as a result the artistic staff and dancers build extremely close, trusting relationships.

Similarly, Farris emphasizes how Diablo Ballet artistic director Lauren Jonas never views her dancers as dispensable or replaceable. "We are her dancers. She knows us as people, not just names on a casting list," says Farris.

Soares reaches stage left in an angular, modern position, holding onto Mosbacher's arm. She is also reaching, balanced on one leg and smiling. Both wear grey pants and tops with a black stripe down the middle.

Missouri Contemporary Ballet Company's José Soares and Elise Mosbacher in Just Tell Me by Kristopher Estes Brown

Jeff Bassinson, Courtesy Missouri Contemporary Ballet Company

​Wearing Many Hats

Treiber also points out that at a small company, dancers' responsibilities often extend beyond the stage. With modest budgets and limited resources, they frequently wear different hats to make the seasons come together. "I help set works I've danced on younger company members," says Treiber. "It's helped me know what direction I want to go in after I'm done dancing. I'd love to be a ballet mistress."

Similarly, Vessell developed a taste for artistic direction through his experiences at NWA Ballet Theatre. With the company growing so quickly, dancers have taken on roles on the administrative side of the organization, and Vessell has assisted with organizing promotional and outreach performances. "I eventually want to have my own company," Vessell says. "It was great to experience what it's like to set up tech week, plan a lighting design and set up a schedule."

Like so many dancers in small companies, Vessell found that the tight-knit, collaborative environment was an ideal platform to grow beyond any preconceived notions of his place in the art form. With each dancer bearing a significant amount of responsibility onstage and off, they are a testament to what a small group committed to one goal can accomplish.

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Prior to coming to Cincinnati Ballet in 1997, the Salt Lake City native was a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West, as well as resident choreographer for the San Francisco Opera. She graduated magna cum laude from University of Utah, where she also earned her MFA, and has judged several international ballet competitions.

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Victoria Morgan is shown from the side standing on stage right, turning to smile at a line of costumed dancers to her left during bows. She wears a patterned green dress with chunky green high heels and holds a red rose in her hand.

Peter Mueller, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

Why leave Cincinnati Ballet now?

It's been an amazing run and I have seen it all. I am not sure where I would go from here. I also feel there is a required stimulus and infusion of new ideas and energy that always needs to be a part of a growing, evolving and exciting arts organization.

What made you happiest at Cincinnati Ballet?

The people, from the devotion of patrons and donors to learning from and feeling the pride in work from the staff. It has also been so satisfying for me to choreograph on and watch so many dancers evolve in their dance careers and lives.

Were there things you wanted to do for the company that you weren't able to?

There were other collaborations I wanted us to explore and choreographers I wanted us to work with. It takes quite an investment to make those happen.

Your legacy includes actively creating opportunities for female choreographers. What motivated that?

I started realizing, in a profound way, the gender inequities in our art form. Because I was in a leadership position, I thought I could do something about this and try to get to a 50-50 balance of male and female choreographers. It took a little time to find women to step forward, but it happened. Now there are many more prominent female choreographers, including our resident choreographer Jennifer Archibald, and I am proud of that.

If you could handpick your successor, what qualities would you look for?

Somebody creative, charged up, and who can be visionary. Someone who has had a high-level experience in our art form. A leader who is demanding but also kind and supportive, and who opens doors to find new ideas while still embracing Cincinnati Ballet's philosophies.

What do you feel will be one of the biggest challenges for the new artistic director?

The important cause of DEIA (diversity, equity, inclusion, accessibility). Whoever steps into that position has to have awareness of the culture of today's conversation.

Do you plan to keep choreographing?

I am not being proactive about it, but if the opportunity presents itself, it would be fun.

What's next?

I feel my next calling is bringing movement to the biggest segment of our population, baby boomers. I want to be part of an initiative that makes moving and wellness enjoyable and enlivens people.

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