Class, rehearse, perform, repeat—a typical day at a ballet company follows the same routine week after week. It's a relentless cycle that Joseph Gatti, a former principal with Cincinnati Ballet and Corella Ballet and first soloist with Boston Ballet, thinks has a negative impact on professional dancers' longevity and performance quality. Now, Gatti—who has had an extensive international freelance career in recent years— is founding his own company in Orlando with a distinct focus on maintaining dancer health and wellness. Called United Ballet Theatre, the company will treat its dancers as athletes, building time within the workday for cross-training and personalized medical care, and alternating days of rehearsal intensity.
Gatti plans to start small as he builds support. For now, the company will employ between 8–10 dancers (including Gatti), as well as a handful of world-renowned guest artists. UBT will also operate during the summer months. "It's mainly for dancers on layoff who want to continue dancing, so that they can get consistent pay and work with great teachers and physical therapists," says Gatti. Artistic staff includes Vadim Fedotov, Irina Depler, Stanislav Fečo, Orlando Molina and Lasha Khozashvili. Repertoire and performance dates are yet to be confirmed, although Gatti hopes to bring in new contemporary works and condensed full-lengths, like Fedotov's Romeo and Juliet.
Gatti started questioning how ballet companies manage artists' health and work schedules after sustaining a serious foot injury two years ago. Usually, dancers' days consist of learning choreography and performing run-throughs; medical care and cross-training are done on their own time. Yet Gatti's freelance career gave him the opportunity to explore better models for managing ballet's physical demands. "I've tried to be very consistent with taking class and going to the gym," he says. "I actually had time to do that because I wasn't rehearsing 8 hours a day."
UBT dancers will likewise have more variety in their schedules: A heavier rehearsal day will be followed by a day of light rehearsals, cross-training and medical care. "I would be giving them time to work with personal trainers, swim, to do things that are important to dancers to create longer, healthier careers," says Gatti. His staff includes top dance-medicine professionals, such as Heather Southwick, head of physical therapy at Boston Ballet; Jacqueline Haas, an athletic trainer for Cincinnati Ballet; and Jaime Diaz, a teacher and certified personal trainer for San Francisco Ballet School.
UBT will share studio space with the Russian Ballet of Orlando, and Gatti is is currently in negotiations to book a theater. Auditions announcements are forthcoming. For now, he and executive director James Boyd are focused on securing funding. When asked if he thought Orlando could support two professional companies (the other being Orlando Ballet), Gatti felt confident it could, especially since UBT will be in season during OB's off-season. "The structure of UBT will empower our dancers to perform at their absolute best and that will positively impact the quality of our viewing audience."