American Contemporary Ballet in rehearsal. Anastasia Petukhova, Courtesy ACB.

American Contemporary Ballet Director Lincoln Jones is Making Ballet Relevant in Los Angeles

Lincoln Jones felt there was a pertinence missing from ballet when he decided to form American Contemporary Ballet. "People looking at a film today can pick apart screenwriting versus art direction and editing," says Jones. "They are really conversant with it. I thought ballet is never going to feel super-relevant until people can do that."

So how to do that? Connect the audience to the show.


"The format is taking an 18th-century salon-style approach to art," he says, referring to ACB's performance mode. Audiences sit close to the dancers, just as in a rehearsal setting, and the company always dances to live music in unconventional spaces. Afterwards, the audience chats with the dancers and director to explore ballet as an art form.

In black and white in profile, Lincoln Jones, wearing a t-shirt, holds a musical score and pencil. He is smiling.

Artistic director Lincoln Jones. Anastasia Petukhova, Courtesy ACB.

Jones, who is also a musician, danced with the Columbia City Ballet and taught at Broadway Dance Center in New York City. He started the initial incarnation of the company in New York City in 2004, but the current troupe started in 2011 in Los Angeles. Because he shuns traditional proscenium stages, Jones has moved the company around to several downtown warehouse, retail and skyscraper spaces—with the blessing of a generous real estate mogul—to find the right performance venue. "We are in the process of designing our own space," he says. Currently the company performs and rehearses in the Fashion Theater at the California Market Center in downtown L.A.

As ACB's primary choreographer and a devotee of George Balanchine, Jones approaches programming with a curator's eye. He craves context, so he juxtaposes excerpts from Balanchine's Raymonda Variations with a pas d'action from Petipa's Raymonda, as staged from the original Stepanov notation. Or he might pair two original works, like his Inferno and Burlesque, both set to music by frequent collaborator Charles Wuorinen. Jones is also planning a Les Sylphides, with faster tempi for the Michel Fokine choreography, performed in simple practice clothes to a solo piano. And the company's Nutcracker literally begins with a party—audience invited.

Cara Hansvick, who dances soloist roles (although the company isn't ranked), joined ACB in 2018 after dancing with Charlotte Ballet II. What has impressed her is the individual attention Jones grants to each dancer to nurture their artistry. "He wants everyone to give 150 percent at all times," she says. "He never wants us to be boring. He told me, 'When you go onstage I either want you to mess up everything or completely blow my mind. I'd rather you do something exciting onstage that I'll remember.' "

Hansvick earned a BS in ballet performance and arts management from Indiana University and acts as a liaison between ACBs' supporters and the company. She relishes the close rapport with the audience, composed of downtown-L.A. hipsters, architects, artists and dance lovers, and others who are just curious. The shows typically attract return audiences. Hansvick describes the lack of an audience bond in her other company performance experiences as a "blank void," after which, "you go home and come back the next day for class. Here, they look at you as a full person." ACB has just under two dozen dancers. "There is a team energy," she says, "and I feel so appreciated." The company is also in the early planning stages of establishing its own school.

A number of ballerinas stand around a warehouse space wearing different colored leotards, white tutus, pink tights and pointe shoes.

American Contemporary Ballet. Will Davidson, Courtesy ACB.

ACB invites guest speakers for its separate Conversation series, where artists outside the dance world are asked about their perspectives on ballet to contextualize it. For example, actress Jane Kaczmarek compared the audition process in theater and film to ballet's, while painter Kenton Nelson looked at how his creative process was similar to choreographers' and dancers' experiences.

Always seeking to make ballet more congruous with modern life, Jones wants an audience to experience ballet for what it is, rather than reaching for what it's supposed to mean. "Balanchine said ballet doesn't mean anything—it just is," he explains. "You don't ask a rose what it is. It's just beautiful."

Audition Advice


The company holds auditions in New York City and Los Angeles, usually in February or March. Jones looks for dancers with musicality, lovely feet and a solid technique in the Balanchine style, but especially seeks those with "a desire and ability to grow and adapt themselves choreographically to various projects." The women trend towards tall (many are between 5' 7" and 5' 9"). But all of that can be transcended if "there's something interesting about that dancer that makes you want to watch them." After a dance audition, Jones interviews select candidates to determine whether their goals and work ethic match the company's.

American Contemporary Ballet At a Glance


Number of dancers:
21 (including 6 apprentices)

Length of contract: 38 weeks

Starting salary: $300 per week

Performances per season: 70 in 2019–20

Website: acbdances.com

Latest Posts


The author, Lucy Van Cleef, dancing Balanchine's Serenade at Los Angeles Ballet. Reed Hutchinson, Courtesy Los Angeles Ballet

My 12-Year Journey to a Bachelor’s Degree While Dancing Professionally

If you'd have told me in 2009 that it would take 12 years to earn my bachelor's degree, I never would have believed you. Back then, I was a dancer in my early 20s and in my second year with Los Angeles Ballet. I was used to the straightforward demands of the professional ballet world. I knew that hard work and willpower were the currency you paid in the studio, and that the thrill of live performance made all that investment worth it. What I didn't know then is how life's twists and turns aren't always so straightforward. In hindsight, I can see how my winding road to higher education has strengthened me—and my relationship with the ballet world—more than I ever could have imagined.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Alessandra Ferri and Carlos Acosta in "Manon" (2000)

It seems hard to believe, but the last time that Alessandra Ferri and Carlos Acosta performed together was more than 20 years ago. At the Havana International Ballet Festival in 2000, Ferri, who was then a principal with American Ballet Theatre, and Acosta, a Royal Ballet star, danced the bedroom pas de deux from Manon, but they never got to grace the stage together again.

When Acosta became the director of Birmingham Royal Ballet in 2020, shortly before the pandemic struck the UK, he announced to great excitement that his first season would include a world premiere duet for him and Ferri. While the initial performance was postponed, BRB confirmed last week that Acosta and Ferri's reunion will be part of the company's triple bill in London this October. To celebrate the pair's upcoming return to the stage, we're revisiting this video from 2000 of the duo in Manon.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Victoria Morgan with Cincinnati Ballet principal dancer Sirui Liu. Jennifer Denham, Courtesy Cincinnati Ballet

After 25 Years, Victoria Morgan to Step Down as Cincinnati Ballet's Artistic Director

Last month, Victoria Morgan announced that she will step down as Cincinnati Ballet's artistic director at the conclusion of the 2021-22 season. The organization's board of trustees has formed a committee to conduct a national search for her replacement.

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.

Entering her 25th and final season as director, Morgan has accomplished a lot at Cincinnati Ballet, not the least erasing the $800,000 in company debt she inherited at the outset of her tenure. To right the organization's financial ship she had to make tough choices early on—the first task the company's executive committee gave her was to release a third of the company's dancers. In her continuing effort to overhaul how the organization did business, in 2008 she became both the artistic director and CEO and set about building the company's now $14.5 million endowment. For the 2016–17 season, with the arrival of new company president and CEO Scott Altman, Morgan returned to being full-time artistic director and helped lead the realization of the organization's new $31 million home, the Margaret and Michael Valentine Center for Dance.

A champion of female choreographers, Morgan has also choreographed numerous ballets for the company, including world premieres of King Arthur's Camelot and The Nutcracker. She has also helped orchestrate several company collaborations, including 2013's Frampton and Cincinnati Ballet Live and joint productions with BalletMet.

Pointe caught up with Morgan to talk about her recent announcement.

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.

Editors' Picks