Patricia Barker in the studio with Grand rapids Ballet dancers. Michael Auer, Courtesy GRB.

Underneath Grand Rapids Ballet artistic director Patricia Barker's million-watt smile lies an unyielding determination to realize her artistic visions. So when friend Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, unexpectedly died before he could introduce her to fellow author Chris Van Allsburg (The Polar Express and Jumanji), Barker took it upon herself to visit Van Allsburg's Massachusetts home to convince the Grand Rapids native to help design GRB's newNutcracker production. When Van Allsburg was reluctant to venture down that well-traveled road, Barker convinced him otherwise. The resulting 2014 premiere proved a seminal moment in the company's history.

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At Stuttgart Ballet, Reid Anderson embraces the traditional and the avant-garde.

Name the most prominent choreographers and directors in continental Europe, and the list reads like a who’s who of Stuttgart Ballet alumni. John Neumeier, Jirí Kylián and William Forsythe all came up through the ranks of the German company. Four decades after the death of its founder, choreographer John Cranko, Stuttgart Ballet remains a trendsetter under artistic director Reid Anderson, himself a product of the Stuttgart company.

Anderson has mastered an impressive balancing act. Extremes live in peaceful coexistence under the company’s repertory system: On alternate nights, dancers might go from the period costumes of Cranko’s Onegin or The Taming of the Shrew to the sleek leotards associated with its contemporary in-house creations. As many as five or six premieres make their way to the stage each season. Creativity is also encouraged through the Noverre-Society, an organization created in 1958 that supports new works.

Born in Canada, Anderson won a scholarship at age 17, in 1967, to finish his training at The Royal Ballet School. The day before he was due to fly to London, he happened upon a TV broadcast of Cranko’s Romeo and Juliet. It was love at first sight. The production would haunt him through his year at the RBS, and afterward, when he found himself languishing in the ranks of The Royal Opera Ballet, then a sister ensemble to The Royal Ballet. When Anderson learned that Cranko was looking for male dancers for a tour to New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, his parents wired him the money to fly to the audition. Anderson was admitted to the company, which was just gathering steam.

In 1961, Cranko, bolstered by successful creations in London, had taken over the relatively unknown ballet ensemble of the Württemberg State Theatre, as the Stuttgart State Theater was then called. In the ensuing decade, he created some of his best-known works, and the inaugural Met tour Anderson joined in 1969 catapulted the company from unknown entity to overnight sensation. The critics hailed the “Stuttgart Ballet Miracle,” and the name stuck. Anderson thrived under Cranko, dancing roles big and small. “I started to do things right away, and I learnt by doing,” Anderson says. “John was the most open person; his office was the canteen.”

Four years later, however, Cranko’s death left his dancers bereft. Anderson remembers: “He was everything to us, and it was an emotional wrench. I couldn’t even mention his name for 10 years.”

Anderson stayed on as a principal until 1986, gradually taking on teaching and coaching duties. But with his retirement came a desire to strike out from the comfort of Stuttgart. “I could have just become a ballet master, but I thought: There might be more to life than this. I was 35, young enough to learn new things. Becoming a director had always been in the back of my mind.”

And a directorship fell into his lap: A young Canadian company, Ballet BC, asked him to take over. As director, he brought in Kylián and Forsythe works and expanded the company from 12 to 18 dancers. The success didn’t escape the National Ballet of Canada, which asked Anderson to become its director in 1989. But a seven-year tenure there left Anderson weary of fundraising. “I spent all my time raising money,” he says. An abrupt 25 percent cut in the city’s funding in 1995 was the last straw.

The Stuttgart Ballet was looking for a new director at the time, and Anderson, feeling the pull of the company’s state-funded model, flew back to Germany for an interview. The next day, the job was his, but it came with a stringent responsibility: to fire 25 dancers. The company had become calcified at the top, with a mostly unfireable workforce. “In the German system, a new director is allowed to let people go,” Anderson explains. “It was firing people I grew up with, and it was seven months from hell, but it was worth it: When I started in the fall of 1996, I had 21 new dancers”—all his own hires.

Anderson set out to rebuild Stuttgart Ballet from the bottom up, in close collaboration with the John Cranko School, founded in 1971. Two-thirds of current company members completed their training there. Nearly all the principals have risen through the ranks, and the unusually tall men nurtured by Anderson, from Friedemann Vogel to Evan McKie, have won particular acclaim for their strength and charisma. “I love building up dancers, and the word is out: If you’re good enough, you could be a principal dancer by age 22,” Anderson says.

In Stuttgart, Anderson also found the secure funding Canada lacked. Stuttgart Ballet is one the few companies to have weathered the recession unscathed; there is generous public funding for the state theater system, and Porsche is a major sponsor.

Cranko’s legacy remains a touchstone for the company. At least one or two of his ballets return every season. Concerted efforts have also been made to preserve his repertoire by allowing other companies to perform it: “We wanted to make sure that the ballets would live on,” says Anderson. He and his team stage Cranko works around the world.

Stuttgart Ballet also performs a mix of 19th-century classics and 20th-century works by the likes of Neumeier, Kenneth MacMillan or Hans van Manen. Premieres define each season, however, and the Stuttgart’s own school of choreography has developed a recognizable look. New works are typically minimalistic, danced in the barest of costumes, the focus on boundary-pushing articulation and sleek partnering. “On tour in London, a critic mentioned that the dancers had practically nothing on, but it’s just so normal for us,” Anderson explains. “When we do workshops, I tell young choreographers: I want to see steps, creativity, and I would like to see bodies. Dancers have them, so why not?”

Stuttgart’s knowledgeable audience has embraced this ambitious diet, performed throughout the company’s year-round season. Attendance at its 1,400-seat Opera House and 800-seat Schauspielhaus was at 99.66 percent last season. “The audience loves the mix,” Anderson says. “We can do three new ballets by three young choreographers and sell out.”

 

At A Glance:

Stuttgart Ballet

Size: 63 dancers

Starting salary: Company does not release information.

Length of contract: Year-round (including yearly bonus and health insurance)

Performances: 103 to 110 at home and on tour

Website: stuttgart-ballet.de

 

Audition Advice

Stuttgart Ballet rarely holds open auditions. “I prefer to have dancers come to Stuttgart and do class with the company, to see if they fit in,” Anderson says. “I’m a legs-and-feet person, and one thing I always look for is whether the person is truly dancing or not. You should be dancing already at the barre.”

Iain Webb is bringing international recognition to Sarasota Ballet.

Iain Webb describes himself as “a total bunhead.” To prove it, he takes out his iPhone and brings up a photo of Michel Fokine’s death mask, explaining that it’s part of his personal ballet library in his home. Also in that collection? A photograph of Webb himself hanging a 12-foot Sarasota Ballet banner. “It would have cost $100 to pay someone else to put it up,” he explains, with a chuckle. “I needed that hundred dollars to buy my dancers one and a half pair of pointe shoes.”

Since becoming Sarasota Ballet’s artistic director in 2007, Webb has stretched the resources—and artistry—of the company in some jaw-dropping ways. Out of a modest $4.1 million yearly budget, Sarasota Ballet has presented 53 company premieres and 33 world premieres in just seven seasons. Ticket sales have quadrupled. And the troupe has gained international recognition for its interpretations of Sir Frederick Ashton’s ballets. Yet Webb candidly admits that since he arrived, “We’ve literally almost closed three times.”

Webb, 55, feels at home in the underdog role. As a dancer at The Royal Ballet, he suffered from such bad stage fright that he ended his soloist career early to do character roles instead. (“That way I could hide,” he says.) After retiring from the stage in 1996, he became a rehearsal director for Matthew Bourne, then assistant director for K-Ballet Company in Japan, while also putting together galas and festivals where he presented former Royal Ballet colleagues, like Johan Kobborg. “I liked staying behind the scenes, organizing everything,” he says, “but I was getting old, and it felt like directing was the next level up.” So when Sarasota Ballet was looking for a new leader at the end of 2006, he took the gamble and applied.

The troupe, founded in 1990, had never garnered a lot of attention under its former artistic directors, contemporary choreographer Eddy Toussaint and then Royal Ballet alum Robert de Warren. By the time Webb arrived, it was also riddled with financial problems.

“I remember thinking, ‘This might not last more than a year, so I’d better put together a season that’s going to make me smile,’ ” Webb says. “And also something that’s going to put this company in the history books.” To do that, he convinced Bourne to let Sarasota be the first ballet company to perform his Infernal Galop, and he brought in Hans van Manen to stage Grosse Fuge. He also presented a double bill of Ashton’s Les Patineurs and The Two Pigeons during his second year with the company.

The repertoire over the past seven seasons has been carefully calibrated for the Sarasota audience, which is largely filled with “snowbirds” from the Northeast who have high classical standards set by major companies like American Ballet Theatre and Boston Ballet. Rather than compete, Webb found that by embracing his inner bunhead he could create his own niche: historical one-acts. “I looked at all the companies that were at our same level or the next level up, and they were all doing very similar rep,” Webb says. “If we were going to survive, we had to do something different.”

In particular, Webb gravitated to Ashton’s one-acts, and Sarasota Ballet now has more works by “Sir Fred” than any other American company. “His ballets are so musical, and I love how he always gets the female dancer to look like a woman,” Webb says. “People don’t do these works much anymore, but they need to be seen or else they will be lost.” Both Webb and his wife, former Royal Ballet dancer Margaret Barbieri (who is now Sarasota’s assistant director), were coached by Ashton during their performing careers and bring firsthand knowledge to the work. Some British critics have written that the company’s grasp of Ashton’s style surpasses even The Royal Ballet’s. This May, Sarasota’s four-day Ashton festival will showcase 11 of the choreographer’s ballets, along with films and lecture/discussions. Ticket orders from as far away as Europe were placed months in advance.

Webb has leveraged his high-profile connections throughout his tenure. One of his first steps as director was flying to London to have tea with Lady Deborah MacMillan to ask if he could get a couple of Kenneth’s ballets. Christopher Wheeldon once offered up a piece after Barbieri mentioned Sarasota Ballet’s struggles to the choreographer’s parents one night. And when Sarasota Ballet’s star dancer retired just before a production of Giselle in 2009, Webb got out his address book and was able to announce to the press just four hours later that Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg would be performing instead.

How has he financed this? In the beginning, many of those connections offered their services for limited fees. Webb also used much of his own money at first to cover expenses like physical therapy and costumes. Since then, a handful of donors who believe in his vision have paid off the company’s debts and funded items like last season’s pay raise for the dancers.

The company still lacks the finances for more seasoned dancers’ paychecks, and Webb admits that many of his company members are very green. But he’s found a hungry group (almost all are now his hires) who work to meet the high standards he sets in order to attract big-name choreographers to Sarasota. Webb’s also working on building talent from the ground up: In 2012, Sarasota Ballet launched the Margaret Barbieri Conservatory of Dance, a full-time pre-professional training program designed to be a feeder for the company.

Webb is realistic about his company’s place in the larger dance world: “If I weren’t the director, I would probably think, ‘Well, I don’t know if they should quite try to do that rep.’ ” But he will never put a work onstage that he isn’t proud of. And he refuses to let the company’s modest reputation stop him from trying to create something that will make him smile. It’s in part thanks to that ambition that, earlier this year, he was awarded a 10-year extension of his contract. “We’re never going to be one of the big companies,” he admits, “but we’re going to have something that’s unique.”

 

 

At a glance

Sarasota Ballet

Number of dancers: 43

Length of contract: 36 weeks

Starting salary: $350 per week

Performances per year: 7 productions, an average of 32 shows

Website: sarasotaballet.org

 

Audition Advice

“I look at dancers’ personalities, because you’ve got to live with these people. I can’t have cliques or dancers who watch other dancers’ solos and think, ‘That should be me.’ ”

Julio Bocca injects his experience and flair into Uruguay’s Ballet Nacional Sodre.

Julio Bocca’s performances during his 20 years at American Ballet Theatre had the tangible feel of verismo. Whatever character he danced—Romeo, Albrecht, Onegin—grabbed you from the stage and swept you into the action. So why wouldn’t the Argentinian star demand energy and excellence as an artistic director? In March 2010, Bocca was appointed director of Ballet Nacional Sodre (BNS) by Uruguay’s president, José Mujica, and in a short period he has dramatically elevated the company’s standard.

Uruguay’s national ballet company has a long history; in 2015 it will celebrate its 80th anniversary. Nijinsky almost accepted an offer to start a school in Uruguay after his final tour with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in 1919. An earlier incarnation of BNS, Corps de Ballet Sodre, one of the two major 20th-century South American ballet companies (along with Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires), was founded by Uruguayan choreographer Alberto Pouyanne. A stream of Europeans left their mark on the company, staging classical works such as Les Sylphides, Swan Lake and Coppélia. Over time, the troupe experienced highs and lows, and when Bocca assumed directorship, there were only 25 dancers. He has expanded the company to 68, including five soloists and four principals. One of the ballerinas is former ABT soloist (and June/July 2010 Pointe cover girl) Maria Riccetto.

“When I came here,” Bocca says, “one of the nice things was there was little repertoire”—the works danced were primarily those of South American choreographers, such as Oscar Araiz and Mauricio Wainrot—“so it was very easy for me to add work.” The choreographers, contacts and knowledge of productions from Bocca’s ABT years have proven useful. “It’s important for these young people to know the work and know the styles,” he says. Emphasizing BNS’s classical tradition, he has already mounted full-length productions of Giselle, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, La Sylphide, Le Corsaire and Natalia Makarova’s staging of La Bayadère. Bocca has also presented triple bills of ballets by choreographers such as William Forsythe, Jirí Kylián and Nacho Duato. In December, the company danced Boris Eifman’s Russian Hamlet. Bocca has plans to acquire Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet in 2015 and John Cranko’s Onegin in 2016.

Is Bocca hoping to make BNS the ABT of South America? “It will be a dream for me to compare BNS with the big companies in the world, because in South America we don’t have companies like ABT, but we have the talent to make it possible,” he says.

Bocca also mentions that his tenure as director of Ballet Argentino in Buenos Aires gave him valuable experience. “What I learned there is how to maintain distances with dancers and still continue to be able to communicate what I want from them as artists—discipline, respect and love for the opportunities that they have.”

The majority of BNS’s dancers—52 percent—come from Uruguay, with others from Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Venezuela, Peru and Spain. Bocca says he is open to hiring dancers from anywhere, although he wants to cultivate artists from within Uruguay, because the government pays the dancers’ salaries. What does he seek in his dancers? “As a director, I look for everything!” he says. “I look for a great body, nice height, beautiful feet and legs, but the most important thing is what they present”—their passion and charisma. In addition to the annual auditions, he scouts for dancers when he judges competitions like the USA International Ballet Competition, where he’ll serve on the panel this year. Bocca teaches the company himself in separate classes for men and women. And for those who don’t give 100 percent: “If they’re lazy, or come late for class, next year, I say thank you.”

BNS performs at the Auditorio Nacional del Sodre, a 2,000-seat theater in Montevideo, which also has two studios where the company rehearses and takes class, as well as a physical therapy room. In addition to national tours, the company has booked 2014 trips to Chile, Russia, Thailand, Israel and Malaysia. With a budget of $2 million, the company has two private sponsors and three national sponsors.

So why did Bocca choose Uruguay over his home country Argentina? Besides the fact that he was offered the job, Bocca, now 46, loves Montevideo and met his life partner there, “the other half of my orange,” as he says. “I have my sunset in front of the water. I enjoy going to work and coming back home. For 27 years of my career, I have never done that.”

Bocca extends that sense of domesticity to BNS. “It’s a friendly company,” he says. “One of the things I like is that the dancers are very close. That’s important. When people from other companies come to live here, it’s a big change. They find it’s like a family here.”

At A Glance

Ballet Nacional Sodre

Location: Montevideo, Uruguay

Length of contract: 52 weeks

Starting corps de ballet salary: $1,100 per month (a living wage in Montevideo)

Additional perks: An extra month of holiday pay

Auditions: Held every October in Montevideo; considering additional auditions in U.S. and Europe. Annual contracts start in January.

Website: balletnacionalsodre.gub.uy

Audition Advice

“Give me an audition from the heart, so that I can really see if you love it when you are dancing. I want to see something is there. Auditions are for everybody, not just for the Spanish-speaking. Dancers send me tapes and DVDs, but I want to see the person in class.” —Julio Bocca

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo is Jean-Christophe Maillot’s personal playground.

Box-office pressure doesn’t seem to be part of the vocabulary at Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. For the past two decades, this maverick company devoted to the sleek neoclassical work of choreographer-director Jean-Christophe Maillot has been steadily supported by the micro-state of Monaco. Ballet after ballet, the 50-strong ensemble collectively makes Maillot’s vision come alive.

Yet even Les Ballets couldn’t escape the financial crisis. In 2011, Monaco’s previously ample dance funding was in trouble. Maillot took the opportunity to suggest a radical pooling of dance resources across the city. “The country is so tiny that you can’t have competing institutions,” he explains. The company merged with the Académie Princesse Grace and the international festival Monaco Dance Forum to create a comprehensive platform for training, creation and production that would absorb a 25 percent overall cut. The effort saved enough money that the principality has since spared dance in further rounds of austerity measures.

Once a creative hub for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, Monaco went back to its ballet roots in 1985 by launching Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, spearheaded by Her Royal Highness Caroline, the Princess of Hanover. The company initially struggled to find its niche, however, and in 1992, found itself director-less for nearly six months. When Maillot was in town to create a new ballet, Monaco’s head of culture asked for his advice on what to do next. The conversation reached the ears of Princess Caroline. A few days later, she offered him the directorship.

Maillot was then at the head of a national choreographic center in Tours, France, following a dancing career with the Hamburg Ballet. He was initially ambivalent about the offer: “I asked them to take me on as artistic advisor for a year, to see how it would go.” He went back and forth between Tours and Monaco for a season but soon realized Monaco was the place for him. “Contemporary dance was experiencing a boom in France at the time. Ballet was considered passé, and I felt pressure there to move away from my roots,” he explains. “But Monaco wanted a neoclassical company, and I realized it was what I needed, too.”

His first task was to define the creative identity of Les Ballets, and the distinctive look the company has polished over two decades owes much to Maillot’s own work. With over 35 new creations in 20 years at the helm, he has developed a style geared toward chic visual effects and a contemporary theatricality. Although international critics haven’t been unanimously kind to his work, dancers are drawn to his relentless focus on the intention behind each movement: His spare, prop-less Roméo et Juliette tells the story solely through choreography that is at once classical and modern, while Altro Canto and other short ballets showcase his trademark elegance and flair for metaphorical motifs.

Maillot has also steered the company’s repertoire in unexpected directions during its seasons at the small, ornate Salle Garnier, nestled inside the famous Monte-Carlo Casino, or at the modern Grimaldi Forum. The Ballets Russes and Balanchine repertoire was an important component in the 1990s, but in recent years guest choreographers have run the gamut from Marie Chouinard to Alexander Ekman, Alonzo King and Marco Goecke. Les Ballets mostly tours with Maillot’s in-demand story ballets, however. (The company will bring his LAC to Costa Mesa and New York City in March.) He says the main purpose of guest creations is not to cater to audiences, but to feed the company creatively. “I follow my instinct,” Maillot says. “I would never hire someone who doesn’t bring something to the dancers as people.”

In many ways, Les Ballets is a true dancer haven. The beautifully airy headquarters offer state-of-the-art facilities, including a hot tub and a cafeteria. There are few rules within the company, and the dancers earn a comfortable salary with a permanent contract. But it is a trade-off: In return, Maillot expects his dancers to be self-sufficient and ready to expose themselves in the creative process.

This relaxed yet intense environment has attracted mature dancers who often join from other companies to further their creative connection with Maillot. The epitome of his style remains his longtime muse, the tall, androgynous and marvelously fluid Bernice Coppieters, who now assists with revivals.

Meanwhile, Monaco’s government continues to invest in the company. For them, Les Ballets is an opportunity to show Monaco in a new light, far removed from the coverage in tabloids around the world. The Princess of Hanover remains the company’s biggest supporter as well as a close friend of Maillot’s, a situation he admits is exceptional in that it comes with no strings attached. “I’m completely free. There is no judgment, no comment on anything I program.” He also relishes the pace and flexible structure the financial backing affords the company, with no more than 80 performances a year and extended periods devoted to creation.

Until recently, Maillot refused most requests to stage his works on other companies in order to preserve the specificity of Les Ballets. He has agreed, however, to create a new Taming of the Shrew for the Bolshoi in 2014, and recently choreographed a work for Diana Vishneva, which she will perform in Monaco this December when the city celebrates Maillot’s 20th anniversary at the helm. “I can do it now because the company’s identity is firmly established,” he explains. “Neoclassical companies look so alike nowadays. What we do can be criticized, but isn’t it wonderful to be unlike anyone else?”

At A Glance

Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo

Number of dancers: 50

Length of contract: Permanent

Starting salary: 2,500 euros per month

Performances per year: Around 20 in Monaco, 40 to 50 on tour

Website: balletsdemontecarlo.com

Audition Advice

Maillot doesn’t hold open auditions; dancers can submit a video year-round. Promising applicants spend a few days in Monte Carlo to see how they fit with the company. “It’s a personalized process,” Maillot explains. “I may work with them on excerpts from the repertoire. I pay special attention to the upper body, but above all, I need to know what kind of person the dancer is.”

Nashville Ballet’s Paul Vasterling puts narrative and music at the forefront of the company’s focus.

The dancers are fighting again, but Paul Vasterling is unfazed. He’s watching it unfold at the front of the stage, fingers to his chin like a man contemplating artwork. A punch to the gut, a kick to the backside. One dancer goes sprawling across the floor. Another is killed, rapier to the mid-section.

With a slight gesture, Vasterling cues the accompanist to stop playing the music for this critical scene from his Romeo and Juliet. Time for notes.

You can learn a lot about the artistic director of Nashville Ballet by watching a dress rehearsal. For one, he wants the acting to be as precise as the movement. For another, he expects the music to set the tone. To have a live rehearsal pianist on hand for a fight call could be seen as a luxury, but for Vasterling, it’s a priority.

“Live music makes dancers better as artists,” he says. “Many regional companies only get one or two rehearsals with live music. But the dancing is just better with musicians, even a rehearsal pianist. The spark happens.”

As a former student of piano and theater, Vasterling might be the perfect fit to run a ballet company in “Music City.” Nashville audiences have high musical standards and conservative tastes—they love grand, familiar story ballets. And Vasterling’s vision has proved successful. Since his tenure began in 1998, Nashville Ballet’s resources have nearly tripled. The roster has grown from 12 to 22 dancers; a second company has been added; an indoor tennis complex has been transformed into a huge dance studio; and, best of all, the company now has an annual budget of $4 million.

Vasterling didn’t intend to go into the dance field. He wanted to be a music therapist. But years of piano lessons during his childhood in a New Orleans suburb led him to a rehearsal pianist gig at a community theater. “A choreographer there saw me and said, ‘Hey, you’re tall, you’re musical and you’re a guy. Come take lessons for free at my dance school,’ ” Vasterling says. “I wasn’t athletic, but I liked the physical part because it was connected to music.”

Vasterling earned a degree in theater at Loyola University New Orleans, then danced with various regional companies, including Nashville Ballet. He realized his gift for choreography while on the faculty at the School of Nashville Ballet. “I’d do pretty much anything, even choreograph for a table top in a mall,” he says. “That’s when I realized I wanted to go for it as a choreographer.”

Now, as artistic director, Vasterling takes on the bulk of the company’s choreography himself, with more than 40 works to his credit. “I think it’s important for dancers to have a house choreographer,” Vasterling says. “Someone who knows how to develop their talents—and knows what makes them look good.” It also, he adds, saves the company some licensing fees.

In particular, he loves putting his own artistic spin on familiar stories, from Dracula toPeter and the Wolf. Eighteen days after fine-tuning his testosterone-driven Romeo and Juliet, he premiered a new Macbeth, featuring live music by a chamber ensemble. “I happen to be really good at narrative,” Vasterling says. “It’s my favorite thing to do.”

Vasterling tries to make the most of being located in a music industry hub. Many ballets are backed by the Nashville Symphony. In May, he’ll premiere a work to a new piano concerto he commissioned from the pop musician Ben Folds, who will perform the piece with the orchestra.

“We’re always courting musicians,” Vasterling says. “They’re not used to having their music danced to, but when they work with us, they recognize that there’s this whole other poetic comment going on.” When he brings in choreographers to make new work (recent commissions include Gina Patterson and Sarah Slipper), he encourages them to choose music that can be performed live. Company dancer Christopher Stuart’s upcoming piece to the songs of Johnny Cash, for example, will feature a bluesy garage rock duo, Sugar & The Hi Lows, putting their own stamp on Cash’s tunes.

For the dancers, versatility is essential in a company that does big story ballets but lacks the numbers to perfectly fill each character role. They have to adapt. “Paul is always trying to figure out what is best for you as a dancer, how to push you individually,” says up-and-comer Kayla Rowser, who, like many company members, got her start in Nashville Ballet 2. “We don’t all have the same movement quality or look, but he has an eye for fitting us together.”

Although the company is unranked, seniority matters. “I’m really unlikely to throw a brand-new person into a principal role,” Vasterling says. “I err on the side of being slow.” But he makes sure his dancers have sufficient outlets, and most have long careers with the Nashville Ballet—several current members have been there for over 10 years. “Even when dancers aren’t ready for certain roles,” he says, “I try to give them other opportunities so they stay here and find their artistic life.”

At A Glance

Nashville Ballet

Company: 22 (11 male, 11 female)

Length of contract:  34 weeks

Starting salary:  $500/week

Performances: 7 productions per season; about 34 performances per year

Touring: No dates currently scheduled

Website: nashvilleballet.com

Audition Advice

“I look for intelligence, number one, and adaptability and curiosity. I like a really athletic physique in both men and women. I want dancers to relax and be themselves, to show me their personality in their dancing.”

Ethan Stiefel takes on his biggest role yet as artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet.

International ballet stars labeled “Made in America” are an endangered species. But former American Ballet Theatre principal Ethan Stiefel is one of the rare few. He first made a global name for himself through guest appearances with The Royal Ballet and Mariinsky Ballet, the Center Stage films, his touring troupe Stiefel & Stars and the Kings of the Dance showcases. While still performing, he was recruited to direct California’s Ballet Pacifica, although the company folded less than a year later due to lack of funding. For several summers he led a Stiefel & Students workshop where students could train and perform with prominent dancers. Then, from 2007 to 2011, he ushered in fresh energy as dean of the School of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he says he “learned a lot about administration and education policy,” but realized that his real passion was in the studio teaching and coaching, rather than paper pushing.

Through these leadership positions, Stiefel assimilated the skills to direct a dance company long before he took his final bow. Now retired, he’s putting that experience to work as artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet. “What attracted me to the company was its solid mix of classical ballets, contemporary and modern dance works. The dancers are very adept and versatile,” says Stiefel, who adds that his long-time colleague Johan Kobborg first suggested he apply. “What I’ve focused on is elevating the classical technique, while not forgetting that a company in 2013 needs to reach broad audiences with a diverse repertoire.”

RNZB was formed in 1953 by Royal Danish Ballet principal Poul Gnatt. It’s known for its full-length story ballets as well as repertoire by Balanchine and other 20th-century choreographers. The company tours the country extensively, performing in dozens of cities. The Ministry for Culture and Heritage contributes $4 million to the annual budget of $11 million New Zealand (about $8.1 million U.S.), and RNZB has been aggresively fundraising to create more options for productions and touring. Since arriving, Stiefel has increased the number of dancers from 32 to 34.

Recently, the company has gotten buzz from “The Secret Lives of Dancers,” a reality television program about RNZB, produced in New Zealand. Now in its third season, the show documented the exit of former artistic director Gary Harris and segued into Stiefel’s tenure the minute he arrived in September 2011. “I just step off the plane and I’m in a company where I don’t know anybody—and there are cameras everywhere,” says Stiefel with a laugh. Despite the emphasis on soap opera over saut de basques, Stiefel says the show has broadened the company’s audience.

His boldest move so far has been co-producing and co-choreographing a new RNZBGiselle with Kobborg. The company, which rotates its full-lengths in cycles of five to six years, was due for a new Giselle, and Kobborg and Stiefel had bounced around ideas about the ballet for years. They’ve added an aging Albrecht, so that the story is seen as a flashback, and given Hilarion a solo in Act 1. Stiefel’s fiancée, Gillian Murphy, debuted in the title role to great excitement. Adding to the fanfare, Giselle, a feature film about the RNZB production, premiered at the New Zealand International Film Festival in July 2013 with rights offered for a North American release.

Stiefel’s biggest challenge has been getting the company moving in new ways when, for many of the dancers, RNZB is the only company they’ve known. (Around a third of the dancers are from New Zealand, and many of those trained at the New Zealand School of Dance.) He hopes to bring in A-list and emerging choreographers, taking advantage of his connections to artists such as Twyla Tharp and Christopher Wheeldon. He also wants to hire more New Zealand-based choreographers and implement productions using multimedia technology.

So when will marriage fit into his plans? “In a couple of years,” says Stiefel, now 40. “Gillian and I wanted to get our feet on the ground first. Also, I have to wait to see if the board renews my contract next year.”

At A Glance

Royal New Zealand Ballet

Number of dancers: 34

Length of contract: 52 weeks

Starting salary: Company does not release this information

Auditions: Held annually in New Zealand and periodically abroad

Performances per year: 80–90

Weeks on tour: 15 weeks domestic; 3 weeks international

Additional perks: No annual tradition of The Nutcracker

Website: nzballet.org.nz

Upcoming U.S. Tour

Los Angeles: Giselle, Jan. 31–Feb. 2

Santa Barbara: Giselle, Feb. 5

Minneapolis: A mixed-rep program, including a pas de deux from Stiefel’s comic balletBier Halle, Feb. 8

New York City: A triple bill, including Benjamin Millepied’s 28 Variations on a Theme by Paganini and Of Days by Kiwi choreographer Andrew Simmons, Feb. 12–16

Audition Advice

“Equally important to a dancer’s technique, I ask, Does this person have something to say? What is their movement quality? It’s not just about doing six pirouettes with all the in-between steps thrown out the window.”

Emily Molnar has given Ballet BC fresh life.

Watching the exuberant dancing of today’s Ballet BC, you’d hardly guess that the troupe was on the brink of collapse a little more than four years ago. In 2008, dwindling audiences had compounded the company’s financial difficulties. Forced to lay off staff and dancers, that December, Ballet BC filed for bankruptcy protection. It looked like the final curtain.

Today, buoyed by critical acclaim, returning audiences and an improving balance sheet, the Vancouver-based Ballet BC has risen from the ashes under artistic director Emily Molnar. This season saw a bold and successful reimagining of Giselle by Montréal choreographer José Navas. The troupe toured Canada and the U.S. with works by William Forsythe, Jorma Elo, Medhi Walerski and Molnar herself. This July, the company returns to Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

Although Molnar, 39, is the first to emphasize that the turnaround has been a team effort, it’s generally agreed that the former Ballet BC star who came back as artistic director has been central to the company’s revival. Molnar’s calm, encouraging yet demanding approach has given the dancers a renewed sense of purpose. “It’s important to me that there’s an intention,” she says. “There’s a reason why we’re doing this, there’s something we have to say as artists.”

Ballet BC was founded in 1986 out of the failed Pacific Ballet Theatre. During the first six years, directors came and went, making Ballet BC’s identity hard to pin down. A promising period unfolded with the 1992 arrival of artistic director John Alleyne. He gave the company a sleek, neoclassical look; but audiences wavered as the company explored a broader programming approach. There was a sense that Ballet BC had lost its way artistically.

Molnar replaced Alleyne in 2009. She’d begun her career with The National Ballet of Canada, then joined Forsythe’s Frankfurt-based company in 1994. It proved the perfect place for a dancer of Molnar’s considerable height (5’ 11”) and powerfully distinctive way of moving. But four years later, she was lured back to her homeland by Alleyne. She remained with Ballet BC until 2002, when she became a freelance choreographer, working in a contemporary style that’s rooted in ballet yet distinctive in its visceral power and dynamic variety.

Upon taking over Ballet BC, Molnar quickly infused the troupe with fresh confidence. “I spent a lot of time getting the dancers to take ownership of the work,” she recalls. Molnar says she wants dancers to be curious about the artistic process and eager to participate as creative collaborators.

Molnar has also been reaching out to the community, rebuilding bridges that neglect had allowed to crumble. That includes spreading the word about Ballet BC by speaking to local groups. “There’s a lot more engagement. People feel more welcome now,” she says.

She defines Ballet BC broadly as “a contemporary ballet company,” but more in the European than American sense of that definition. “Everything we do requires a classically trained dancer, but does not always have a codified use of the classical idiom. Our work today focuses on new movement invention.”

It’s an approach that embraces a wide range of possibilities. She’s hired a number of Canadian choreographers, such as Crystal Pite and Wen Wei Wang, as well as American-born former Ballet BC member Donald Sales.

“I like to bring in artists who stimulate the dancers,” she explains. “My biggest responsibility is to cultivate potential, to provide a productive environment where the dancers can grow. I want us to take the art forward, and make sure dance remains a valid art that’s going to last.”

At A Glance

Ballet BC

Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Size: 14, plus 3 apprentices

Starting salary: From $540/week

Length of contract: 36–40 weeks or more, depending on touring

Performances: 20-plus

Website: balletbc.com

Audition Advice

“When you audition, it’s important to know about yourself, about what people are going to see first, so that you know how to present yourself and show what it is about you that’s special,” says Molnar. “I often recommend that dancers avoid cattle calls because it’s very hard to be seen as an individual.” Apart from having auditioning dancers take class, Molnar likes to work with them individually or have them work in the back during a rehearsal to see how they pick up information. “Openness and work ethic are huge for me,” she says, citing the need for her dancers to be fully engaged in the creative process. “It’s not just about learning steps.”

John McFall has made Atlanta Ballet an incubator for innovative choreography.

In John McFall’s teenage mind, nothing equaled the enchantment of ballet. He remembers being cast as a swashbuckling supernumerary in Scheherazade when Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo visited his hometown of Kansas City. “I was leaping around the stage, sword in hand, swiping at people,” says McFall, 64. “The director was screaming ‘Stop! Stop! ’ I was having too much fun. I felt like I truly belonged to something important.”

Today, Atlanta Ballet’s artistic director feels that excitement again as his company starts a new era of growth, exploring innovative choreography. “We love the classics,” McFall says, “but we’re really thinking about the dance literature of tomorrow.”

Aiding the company is a successful $21 million capital campaign, spearheaded by executive director Arturo Jacobus. New opportunities include a $500,000 “Innovation Fund” for new works, and a 200-seat black box theater. Jacobus has said that the money allows what some perceived as a “kind of vanilla, all-purpose community ballet company” to make bold artistic choices.

The repertoire now boasts a number of abstract contemporary ballets by choreographers such as Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor and even Ohad Naharin. McFall also hired William Forsythe disciple Helen Pickett as resident choreographer. Collaborations with the Indigo Girls and OutKast rapper Antwan André “Big Boi” Patton have attracted fresh audiences: Atlanta Ballet has one of the youngest fan bases of any major performing arts group in Atlanta.

Launched in 1929, the company is one of the oldest dance troupes in the U.S., though it didn’t gain professional status until 1967. Founder Dorothy Alexander left the company to Robert Barnett, who led it for over 30 years, presenting many Balanchine works, including his Nutcracker. McFall took the helm in 1994, after 20 years dancing with San Francisco Ballet and eight years as artistic director of BalletMet. Having set work on Atlanta Ballet as a choreographer, McFall knew the troupe was primed to grow.

His first decision as director got people’s attention. “Right away we did a differentNutcracker,” he says. “They’d been looking at the same Balanchine version for 20 years. We wanted more people involved, and tons of children.”

McFall also got the company focused on dance education. Just a year after he started, Atlanta Ballet opened its Centre for Dance Education, now one of the largest dance schools in the country, with more than 1,200 students. “When you step into something that has a long history,” McFall says, “you must take a fresh view and go through a new door.”

Pickett’s recent appointment is notable not only because so few women hold similar titles in the U.S., but because it reinforces the company’s commitment to new work. She is currently contemplating a Tennessee Williams ballet, which would come with multiple selling-points: It’d be Southern, dramatic and also contemporary.

With any changes he makes, McFall strives to reflect the city, which he views as a global community. Out of 25 dancers, 11 were born abroad. “I’m looking for passion and imagination,” McFall says. “Technique is wonderful, but it’s not the soul of dance. I don’t look for body types. I don’t want a bunhead mentality. Are they here to collaborate? Do they want to explore all kinds of movement? Do they have a sense of adventure?”

At A Glance

Atlanta Ballet

Number of dancers: 25, including 4 apprentices

Length of contract: 35 weeks

Starting salary: $696/week

Performances: Five productions per season, including The Nutcracker; about 45 performances per year

Touring: No touring dates this season

Website: atlantaballet.com

Audition Advice

“I’ve only ever hired one dancer directly from a cattle call,” says McFall. “It’s too big a decision. I have to get acquainted with you first. Sign up for a summer program. Come dance with us through the school’s Fellowship Division. Let us see your work.”

Paul Lightfoot has rekindled NDT’s core mission: creating groundbreaking contemporary ballet.

Nederlands Dans Theater’s sleek performances don’t show it, but just two years ago, the company was in serious trouble. A review of government arts funding recommended a 50 percent cut.

In search of a solution, the board hired a new artistic director: Paul Lightfoot, who has been with NDT for 28 years as a dancer and choreographer. “Internationally, people were wildly interested in NDT, but we didn’t even bother to ask what Holland understood about us,” he says. “We had to write a new artistic and financial plan to prove who we were.” It worked: The company escaped with only minor budget cuts, and now is thriving again under Lightfoot.

Born in England, Lightfoot trained at The Royal Ballet Upper School. One morning, then-NDT director Jirí Kylián watched class, and offered Lightfoot a contract with NDT2. “I didn’t want to go,” says Lightfoot. “At The Royal we were so blinkered. Some people told me I would have to dance naked.” He gave it a try anyway, and once he walked in the door, his world changed. “I realized it was the place to be if you had creative aspirations.”

Creation has always been at the core of the company: NDT was founded in 1959 by a group of dancers from Dutch National Ballet who wanted to experiment with new choreography. In its early years, headed by Benjamin Harkarvy and Hans van Manen, NDT went through a period Lightfoot describes as “everyone just breaking every rule.” It was among the first companies to herald the then-groundbreaking idea of contemporary ballet, and became known for its inventive brand of dance theater. The ensemble rose to international prominence during Kylián’s 22 years at the helm, starting in 1978. It became an audience darling with its elegant blend of neoclassical and modern aesthetics. Kylián’s work led the way, but the company also kept on nurturing a range of choreographers.

Kylián’s departure as artistic director in 1999 left a void, and three directors came and went in the decade that followed. When Lightfoot finally stepped into the position in 2011, it was a move that reaffirmed the company’s identity as an incubator for new work. Like Kylián, Lightfoot is an in-demand dancemaker, having created over 40 works for NDT with partner Sol León.

“It’s harder to look ahead with all our past now,” Lightfoot says. “At this point, NDT has a responsibility to its traditions. Jirí’s repertoire is symbolic for us, but he was fully aware that NDT shouldn’t be a house about one person.” The company currently boasts four in-house choreographers in addition to Lightfoot and León: Crystal Pite, Alexander Ekman, Johan Inger and Marco Goecke. It holds regular choreography workshops and this season, NDT will perform four world premieres and NDT2 will dance seven.

Lightfoot takes a relaxed approach to directing. “I’m kind of refusing to become the director with my dancers. Perhaps it’s not easy for them to deal with me playing the fool and being the boss, but I like to be on the work floor.” He’s focused on strengthening the group’s family feel. “I want people to ask questions, trust in each other,” he says. Last summer, he hired high-profile American dancer Drew Jacoby. “She often wasn’t accepted into companies because she stands out, but in my books that’s a good thing.”

In 2012, Lightfoot orchestrated NDT’s first international broadcasts through Emerging Pictures’ Ballet in Cinema. The programming, a mix of Kylián classics and edgy premieres, reflects the company’s trademark high production values and quirky style, all darting, fluid limbs. “NDT has a certain way of moving that no one else has,” Lightfoot says. “It is the kind of place that shouldn’t be too sure of itself, that should have a sense of vulnerability, because ultimately, that’s what makes you creative.”

At A Glance

Nederlands Dans Theater

Location: The Hague, Netherlands

Size: 30 dancers in NDT, 20 in NDT2

Starting salary: Company does not release this information

Length of contract: Year-round (and after four years, indefinite)

Performances: 90–100 per season in the Netherlands, 30–40 abroad

Website: ndt.nl

Audition Advice

Only NDT2 holds open auditions. After class and repertoire, dancers perform solos. “A lot of dancers make the solos themselves,” Lightfoot says. “We’re interested in seeing the creative person. We look for human qualities, for someone who’ll go the extra mile, who can embrace anything.” Lightfoot is particularly keen on American dancers, citing their work ethic and “positive ambition.”

At Hamburg Ballet, John Neumeier built not only a world-class troupe, but a whole new generation of ballet lovers.

John Neumeier personifies ballet in Hamburg. Before he arrived 39 years ago, the German city-state had little in the way of a ballet tradition. Today, the local audience’s affection for the choreographer—and the world-renowned ensemble he built at Hamburg Ballet—is palpable at every performance.

Born in Milwaukee, Neumeier moved to Europe after college to train in London and Copenhagen. In 1963, John Cranko invited him to join Germany’s Stuttgart Ballet, where Neumeier started choreographing on the side. Success came fast, but Neumeier was keen to be his own master. “The idea at the time was that every choreographer had his own company: there was John Cranko, Maurice Béjart,” he explains. In 1969, the opportunity came to head Frankfurt Ballet, and at barely 27, the young choreographer took the plunge.

Hamburg came calling just four years later. The local ballet company’s reputation had eroded following director Peter van Dyk’s departure in 1970, but Neumeier was attracted by the prospect of trading his 32-strong ensemble for Hamburg’s 58 dancers.

“When I arrived, the company was basically a small part of the opera,” he remembers. “I had one room, an office which was also my dressing room, together with my ballet master. It was a humble beginning.” Long considered subordinate to opera, German ballet was then in the early stages of a renaissance following Cranko’s success in Stuttgart. Neumeier lost no time reorganizing the Hamburg ensemble, bringing in dancers he had worked with in Frankfurt, Stuttgart and elsewhere, and fine-tuning the company to become an “instrument for creation.”

Fast-forward to the present: The Hamburg Ballet has become one of the city’s leading cultural institutions, with attendance at 97 percent last season. The company and school now have their own building, the Hamburg Ballettzentrum, and Neumeier’s extensive repertoire currently includes over 100 ballets. His large-scale theatrical stagings of literary works, from Lady of the Camellias to The Seagull and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, have gained international recognition. In Hamburg, they share the stage with his minimalist full-length experiments, such as Third Symphony by Gustav Mahler and Saint Matthew Passion. His work probes ballet’s serious, modern side, with sleek elegance and psychological subtext.

“I want to produce not evenings of entertainment, but thought-provoking art through movement,” says Neumeier. His passion for ballet history, and Nijinsky in particular (Neumeier’s private collection of artwork and memorabilia related to the Russian legend is the largest in the world), are clear inspirations. For him, directing a company is inextricably linked to his artistic stance. “I wouldn’t ever be a ballet director if I weren’t a choreographer,” he says. “There is nothing more bonding than choreographing on your own company. You are really naked when you start a work, and they know it, they sense your vulnerability.”

Dancers clearly relish the chance to perform Neumeier’s ballets, and his 60-strong international ensemble is devoted to his repertoire. The hierarchy is simple by European standards, with only three ranks, and most principals have risen through them. “I believe in a company of individuals, of thinking artists,” Neumeier explains. “I try to look every day at the company as if I’ve never seen it before, to notice who draws the eye.”

Neumeier’s works form the bulk of every season, yet he has also introduced a range of classics to acquaint local audiences with ballet history, from Makarova’s La Bayadère to Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, as well as works by Balanchine, Robbins and Mats Ek, who created his Sleeping Beauty on Hamburg Ballet. The organization has also started nurturing young choreographers. The Hamburg Ballet School now includes a mandatory composition exam as part of its curriculum, and Neumeier allowed two dancers to create a full-length work, Renku, for the company’s weeks-long Ballet Days Festival last summer.

Creativity is also the motto of the youth company Neumeier founded in 2011 with federal funding, the Bundesjugendballett. “I wanted to establish a kind of ballet paradise for eight young dancers between the ages of 19 and 23,” he explains. As part of its federal mandate, the company tours retirement homes, schools and prisons with classical ballets as well as small-scale creations by budding young dancemakers. While there is no guarantee of a contract with the main company afterwards, it is already attracting top talent: 2012 Prix de Lausanne winner Madoka Sugai chose the ensemble over apprenticeship offers from larger companies.

Stepping out of Neumeier’s artistic shadow is no small task in Hamburg, however. The choreographer, now 70, is revered throughout the city, where no one seems to be able to imagine Hamburg Ballet without him. The sensitive issue of his eventual succession isn’t openly discussed, and no plan is in place at present.

Neumeier has forged ahead regardless, scheduling prestigious Russian and U.S. tours (including stops in Chicago, Costa Mesa and San Francisco in February), as well as collaborations with Alina Cojocaru, Diana Vishneva and several international companies. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of his directorship, the Ballet Days Festival next June will be a Neumeier retrospective, with no less than 17 programs over three weeks, and the choreographer also has new creations in mind. For Hamburg, a future beyond Neumeier might just have to wait a little longer.

The Washington Ballet was always a hometown favorite. Under Septime Webre, now it’s also a top national troupe.

An all-Tharp program. World premieres by Edwaard Liang and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. A new ALICE (in wonderland). The Washington Ballet’s last season was full of creativity and virtuoso performances. It’s a long way from the 1970s troupe Mary Day began as an outlet for her students. Under the ebullient artistic direction of Septime Webre, the company now holds its own in a city that’s accustomed to regular visits from the Bolshoi Ballet and American Ballet Theatre.

Webre, who grew up in Texas, was supposed to become a lawyer. But he followed his sister to ballet school, and when he got a job dancing for Ballet Austin after college, he deferred law school and never looked back. Webre later danced with American Repertory Ballet, where he served as resident choreographer during the late 1980s and early ‘90s, then became the company’s artistic director in 1993. He also apprenticed with Merce Cunningham.

When TWB’s board of directors approached him in 1999, Webre says, “I knew of the company by reputation, knew of Mary Day’s great influence on the ballet world. And I knew that TWB had grown to be a very interesting company.”

Pioneering teacher Mary Day co-founded The Washington School of Ballet with Lisa Gardiner in 1944. Day trained many great dancers, including Amanda McKerrow, Kevin McKenzie and Virginia Johnson. TWB made the shift from student troupe to professional company in 1976, and its reputation grew during the late 1970s and ‘80s with Singaporean neoclassical choreographer Choo-San Goh as artist-in-residence.

The organization has blossomed since Webre took the helm. The company’s annual budget has grown from about $2.8 million to approximately $9.5 million. Webre has cherry-picked some top dancers, such as Brooklyn Mack and Maki Onuki, from the ballet competition circuit where he’s often a judge. The school has expanded from one location with 350 students to three locations and a total of around 900 students.

“What I’ve tried to do is grow the organization with the partnership of the board, staff and dancers,” says Webre. “Mary Day’s concept was a very fine school, and a company of classical dancers who cherished creativity. She always produced a lot of new work, so it was a real incubation place. I try to retain that central DNA.”

Webre, however, has greatly expanded the repertoire. While Day avoided the traditional full-lengths because the Kennedy Center has long booked world-famous companies that bring the classics to DC, Webre has brought in such ballets as Anna-Marie Holmes’Don Quixote and Bournonville’s La Sylphide. He feels that the Kennedy Center’s big productions, rather than overshadowing the dance scene in DC, have enlivened it. “I think our audiences are smarter, better educated, have higher expectations here. They view us as a stronger company as a result of seeing that we can tackle this kind of repertoire with credibility.”

The company’s growth has not come without pain. The dancers decided to unionize in 2004, and a labor dispute over the initial union contract in 2005 resulted in program cancellations (including the lucrative Nutcracker) that cost the company well over $700,000. “We grew so quickly in my first five years here. I think the infrastructure around the dancers and the company and how we do business didn’t grow as quickly as our activity did,” Webre says. “Their decision to unionize was a logical one, and in retrospect a very good one. Our organization is much healthier now.” Webre feels healing from the dispute came about through returning to work. “Once the contract was signed, we really came back together in cooperation and collaboration. And I think the bonds were rebuilt in the studio.”

During the recent economic downturn, city funding of TWB has dropped 90 percent—from about $1 million pre-recession to $100,000 in 2009. Fortunately, ticket sales have increased and philanthropy has held steady. Webre has steered TWB away from cutting dancers or programming, instead focusing on streamlining company administration. “We do a lot with a little, and take an entrepreneurial approach,” he says. “We’ve got to be scrappy, and it’s really working.”

Looking ahead, Webre is excited about a new addition to the repertoire: the American Experience, a series of ballets based on great works of American literature. It started with Webre’s The Great Gatsby in 2010, and the spring of 2013 will bring his adaptation of Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises. Other choreographers will be brought in to create future ballets for the project.

In addition to the growing repertoire, the company has blossomed through the organization’s commitment to community engagement, fulfilled by a partnership with DC public schools, and the school’s studios at the Town Hall Education Arts and Recreation Center (THEARC) in southeast Washington, a historically underserved community. The success of both programs, says Webre, has bolstered TWB’s audience, student and donor populations. “The community of Washington, DC, cares about TWB not just because of our performances onstage, but because we’re contributing to the social fabric of the city.”

At A Glance

The Washington Ballet

Location: Washington, DC

Size: 23 dancers in the main company, 11 in the studio company

Height/body type: There are no expressed limitations, but Webre prefers a “lean, athletic look.”

Starting salary: $810.90/week for the first year, $926.72/week second year

Length of contract: 34 weeks

Touring: Occasional international tours

Website: washingtonballet.org

Audition Tip

“Check your insecurities at the door. You’ve got to take command of the studio, even if there are 80 other dancers around you. Ballet is best executed when dancers have a sense of authority. You’ve got to approach your day like a ballerina or a danseur noble in order to be one.” —Septime Webre

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