Being center stage is a great place to be, for some. For others, they enjoy being the force behind the productions. The creative brain power that puts it all together is equally as important in a ballet production as the graceful dancers who we watch with awe. We would like to honor a few of our favorite ballet choreographers who have made their mark in the ballet world behind the scenes.
1. Peter Quanz
Born in Baden, Ontario, Peter Quanz knew he wanted to create dance routines at a very early age. He began his studies at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School and began his choreography career creating dances for the accompanying Ballet Company. Since he was not interested in being a primary dancer his career is set apart from choreographers who began on stage and moved into direction.
Quanz’s productions have graced many ballet companies, theater, opera and has worked with other companies that do not focus only on the art of ballet. Some of the most prominent ballet companies he has choreographed for are the American Ballet Theatre, the Royal Ballet, the Mariinsky Ballet and the National Ballet of Cuba. Quanz was also behind a piece titled In Tandem, part of the Works & Process series at the Guggenheim Museum.
Although he has been a freelance choreographer since 2002, in 2010 Quanz created Q DANCE, an eclectic group of dancers whose goal is to give performers a chance to work with a great deal of diverse and talented artists. This company performed a season at the Joyce Theatre in 2012 and is a close collaborator with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Quanz has won many awards including the Clifford E. Lee Award, which is the national award for young choreographers in Canada.
2. Christopher Wheeldon
This next “man behind the scenes” in his forties and has already choreographed more works for the major ballet companies around the world than years he has been alive. His formal training in ballet came from The Royal Ballet School in London where he continued on as a dancer in the company associated with the school from 1991-93. Wheeldon won the Prix de Lausanne gold medal in 1991, which is the ballet competition of ballet competitions.
Born in Yeovil, a town located in the South West region of the UK, Wheeldon, this accomplished creator of dance, left The Royal Ballet and headed to New York where he joined the New York City Ballet and reached the status of soloist in only five years. Still, he had already choreographed a work for the eminent ballet company the year before in 1997, which was Slavonic Dances.
In 2001 Wheeldon became the very first Resident Choreographer for the New York City Ballet and has choreographed works for them that has earned him a London Critics’ Circle Award and a Laurence Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production.
One accomplishment by this choreographer that we feel deserves mentioning is that he not only arranged and directed the 2015 Broadway production An American in Paris, he was also nominated for a Tony Award for Best Choreography but lost to Andy Blankenbuehler for Hamilton. Still, moving from ballet to Broadway is no easy feat, which is why we believe Wheeldon is worth watching.
3. Dame Ninette de Valois
Finally, a female. This dance master was born in Blessington, County Wicklow, Ireland under the name of Edris Stannus. De Valois is not only a famed choreographer but she was also the brains behind the Royal Ballet. This woman played an essential role in instituting the art of ballet in England.
After some training in the arts under Enrico Cecchetti de Valois became a member of the Ballet Russes, a prominent ballet company started by Serge Diaghilev. While there she was promoted to soloist but was forced to resign a short time later due to a case of childhood polio of which she was unaware. She took her future in her own hands and opened the Academy of Choreographic Art while simultaneously producing routines at the Abbey Theatre and Lennox Robinson.
Yet, it was in 1926, when she and Lilian Baylis came together to produce ballets for the Old Vic Theatre, which ultimately led to the creation of the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. This would eventually become The Royal Ballet in 1956. She would serve as director at the Royal Ballet until her retirement in 1963. De Valois would stay on as the school director until the early 1970’s.
4. Alvin Ailey
An only child and abandoned by his father Ailey’s mother moved him to Los Angeles, where was first introduced to the ballet when, on a field trip, he saw the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He would eventually train with Katherine Dunham and Lester Horton, the latter being a great inspiration to Ailey.
Ailey’s studies with Horton began in 1949 when he left UCLA and his studies in romance language. It would only take one year for Ailey to make his debut on Broadway in House of Flowers by Truman Capote. After this production Ailey chose to remain in New York to further his studies. Influential teachers there were Martha Graham and Doris Humphrey.
Revelations, which his most well-known work, has been staged for millions throughout the world. It centers on Ailey’s experiences as an African-American and mixes modern dance and gospel music.
In 1953, when Lester Horton died, Ailey took over direction and decided to integrate his company in 1963. This did not come without criticism but the choreographer chose this route because he “met some incredible dancers of other colors who could cut the work.” The Brooklyn Academy of Music took on his troupe as the resident company in 1969 and since then The Alvin Ailey Dance Company would tour the USSR in the 1970’s, the first to do son in half a century.
Many awards have been bestowed upon the Alvin Ailey Dance Company including the Dance Magazine Award in 1975, the Capezio Award in 1979, the Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award in 1987 and the Kennedy Center Honors in 1988. Ailey passed on in 1989 at the young age of fifty-eight. Judith Jamison was appointed Artistic Director of the company when Ailey died and has been serving in the position for fifty-years.
Cover photo shows Chaplin, a fantastic political ballet by choreographer Mario Schöder.