Even though ballet got its start in the fifteenth century courts of the Italian Renaissance we find that the art form is more than celebrated in the United States it is revered. Today the United States hosts more than fifty ballet companies all its own. They decorate the map from sea to shining sea and we would like to introduce you to a few.
1. Dance Theatre of Harlem
This professional ballet company also hosts a school that is settled into one of New York’s most musical neighborhood. Arthur Mitchell, an African-American dancer and choreographer, and Karel Shook, a ballet master and educator from the Dutch National Ballet, got together and started the first African-American classical ballet company. It was not only founded by African-American it put African-American dancers first.
Mitchell is also the first African-American male dancer to be in a prominent ballet company, which was the New York City Ballet. He was headed to Brazil when he was informed that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot. This inspired him to do something positive for the community in Harlem and starting a ballet company was the result.
The founder started classes in a church and soon moved to the building the company calls home today. Their first performance was held at the New York Guggenheim Museum on January 8, 1971. The company danced three chamber ballets derived from the dance repertoire of Michael Balanchine, who gave Mitchell his ballets to help him with his companies birth.
Dance Theater of Harlem continues to produce ballets that dazzle their audiences. Other choreographers whose work was presented by the Dance Theater of Harlem include Nacho Duato, Donald Byrd, Christopher Huggins and Alvin Ailey.
2. Louisville Ballet
Our next American ballet company is the official state ballet of The Commonwealth of Kentucky. Founded in 1952 yet the school did not get started until 1975. Mikhail Baryshnikov has danced in their repertoire presentations. His tenure with the company was for the 1978-79 and 1979-1980 seasons. It has produced nearly one hundred and fifty works including well known full length ballets like Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet, Don Quixote, Giselle and Cinderella.
Besides their regular season of presentations, the Louisville Ballet produces The Nutcracker every holiday season with sponsorship by the Brown-Forman Corporation, one of the largest American corporations selling wine and liquors. Robert Curran is the current director and more than one-hundred thousand attendees walk through the doors every year. The venues typically used by the ballet for their performances are The Brown Theatre, The Louisville Palace and The Kentucky Center.
The Louisville Ballet Building houses two enormous rehearsal spaces and departmental offices. It was built by designers from Bravura Corporation, a group of Louisville architects. The project cost $2.2 million dollars and was completed in 1995. The school also has a student performing group called the Louisville Ballet Youth Ensemble.
3. Oregon Ballet Theatre
Based in Portland this fairly young ballet company has a season that hosts five works annually. They perform at the Portland Center for the Performing Arts and tours as well as perform in Portland. Along with their principal dancer in 2007, Kathi Martuza, this company was featured in that years October/November issue of Pointe magazine.
The inception of this company was not as dramatic as the Dance Theatre of Harlem, instead it was a simple union of Pacific Ballet Theater and Ballet Oregon. Their first Artistic Director was James Canfield and he served in the position up until 2003. Canfield once danced with Chicago’s infamous Joffrey Ballet and was titled as principal dancer with the Pacific Ballet theater. It was under him that this youthful company built a repertoire of more than eighty ballets that range from contemporary pieces and classical full length works.
Canfield’s successor was Christopher Stowell, a dancer and choreographer born in New York City. His parents were with the New York City Ballet. Stowell trained with his parents and ended up furthering his studies at the Pacific Northwest Ballet School and the School of American Ballet. Today Kevin Irving sits as Artistic Director of this ballet gem of the Northwest.
4. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Housed in the Strip District of this Pennsylvania city this ballet company was founded in 1969 by Nicolas Petrov and Frederic Franklin. Starting as a predominantly wholesale and produce district by the mid twentieth century the Strip District found their residents finding new places to ship from that were closer to the ever changing infrastructure. It eventually became an art mecca and a prominent inhabitant is the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
Petrov, a choreographer and dancer from Yugoslavia, became a faculty member at the Pittsburgh Playhouse in 1965. Under his tutelage the students performed in several productions guided by him including The Nutcracker. As their popularity grew their productions were moved to a larger performance space.
A few years later the Pittsburgh Ballet held their inaugural performance in April of 1970 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse. Their first season with subscriptions was 1970 through 1971 at the Syria Mosque and the next season was housed at Heinz Hall, a large hall in the city. It was in 1973 when donations were given to the ballet company to find a building for rehearsals and a ballet school. From there the company would grow and classes were extended out to Point Park College when they couldn’t house them all. In the year 2000 the company showcased a series of ballets set to popular songs by Ray Brown, Lena Horne, Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon and Frank Sinatra.
5. Mystic Ballet
In the same town from the popular movie Mystic Pizza, this ballet company is the youngest yet founded less than twenty years ago in 1997. Goran Subotic is the founder and Artistic Director and has garnered national and international recognition. Their repertoire is filled with neo-classical, classical and contemporary ballets that are both full-length stories and world premieres.
Besides founding the Company, Subotic also choreographed performances along with Sergei Vanaev, Sidra Bell, Gabrielle Lamb, Lauren Edson and Austin McCormick. The company tours throughout their region including New York and Massachusetts as well as performing internationally in Germany, Serbia, Brazil, Japan, and Nicaragua.
This company started with an intimate group of dancers and has grown to having nearly two hundred dancers hailing from nearly forty national countries. They receive backing from Connecticut Office of the Arts, Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism, and the National Endowment of the Arts.
6. Nevada Ballet Theatre
Housed in a city that is known for a scandalous culture, this ballet company brings a type of art that is scarcely spoken of when tourists speak of Las Vegas. It is the biggest performing arts company in Nevada and is a resident of The Smith Center for the Performing Arts. Their repertoire boasts classics like The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake as well as other pieces choreographed by George Balanchine, Twyla Tharp, James Canfield, and Thaddeus Davis.
Future Dance is an outreach program run by the company at their main facility. It makes connections with more than sixteen thousand Southern Nevada students annually. It all began with Vassili Sulich, a principal dancer at the Tropicana Hotel in their Folies Bergere. Sulich put a group of ballet dancers in the entertainment industry from Las Vegas Boulevard.
The group led by Sulich produced shows to an enthusiastic crowd at the University of Las Vegas. One thing led to another and within the twenty-five years under the direction of Sulich, the Nevada Ballet Theatre was born.
Today James Canfield is the artistic director with Beth Barbre serving as CEO. This ballet company also joins artistic forces with the Cirque Du Soleil every year to produce “A Choreographer’s Showcase”, which is unmatched in originality.
7. Shreveport Metropolitan Ballet
Based in the Shreveport-Bossier City area, the third-largest area in Louisiana, this American ballet company was founded in 1973. It has not stopped producing ballets since its inception and is an institution within the Shreveport artistic culture.
Every season they put on a show titled “Fall for Dance!” with the help of other dance groups in the Louisiana area. AS well as this production the Shreveport Metropolitan Ballet showcases The Nutcracker and one other classical full-length ballets. The latter is typically performed in the spring.
Audience members don’t only hail from small towns around Louisiana, fans from East Texas and South Arkansas also travel to Shreveport to bask in their ballet. Along with members of the company guest artists have appeared in productions including members of the New York City Ballet, the Boston Ballet, the Houston Ballet, and the San Francisco Ballet.
The company is mixed with Junior, Senior Apprentice, and Senior performers and they are carefully selected by hopefuls auditioning every spring ranging from children as young as ten and adults. The Shreveport Metropolitan Ballet Company has given their members the essential guidance and maturity needed to move forward with their careers with other balled companies or acceptance into university programs.
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