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Ballet San Antonio is trying something new for its 2018-2019 season. Each of its three performances will be directed by noted guest choreographers.
Once a student of George Balanchine, choreographer Bruce Wells is currently in residence for the world premiere Oct. 19-21 of his Beauty and the Beast “prequel,” an original work commissioned by Ballet San Antonio (BSA). Meanwhile, rehearsals for the traditional holiday performances of The Nutcracker (Nov. 23-Dec. 2) are already underway, with local choreographers Easton and Haley Smith at the helm. Early next year, choreographer Ron Cunningham will lead the company through Carmen (Feb. 15-17).
All three guest choreographers will work in association with Cenezca Cortellan, Ballet San Antonio’s regular head ballet master, and other artistic staff.
The main reason the company has turned to guest choreographers is the unceremonious departure of former Artistic Director Willy Shives in May.
The Ballet San Antonio board of directors focused on getting the company through what Chair Lisa Westmoreland described as a difficult time and to “give our patrons the most exciting season we could, and give our dancers the most fulfilling season we could,” she said.
Working with three different choreographers is new for the company, “but very exciting,” Westmoreland said. “We knew these three choreographers, knew they were excellent and very experienced at what they do.”
Even without a new artistic director, “I think the company is in a very healthy place,” she said.
In April, the board received anonymous letters from several current and former dancers complaining that Shives had created a “culture of fear” within the company. After an internal investigation, “Mr. Shives and Ballet San Antonio parted ways,” Westmoreland said.
“It was a difficult time for sure,” Westmoreland said. As a woman, as a mother, and as a board chair, she explained, “I was sad to get those letters. I was shocked, angry, confused. But it was a time for all of us to come together as a board, and talk about what we were reading and seeing.”
Now, Westmoreland said, the atmosphere is better throughout the company. “We’re working closely together as a team – the board, the staff, the dancers. Communication is excellent.”
Westmoreland said she’s proud of the dancers, and praised their resilience, talent, beauty, and motivation. “I’m excited about how hard they’re working, so proud of their dedication and the commitment to BSA that they have made,” she said.
“They are ready to perform for San Antonio this weekend,” she said.
Beauty and the Beast is a staple production among ballet companies, but Wells’s version is new in that it includes information about the young Belle character usually left out of the story. In discussing the possibility of developing the new work, Westmoreland said Wells felt the BSA “would be the perfect company,” due to its size and eagerness. The result is a world premiere opening Friday night.
“We’re excited to share his vision and idea,” Westmoreland said.
Choreographers Easton and Haley Smith are originally from California, but now reside in San Antonio and have developed a teaching practice at the Premiere Ballet Academy in Stone Oak.
The two are confident their “fresh take” on the holiday classic Nutcracker will appeal to ballet first-timers and dance enthusiasts alike, according to a recent BSA newsletter.
Like Wells, choreographer Ron Cunningham will be in residence in San Antonio to create his version of Carmen with the company. Cunningham, now artistic director emeritus of the Sacramento Ballet, called Ballet San Antonio “a company on the verge of major expansion with a bright new future” according to the newsletter.
While that expansion might not be literal in terms of the organization just yet, Westmoreland said, she hopes the recent trend in increased ticket sales for the new season continues.
Among other expansions is BSA’s early-season trip in September to the Cailloux Theater in Kerrville to perform a mixed repertoire of works for 1,200 students. Closer to home, the organization will also continue its annual Ballet in the Park tradition, with a free public performance in Travis Park on March 2, 2019.
The company will hire a new artistic director eventually, but it’s too early in the process to give definitive information, Westmoreland said.
“We are going to take our time to make our decision … and when the timing is right, and that candidate comes along, then I think we’ll know,” she said.
More information on the upcoming season is available on the Ballet San Antonio website, and ticket information for upcoming performances is available on the website of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.