Carolina Ballet, Inc.
Carolina Ballet was launched in 1997, under the direction of artistic director Robert Weiss, to serve the ever-expanding Triangle community that includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Cary, Research Triangle Park, Fuquay-Varina and beyond. After only seven seasons, Carolina Ballet with a budget of $4.3 million is being recognized as one of the top ten ballet companies in the country. The company totals 31 dancers and has performed 62 times in Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Chapel Hill and Wilmington between September 2005 and May 2006.
Carolina Ballet, Inc. was founded in 1984 as Raleigh Dance Theatre, Inc. by Ann Vorus, owner of the Raleigh Dance Theatre. As a student company, its purpose was to provide performance opportunities for students of the school. Over several years, both the school and the company grew in reputation and stature in its metamorphosis as Carolina Ballet Theatre, a pre-professional regional company under Ms. Vorus and her successor as Artistic Director, Mary LeGere. Performances of the company began to attract favorable notice from area dance critics. In the fall of 1993, Raleigh lawyer Ward Purrington suggested to Ms. Vorus and the Raleigh Dance Theatre board that the company aspire to professional status. Market research suggested a professional dance presence in the Triangle region was not only needed but desired as well.
After exhaustive planning and subsequent interviewing of candidates from all over the country, Robert Weiss, former principal dancer with New York City Ballet and past artistic director of Pennsylvania Ballet, was selected in April 1997 as the founding artistic director of the new professional company, known as Carolina Ballet, Inc.
Upon the advice of other successful ballet companies, Mr. Weiss spent the fiscal year 1997-98 building awareness in the community and raising a three-year reserve on which to grow. During this planning year the company was dark, with the exception of the March 1998 Gala which featured dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Kirov Ballet and Miami City Ballet, and which kicked off Carolina Ballet’s first subscription campaign.
In August 1998, 21 dancers from around the world began to rehearse. They were selected earlier that year from a national audition tour. The company’s inaugural season opened in the fall of 1998 with more than 2,600 subscribers. During Carolina Ballet’s first season the company attracted the acclaim of critics and audiences alike. The season began with a performance of George Balanchine’s Square Dance at Cary’s Regency Park, attended by over 2,500 people.
Beginning with an All Balanchine production in tribute to Mr. Weiss’ mentor, the company then performed a world premiere staging of Handel’s Messiah with choreography by Robert Weiss and additional choreography by Sacramento Ballet’s Amy Seiwert, Duke University’s Tyler Walters and Carolina Ballet’s own Timour Bourtasenkov. This work was performed in collaboration with members of the Raleigh Oratorio Society, the Opera Company of North Carolina, the National Opera Company and North Carolina Symphony. In March 1999, a world premiere collaboration with the Ciompi Quartet was performed at Duke University’s Reynolds Auditorium. Innovations, an eclectic repertoire of modern works, was presented in April and the classic full-length Romeo & Juliet, with new choreography by Robert Weiss, was performed in May in collaboration with North Carolina Symphony.
Carolina Ballet’s second season was an unqualified success as well. Presenting both new, innovative ballets and classic works, the company of 26 dancers performed 30 times before 34,283 audience members in four North Carolina locations – Raleigh, Durham, Winston-Salem and Greenville. The season opened with An Evening Direct from New York, a production of three ballets originally choreographed for the New York City Ballet. Robert Weiss completed his Messiah adding choreography for parts II and III. The ballet quickly took its place among other Triangle area Christmas traditions. The Kreutzer Sonata, a unique combination of theater and ballet, premiered in February 2000 with original choreography by Robert Weiss. Based on Leo Tolstoy’s novella, The Kreutzer Sonata, this work was set to the music of Leos Janacek and Ludwig van Beethoven and specially commissioned music by J. Mark Scearce and used actors to tell the story as the dancers acted it out. A second collaboration with Ciompi Quartet included a new ballet by Duke University dance professor Tyler Walters whose choreography was funded by a national Choo-San Goh Foundation grant. In May, the company presented the premiere of Robert Weiss’ full-evening production of Carmen, only the second known choreography and the first by an American artist. The season was capped by a June program featuring Cabaret, a unique collaborative effort joining the grace and beauty of ballet choreographed by the renowned, Tony Award nominee Lynne Taylor-Corbett with the elegance and charm of acclaimed cabaret singer Andrea Marcovicci performing live on stage with the dancers. In recognition of the North Carolina Museum of Art’s Rodin exhibition, Carolina Ballet also performed Margo Sappington’s brilliant Rodin, Mis en Vie. The company’s work was praised in several national publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time.
The 1999-2000 season marked the beginning of Carolina Ballet’s role as cultural ambassador as it began its first touring season in Winston-Salem, presenting Robert Weiss’ Romeo & Juliet and a repertory program of Balanchine’s Square Dance and The Kreutzer Sonata. The company also traveled to Greenville as part of the East Carolina University’s Performing Arts series.
In the third season, Carolina Ballet increased in size to 30 dancers and continued to perform exciting and innovative ballets that included Weiss’ new version of Coppelia, Messiah (again to sold out audiences), new ballets with the Ciompi Quartet by Christopher Wheeldon, Tyler Walters and Richard Tanner and a Classics program of Concerto Barocco, Tarantella, The Lilac Garden, and The Moor’s Pavane. Lynne Taylor-Corbett created a new Carmina Burana on Carolina Ballet that received rave reviews locally and from Clive Barnes in Dance Magazine. The program also included two of Taylor-Corbett’s earlier works – Great Galloping Gottschalk and Chiarscuro. In Winston-Salem Carolina Ballet revived Carmen and presented Messiah for the first time as an Easter celebration.
The fourth season brought two significant moves for Carolina Ballet. The company moved into a new studio in Raleigh where for the first time the administrative, and artistic arms of the company were under one roof. And Carolina Ballet moved from being a regional touring company to a national and international touring company. Carolina Ballet truly became an ambassador for the state of North Carolina when it preformed on the “Works & Process” series at the Guggenheim Museum and participated in the II Dance Festival in April 2002 in Budapest, Hungary. Another significant milestone for the fourth season was the premiere of Weiss’ new $1 million Nutcracker, sponsored by Progress Energy and presented with North Carolina Symphony at Christmastime to over 30,000 patrons. This premiere production of Nutcracker included 128 children from the Triangle community. Two special productions were presented for free to Wake County public school children.
The season opened with a reprise of Romeo & Juliet and included a second collaboration with Andrea Marcovicci and choreography by Lynne Taylor-Corbett for Cabaret II. The program included the two segments of the earlier collaboration and added a third segment of ballet to the “spoken word”, the poetry of Noel Coward, read by Ms. Marcovicci. The fourth Ciompi Quartet program presented new works by Tyler Walters (his third premiere with Carolina Ballet), Damian Woetzel, Timour Bourtasenkov and Lynne Taylor-Corbett (in collaboration with the North Carolina School of the Arts.) A second week of ballets from the repertoire was also part of the Ciompi program. The season ended with Robert Weiss’ new Firebird on a program with Balanchine’s Who Cares? and Valse Fantaisie, and Peter Martins’ Valse Triste.
The 2002-2003, fifth season at Carolina Ballet opened with 34 dancers in the company. Of that number twelve dancers (plus ballet master Marin Boieru) were founding members of Carolina Ballet. The fifth season appropriately highlighted several of Robert Weiss’ triumphs and offered new ballets by the artistic director and some of his top guest choreographers. The fall opened with a reprise of Carmen, Nutcracker played for 19 performances (including two free performances for the Wake County elementary school students) and Messiah was repeated at Easter. Two of the most important aspects of the season were Weiss’ new Stravinsky’s Clowns (all new choreography for Jeu de Cartes, Petruschka and Pulcinlla) that The Wall Street Journal called “an evening of real brilliance” and The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen which closed the season. Weiss invited Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Damian Woetzel to each choreograph a ballet with him for this program. Damian Woetzel received a Choo-San Goh grant for his choreography for the fairy tale The Nightingale. Carolina Ballet added Rocky Mount, Wilmington and Pinehurst to its list of North Carolina cities where it performs.
After the successes of the first five years, Carolina Ballet continues to grow. The company has 37 dancers at the start of the sixth season and is adding a mini subscription series in Pinehurst, North Carolina with performances in the spring and fall, as well as a tour to Asheville in February 2004. The season will highlight works by the great George Balanchine in honor of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Carolina Ballet will present A Balanchine Celebration in February and close the season with Act I of Balanchine’s magnificent A Midsummer Night’s Dream.