The spirit of Atlanta Ballet’s Wabi Sabi troupe — the former off-season company known for outdoor performances — has found a home in Atlanta Ballet 2, a new training ensemble aiming to bridge the gap between school and company. The troupe of 14 talented young dancers from across the globe will debut next season with the world premiere of Bruce Wells’ “Beauty and the Beast” and a new series of performances around town, including outdoor offerings in concert with Mother Nature.
Atlanta Ballet Artistic Director Gennadi Nedvigin will announce the new ensemble Saturday evening, May 20, at the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education’s 20th anniversary gala celebration at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre. Like the school’s current Fellowship training program, Atlanta Ballet 2 aims to prepare talented, top-level students, ages 17-21, for professional careers with Atlanta Ballet and elsewhere. It will also fill out the ranks of large-cast company productions.
Many professional dance companies have second companies. Atlanta Ballet 2 resembles these troupes, while emphasizing training and education. It’s designed to give young dancers a chance to experience the demands of life as a professional dancer, to strengthen their technique through intensive training, and to develop their artistry through performing.
Former Atlanta Ballet dancer Tara Lee, who danced with Joffrey II early in her career, explained how the experience prepared her for a professional career.
“You learn how to pace yourself throughout the day,” she said. “You learn to run all types of repertory, how to use class as a support, and how to facilitate a choreographer’s creative process.” Professional dancers tend to receive fewer corrections from teachers, she said. “You learn how to be your own teacher.”
Atlanta Ballet’s Fellowship program was established in 1997 to achieve similar goals, and to meet the company’s needs for dancers in large-scale productions. At that time, the school’s top students weren’t quite ready for the professional stage, said Sharon Story, dean of Atlanta Ballet’s Centre for Dance Education. She helped develop a program offering special classes and company classes tuition-free, with a stipend and dance shoes provided. At first, Fellowship dancers also performed early morning school shows, which phased out as the company needed more dancers for larger story ballets.
In recent years, Atlanta Ballet’s repertory turned to smaller-cast ensemble works, which reduced the need for Fellowship students. Work for them became more sporadic, Story said. Three or four weeks often went by without a full day of rehearsals.
The inconsistent schedule made it difficult for Fellowship students to stay in top physical condition. As Nedvigin planned the company’s 2017-18 season, featuring “The Nutcracker,” “Don Quixote,” Act III from “Swan Lake” and three more world premieres — plus rehearsals for Yuri Possokhov’s new “Nutcracker” — it became clear that the students needed more consistent training, Story said.
In addition, dancers needed to be ready to compete for spots in the company. “We had to make sure that they were as invested in us as we were invested in them,” Story said. PNC Financial Services Group, a patron of the school’s outreach and community programs, is providing substantial support.
Atlanta Ballet 2 offers dancers a full-time, 36-week contract and training program that will run parallel to the main company’s 38-week contract. The students’ daily schedule will run consistently with the company’s. Students will have a dedicated teacher, or coach, and will take additional classes in partnering, contemporary dance, character dance and repertory variations.
When they’re not in class, or rehearsing with the main company, AB2 dancers will be preparing a series of hourlong concerts for performances in venues across the metro area and perhaps the region.
Nedvigin looks forward to bringing in emerging dance-makers — and company members who want to choreograph — to experiment with AB2 dancers, refine their crafts and possibly contend for main company commissions. Venues, such as Kennesaw State University’s Dance Theater, the High Museum of Art, and the Atlanta Botanical Garden, are the kinds of gateways Nedvigin seeks to cultivate audiences and discover new talent.