AND THE OSCAR GOES TO… the top 10 ballet companies in the world

With the Oscars around the corner, it means it is time for a Ballet Education’s award season. With that about to happen, after two years of hesitantly writing a list of actual top ten companies… I have given in.

top ten ballet companies
A lot of you have asked if I could rank the top ten ballet companies in the world… And so, because I am so obliging to your requests, sure, why the hell not. I have postponed this post because a lot of things get factored in when looking at a company:

The Caliber of Dancer: where they have trained, artistic merit, technical achievements.
The Size of the Company, good things come in small packages sometimes, a lot of the times. Larger companies though employ more dancers, so from a financial or economic standpoint, that is a factor.
The Repertory, both current and old. Repertory feeds the dancer’s soul and sells tickets. Is the company innovating?
Going on tour: Is it a home company or touring company? That is a significant factor too. Touring companies have a lot of worldwide recognition, and home companies have a stable audience.
Does the company have a school that feeds the company creating a lasting relationship between the young community and the current ballet audience?
What is good ballet? That is probably the most subjective… but that can always be defined by the real question of, “What is Ballet… Today.”

So… if we look at what ballet is today, it is isn’t this rigid fairytale designed by composers and directors. It has evolved so much more than that. Nowadays, ballet is encompassed by what can be defined as neo-classic, and a lot of contemporary (as in works being done today) works. The current ballet vocabulary is expanding, and because ballet vocabulary has always set the standard for dance… Thanks to the codification of ballet in France… It has always been that way… But now, the language of dance is melding with cultural references and different genres, it is exploring new depths of music or the lack thereof, and the ability to transpire a new quality of dancing.

If by definition of the art form, classical ballet is the art of constraint.
Then neoclassical ballet would be that of the 20th century, so Balanchine, DeMille, Graham, Robbins
And if current or contemporary ballet is that of Tharp, Forsythe, Kylian, Neumeier, Wheeldon, Ramatansky, Elmo, etc
And if the future of ballet is being defined by Peck, Thatcher, Simkin and Cirio then we can classify these companies quicker.

But unfortunately, there are really only five ballet companies that set the tone of the ballet world and here is the reason why:

The Paris Opera Ballet: they set the tone for turnout and the foundations of technique. Paris Opera employs 150 dancers and takes residency between Palais Garnier and the Bastille Opera House.

The Bolshoi Ballet (or interchange it with any random Russian company that hires from Vaganova School): they set the tone for Adagio and body type. The breeding ground for Russian superstars, the feeder school to Bolshoi is BBA but the rivaled Russian companies are fed by Vaganova Academy.

The Royal Ballet: they set the tone for technical powerhouses, turns/jumps. Prix winners go there to build a name for themselves. Takes residency at the gorgeous Covent Garden.

The New York City Ballet: they set the tone for musicality, speed and new works. Residing at Lincoln Center, the only American Company that resembles and performs as much as a European home company.

Nederlands Dans Theatre: they set the tone for innovation and new ways to move. Between the first and second companies, the two employ 46 of the most fundamentally interesting dancers in the world. Originally founded by Jiri Kylian and now under the Artistic Directorship of Paul Lightfoot, this company is always pushing the edge of innovation. (A lot of you might think to switch out Nederlands Dans Theatre with Stuttgart, and you could be right. I just believe that Nederlands pushes innovation more while Stuttgart offers a more diverse repertory.)

These five companies are also ridiculously accessible these days. With Social Media being the new innovator and the new audience, ballet companies like these five are creating the trends for ballet. With repertory to die for, these companies set the look and feel of ballet, but without a doubt– these companies border between classical and neo-classical companies. I don’t see Nederlands of City Ballet attempting to take on say: The Little Humpback Horse or the full length Raymonda… There are companies who truly are classical, and their schools reflect that as well. I think that these companies have had to expand their repertory because of the demand for new works by both the dancers and the audience.

So the top 10 Classical Ballet Companies in the world would be, in no particular order… Again NO PARTICULAR ORDER, before you all go crazy:

1. Paris Opera Ballet – COMPANY WEBSITE
2. National Ballet of Cuba – COMPANY WEBSITE
3. Bolshoi Ballet/ Kirov/ Mariinsky –BOLSHOI WEBSITE
4. Royal Danish- Bournonville technique- WEBSITE
5. The Australian Ballet – Website
6. Het National Ballet/Dutch National Ballet-WEBSITE
7. American Ballet Theatre- WEBSITE
8. Teatro La Scala – COMPANY WEBSITE
9. National Ballet of Canada –WEBSITE
10. The Royal Ballet – COMPANY WEBSITE

The top 5 Neo-Classical Ballet Companies would be:
1. New York City Ballet
2. Nederlands Dans Theatre
3. Stuttgart Ballet
4. San Francisco Ballet
5. Eifman Ballet
Now my personal list of top 10 companies in the world, the list that really matters:
1. New York City Ballet
2. Paris Opera Ballet
3. Bolshoi Ballet
4. Alonzo King’s LINES
5. San Francisco Ballet
6. Pacific Northwest Ballet
7. American Ballet Theatre
8. Australian Ballet
9. Dance Theatre of Harlem
10. Ballet Black

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The Best of the Best… Ballet Company Awards 2014 (2013-2014 Season)

If Ballet Companies had an awards ceremony to go to, it would be the Golden Globes. It wouldn’t be the Oscars, even if it is the most glamorous event. This is because the Oscars are voted on by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science, we basically have that from the Princess Grace Awards and the Prixs for that.  If dancers were to vote on other dancers and companies, then it would be the SAGs.  The Golden Globes are voted on by the Hollywood Foreign Press, and I feel like that in itself says it all. The power of press and publicity goes a long way, not to mention that the opinions of editors dictate the content featured. But, that isn’t what makes the Golden Globes so special, it is the fact that the mission of the Hollywood Foreign Press is to make films accessible to the general public by unbiased information and reviews. So, as I compiled a list of companies worth noting this year, the list grew rather large, so I decided to make categories, just like any awards ceremony. Because ballet is constantly changing, I needed to create categories that would allow flexibility, change and innovation. So, here are the categories that I felt represented the art form as a whole, and as a reflection of a company:

So without further ado… The Envelopes Please…

Best Premiere of a new work

The New York City Ballet, in PAZ de LA JOLLA, by choreographer Justin Peck. 

(Nominees: Daphnis and Chloe, Paris Opera, Choreographed by Millpied. Lest We Forget Program from English National Ballet)

 

Best Repertory for the season.

Headed by Benjamin Millpied and Bridgette Lefevre, Paris Opera Ballet once again had a ridiculous season including: La Dame Aux Camelias/Neumeier, Dances at a Gathering/Robins, Psyche/Ramatsky, Le Park/Prelojac, Notre-Dame De Paris/Petit, the Sleeping Beauty/Nureyev, Doux Mensonges/ Kylian, Daphnis and Chloe/Millpied,Orpheus and Eurydice/ Bausch just to name a few. During the season during Onegin, Amandine Albisson received her place as an etoiles for her role in Tatiana.

(Nominees: San Francisco Ballet, the New York City Ballet, National Ballet of Canada)

 

Best reprisal of a classic work.

This award goes to the Bolshoi Ballet in their rendition of Balanchine’s Jewels. With sets designed by Alyona Pikalova, Costumes by Elena Zaitseva and lighting by Maxim Fomchenkov, this production hands down belongs to them. Their rendition of Jewels is probably the best I have ever seen. This also won Olga Smirnova Prix Benois de la danse.

(Nominees: Houston Ballet’s Modern Masters, Queensland Ballet’s MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, Teatro La Scala for Serata Petit)

 

Technical Excellence from a company.

Amidst the craziness of the circus, Hamburg Ballet featuring Alina Cojocaru, the Hamburg Ballet’s strength shown through. Lilliom was performed in Orange County this February making their North American premiere, the world premiere was in 2011. John Neumeier’s choreography was not only innovating but showcased a ballet revolving around a man without having a million show off pirouettes. Not only was the work modern and innovative, but the entire companies’ classical background showed through and through, all seven scenes and a prologue.

(Nominees: National Ballet of Cuba, Vienna State Ballet, Dresdon Semproper Ballet)

 

Best Costuming for a performance 

This award goes to The Australian Ballet’s new production of Cinderella. The costumes and sets were designed by Jérôme Kaplan. The new production was choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky to the original Prokofiev Score.

 

Best Collaboration

Dutch National Ballet stole fashion week during the SS2014 Paris shows with their collaboration with Viktor & Rolf in Haute Couture. In addition, Dutch National Ballet has comprised numerous collaborations through out the 2013-2014 season like their premiere of the Tempest that included amazing collaborators, and their new moves program, and Dutch Doubles. Four choreographers were paired with four world-famous Dutch artists: fashion designers, photographers and musicians.

(Damian Woetzel, Artistic Director of the Vail International Dance Festival, Julia Adam’s for the Boathouse Project, )

 

Most Innovative Company.

San Francisco Ballet’s season took it home. While contemporary companies create new works constantly, innovation has to be supported with stability and diversity. San Francisco Ballet definitely hit it out of the park with Giselle, Wheeldon’s Cinderella, Ratmansky’s Trilogy, Borderlands by McGregor, Wheeldon’s Ghosts, and the premiere of a Liam Scarlett ballet, and a premiere from and Possokhov. Not to mention they threw in Balanchine, Robins for giggles. San Francisco Ballet also has continued their relationship Hamburg Ballet by hosting them as a part of their season.

(Tu Dance, Hamburg Ballet, Complexions, Eifman Ballet, Scottish Ballet, Prelojac)

 

Most Inspiring Company.

English National Ballet, headed by Tamara Rojo might just be the most inspiring ballet company in the world right now. With their previous innovations, despite their financial downfalls, the English National Ballet had an amazing season. Most noted I think was their performance at Glastonbury, which was breathtaking. It was a piece from their Lest We Forget program. You can actually watch the video online. Then they stunned audiences again at their Emerging Artists Competition with contemporary solos to die for. Raging reviews for not only the winners, but all of the competitors this past season.

(Miami City Ballet under Lourdes Lopez, Royal Ballet of Flanders )

 

Company Contribution to the World of Arts.

In the province of Dresdon it seems a lot is happening in dance, but this award goes to the Forsythe Company. Founded in 2005, after Ballett Frankfurt closed, this company has create new works that hope to survive for the next generation of artists. In addition, William Forsythe will be joining the faculty at University of Southern California in the fall of 2015. He is not the artistic director of the Forsythe Company. But, this international group of dancers has created and performed tremendously. As in the middle, somewhat elevated has survived hopefully this next crop of choreographers will be nurtured accordingly to contribute to ballet’s repertory.

(Ballet Black, the New York City Ballet because of Justin Peck)

 

New or Returning Presence to the International Ballet Community, 

The Korean National Ballet might just be joining the rest of the newer asian companies on the rise. Like National Ballet of China, Ballet Philippines and Hong Kong Ballet, Asian companies are on the rise. The Korean National Ballet is headed by former Stuttgart Principal Kang Sue Jin, and she is leading them artistic merits. With the way education is structured in Korea, it is surprising to find out that everyone in their company is a college graduate and didn’t join the company until their early 20’s, versus say other companies that hire 16-18 year olds. Their rosters are filled with tons of international dance winners, in fact 9-10 company members have medaled at an international dance competition.

Joburg Ballet (South Arica), Dance Theatre of Harlem, Pacific Northwest Ballet



 

Creating ten categories that reflect the nature of ballet companies, not individuals, was rather difficult.  The size of the company, the theatre residency, and location would not effect the final outcomes. Here is information on how I graded companies: I only looked at the 2013-2014 performance season, individual dancers within the company, and artistic achievement based on reviews and press releases. Social media did not influence the choices. It seriously has taken a month to compile information, read reviews, and watch as much as I could. So, without categories my list would be: The New York City Ballet, Paris Opera, Bolshoi, Hamburg, the Australian Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, English National Ballet, the Forsythe Company, Korean National Ballet.

I was not going to single out dancers, because there are other numerous prestigious dance awards out there that grade artistic merit. As European Ballerina’s pray for Prima Assoluta, Paris Opera dancers pray for Etoiles, people hope for the Princess Grace Awards or the Benois… The list goes on. But notably last season: Ogla Smirnova, James Whiteside, Evgenia Obrazsova, Hee Seo, Tiler Peck, and Sara Mearns all had pretty amazing seasons on the international stages. As Olga Smirnova isn’t even a principal yet, and Hee Seo just got her promotion last season they are two women to definitely watch. Evgenia Obraztsova makes her way next to other Russian powerhouses: Svetlana Zakharova, and Natalia Osipiva, Polina Semionova, and Diana Vishneva. Balanchine ballerinas Tiler Peck and Sara Mearns are both competing I think to be the star at NYCB. Both are crazy different in approach, body type and musicality, but watching them dance is addicting. Both have literally grown up on stage. James Whiteside definitely gets to be next to Roberto Bolle and Daniil Simkin at ABT, but rightfully so, he is stud on stage…  This year, I haven’t really seen any men that steal my heart… Well actually, the men of English National Ballet’s Emerging Artists were pretty amazing.

Also, as I just finished writing this I realized Royal Ballet didn’t really make anything… Truth me told I wasn’t impressed with their season, and because my anger at the Royal Ballet this blog was originally started… So…. Haha.

Company Profile: the Los Angeles Ballet

So, within the internal ballet dialogue in my head, as I am driving and dictating to SIRI, I was thinking that I am such a hypocrite. Here I am trying to save ballet, yet not supporting the company that is growing in my backyard. (I just purchased tickets to the full length Flames of Paris in November.) Then I started to think, how can I help Los Angeles Ballet, duh, your blog….

Los Angeles Ballet (Click Here)

Location: Los Angeles, CA to be exact 11755 Exposition Boulevard Los Angeles, California 90064

Artistic Directors: Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary

Style: Balanchine meets Bournonville? 

Affiliated School: Los Angeles Ballet

Annual Tuition for a trainee: $5,500-$5,900, boarding is unavailable.

Summer Program: Yes, not a lot of info on their site, check back in September.

Theatre Residence: None.

Current Season: 4 bills, touring the greater Los Angeles Area

Dancers Hired: 37

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Kate Highstrete & Christopher Revels in George Balanchine’s “The Four Temperaments“. Photo: Reed Hutchinson

Founded in 2004, my first experience with Los Angeles Ballet was watching a girlfriend of mine perform in their 2009 season. She was dancing George Balanchine’s ‘Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 2’ and Serenade. For being a young company I was impressed. I then got season tickets for the following season in which Chehon Wespi-Tschopp stole the majority of the season, then stole the show on SYTYCD. Which was sad becaus when I saw Giselle, and he was better than the title character…. Then I boycotted LA Ballet until I saw they were doing Concerto Barocco, 4 T’s, and Tchai Pas, La Valse, and Agon, their 2012-2013 season was amazing, just the exposure of Balanchine in Los Angeles in much needed. I didn’t see anything this past season until they brought back Serenade and premiered La Slyphide in one bill. So, of course I had t go. Unfortunately, the men stole the show, especially in La Slyphide, with the exception of Colleen Neary who was quite brilliant. If ballet is supposed to be woman, (which LA Ballet excels in the Balanchine Ballets), they fail at the classics, which is why I avoiding their new season. They are doing Swan Lake, Nutcracker, Sleeping Beauty and Director’s Choice… A Tchaikovsky Season for sure…In the Director’s Choice the full Theme and Variations will be performed. (It is always a toss up when buying tickets in Southern California because we have amazing venues that book touring companies, in October the Australian Ballet is coming with Swan Lake, the same time Los Angeles Ballet is doing Swan Lake… Which one would you pick? Then again in March Los Angeles Ballet will be doing sleeping beauty while American Ballet Theatre presents the Sleeping Beauty in Orange County.)

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Chloe Sherman & Robert Mulvey in Christopher Stowell’s Cipher; Photo: Reed Hutchinson

Questionable timing from the artistic director duo if you ask me. But the two are thriving, mirroring co-directorship success like PNB’s Kent Stowell and Francia Russell. Colleen Neary in particular I think brings a very keen eye to the company, which I think more women should assume roles as ADs. Women are detailed oriented, planners, and I think just as visionary as male ADs. (Sexism is a completely different post… but regardless of the politics, I am fond of the pairing like a good cheese and wine combo.)

So, the company itself. The company has six unique principals, which I have all seen dance, but of the principals two are beyond exceptional: Allynne Noelle and Zheng Hua Li. I probably could watch them dance post modern and be entertained, if you knew me you would understand the humor. Allynne brings this vivacious charisma to the stage while Zheng Hua Li has the most subtle, amazing, deep plié. Of the soloists Alexander Castillo shows a lot of promise, his physique is gorgeous on stage as well.

Allynne Noelle & Ulrik Birkkjær in “Agon”. Photo: Reed Hutchinson
Allynne Noelle & Ulrik Birkkjær in “Agon”. Photo: Reed Hutchinson

But what I love the most are their women in the corps: Britta Lazenga was stunning in Serenade and couldn’t keep my eyes off of her. Katherine Cowgill has a stoic, aristocratic way of dancing which reminds me of old school ballet. Kate Highstrete has legs for days with subtlety. (I love me a good subtle dancer.) Katherine Revels and Chloe Sherman also were stunning with a young unique charm in Serenade. In the corps excitement comes with their new hires. They brought on Jasmine Perry, who was made popular from TEEN VOGUE’s STRICTLY BALLET, and is also the only African American female in the company. They also hired freshly out of SAB Samuel Akins, who is another young African American. As a side commentary, I applaud LA Ballet’s racial diversity, since other companies, with ridiculous budgets still will not hire black dancers. (I won’t name them, even though I should.) It is always exciting when young companies hire straight from school dancers because it is a make it break it moment for these dancers. Both are exceptionally talented, and because full length classical ballets offer numerous roles, I hope they get cast in a lot. (Then again, it could also be disastrous as they are straight from SAB and will be dancing classical ballet.) Young dancers keep ballet alive, as they are the new talent that will eventually replace older talent. Their careers are new and fresh, which might bring some excitement, naivety, and that tenacity you develop in school. 

Katherine Cowgill & Zheng Hua Li in 'Swan Lake'. Photo: Reed Hutchinson
Katherine Cowgill & Zheng Hua Li in ‘Swan Lake’. Photo: Reed Hutchinson

Five reasons why you should see Los Angeles Ballet this season if you are in the area:

  1. As ballet dancers, as artists, as humans, we need to support the arts in any capacity. So, why not save the money and not go to Starbucks or out drinking and go to the ballet? You get to still dress up, and if you are single you might meet someone great. Since most of us gays drop hundreds if not thousands of dollars in liquor in West Hollywood, why not spend the money on something that is actually helping our community?
  2. Because Los Angeles Ballet is a new company, you never know what is going to happen. There are no preconceived notions and you can make an opinion for yourself.
  3. Sleeping Beauty this year is going to be a world premiere for Colleen Neary and Thordal Christiensen which means their version of Sleeping Beauty might be more entertaining than most. I mean the reality is, we have sat through a lot of boring versions… This one is going to be new, so I have high hopes.
  4. Theme and Variations! If you are fan of NYCB and can’t get to NYC, LA Ballet will be doing Theme and Variations, a Balanchine Ballet. If you aren’t familiar with Theme and Variations, it is a beautiful ballet that really tests the entire company. Also it opens with the most beautiful walking tendus…. Talk about needing good feet.
  5. Finally, you might run into me. That is a pretty darn good reason if you ask me.