Dancer to Dancer

10 Contemporary Ballet Companies You Should Be Obsessed With

Post:Ballet's Christian Squires and Raychel Weiner in When in Doubt (photo by Natalia Perez, courtesy Post Ballet)

If you're a serious ballet student, you've probably been dreaming about joining a big classical company. But when it comes to career planning, thinking outside of the ballet box doesn't have to mean hanging up your pointe shoes. In fact, there are many contemporary ballet troupes where bunheads can perform innovative works that make full use of the technique they've worked so hard for. We rounded up the 10 you need to know about.


Alonzo King LINES Ballet, San Francisco, CA

LINES Ballet's Courtney Henry and Shualb Elhassan (photo by RJ Muna, courtesy LINES Ballet)

Number of dancers: 11

Pointework: Required at auditions and during company class

With a professional training program, a summer program, an affiliated BFA program through nearby Dominican University of California, and a dance center that provides nearly 100 classes each week, Alonzo King LINES Ballet has evolved into a venerable dance institution since its founding in 1982. The internationally celebrated company performs works new and old by its founder and artistic director Alonzo King, touring 17 weeks per year on top of two performance seasons at home in San Francisco.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Aspen, CO, and Santa Fe, NM

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet's Joseph Watson and Seia Rassenti (photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy Aspen Santa Fe Ballet)

Number of dancers: 11

Pointework: Required at auditions

Committed to commissioning new works, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet has a diverse repertoire that includes original pieces by Alejandro Cerrudo, Cherice Barton, and Nicolo Fonte. (Renowned ballets by Jirˇí Kylián and Jorma Elo are also on the roster.) Many of the company's dancers have degrees from top conservatories, including Joseph Watson, who graduated from Juilliard and danced with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) before joining Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. "For me, classical ballet is like taking vitamins or eating veggies. It's necessary, but I knew it wasn't going to feed my soul in the way other movement can," he says. "I love getting to take traditional ballet and put another spin on it with the help of choreographers. And I love that in this company, every season is completely different."

Ballet BC, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

(From left) Ballet BC's Emily Chessa, Livona Ellis, and Alexis Fletcher in Eight Years of Silence (photo by Michael Slobodian, courtesy Ballet BC)

Number of dancers: 16, plus 4 apprentices

Pointework: Required at auditions; often included in company class

Since artistic director Emily Molnar took the reins in 2009, Ballet BC has developed a robust and varied repertoire. The 2017–2018 season alone includes works by Nederlands Dans Theater alums Medhi Walerski and Johan Inger, and Israeli duo Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar of L-E-V. In addition to performing in Vancouver, Ballet BC tours widely each season, traveling throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe.

BalletX, Philadelphia, PA

BalletX in Credo (photo by Bill Hebert, courtesy BalletX)

Number of dancers: 10

Pointework: Required at auditions and during company class

Established in 2005 by former Pennsylvania Ballet dancers Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan, BalletX regularly commissions ballets from some of today's most in-demand choreographers—Trey McIntyre, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, and Jorma Elo among them—in addition to performing Neenan's own work. It's this varied and challenging repertoire that attracted dancer Francesca Forcella, who came to BalletX after dancing with Houston Ballet II and The Washington Ballet Studio Company. "Because we're a company of 10, and do so many premieres, we all get a ton of opportunities to dance," she says. "It's rare that we have second casts. To be able to originate so many roles—and perform works that no one else has done before—is really amazing."

Lemon Sponge Cake Ballet, Boulder, CO

Lemon Sponge Cake's Robert Sher-Machherendl and Bailey Harper in Vertical Migration Experiment (photo by David Andrews, courtesy Lemon Sponge Cake)

Number of dancers: Up to 7, depending on the project

Pointework: Not required, though some pieces are danced on pointe

Established in 2002 by choreographer Robert Sher-Machherndl and producer Jenifer Sher, Lemon Sponge
Cake operates on a project-to-project basis. Sher-Machherndl, the artistic director, typically creates two new works per season, and his choreography frequently addresses social issues. One of the company's most recent works, White Fields, was designed to spark conversation about gun violence and its victims.

Post:Ballet, San Francisco, CA

Post:Ballet's Christian Squires and Raychel Weiner in When in Doubt (photo by Natalia Perez, courtesy Post:Ballet)

Number of dancers: 6 to 9, depending on the project

Pointework: Not required, though some pieces are danced on pointe

Performing the work of artistic director Robert Dekkers and resident choreographer Vanessa Thiessen, Post:Ballet dancers, who are hired on a project-to-project basis, have a wide range

of experiences: Some have danced for companies like Boston Ballet and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, others for more modern troupes like Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Shen Wei Dance Arts. Cora Cliburn, who's worked with Dekkers and Post:Ballet for three years, is currently a full-time student at Stanford University. "Robert's movement style comes from a very classical background, but it's rapid-fire and off-kilter, an exhilarating extension of the form," Cliburn says. "I'm also really grateful that he affords us the freedom to pursue outside interests."

Smuin Ballet, San Francisco, CA

Smuin Ballet's Erica Felsch being tossed by Joshua Reynolds and Ben Needham-Wood in Helen Pickett's Petal (photo by Chris Hardy, courtesy Smuin Ballet)

Number of dancers: 16

Pointework: Required at auditions; about two-thirds of the company's repertoire is on pointe.

Founded in 1994 by choreographer Michael Smuin, Smuin Ballet performs 38 weeks per year, dancing in various venues in the Bay Area as well as nationwide. Since Smuin's death in 2007, the company, now led by Celia Fushille, has expanded its rep to include works by Helen Pickett, Trey McIntyre, and Amy Seiwert, among others. "Michael had a reputation for being a director who cared deeply about his dancers, and that legacy continues today," says Erin Yarbrough-Powell, one of the company's senior dancers. "They've cared about my health when injuries have come up and given me the time to heal properly. Another plus for a small company is the amount we get to dance. There are lots of opportunities for growth as an artist."

Whim W’Him, Seattle, WA

Whim W'Him in The Background Hum of Stimuli(photo by Bamburg Fine Art, courtesy Whim W'Him)

Number of dancers: 7

Pointework: Not required, though some pieces are danced on pointe

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Olivier Wevers established Whim W'Him in 2009 as a platform for innovation and the exploration of new choreography. While Wevers choreographs frequently for the company, he's also commissioned works from artists including Dominic Walsh, Penny Saunders, Loni Landon, and Gabrielle Lamb. Wevers hires dancers with diverse backgrounds, creating a melting pot of a company. That's something second-year dancer Liane Aung is grateful for: "Our differences give company members such varied perspectives," she says.

Wonderbound, Denver, CO

Wonderbound's Damien Patterson and Nayomi Van Brunt (photo by Martha Wirth, courtesy Wonderbound)

Number of dancers: 10

Pointework: Not required

Led by artistic directors Garrett Ammon and Dawn Fay, Wonderbound developed in 2013 from what was previously known as Ballet Nouveau Colorado. Ballets by Ammon and company dancer Sarah Tallman are set to live rock and pop music by local artists, and often integrate multimedia technology. "Growing up, I'd always wanted to live in NYC, but I learned that New York isn't the only place for dance—there's a whole world out there," says dancer Nayomi Van Brunt, who's in her second season with the company. "Denver is such a cool city, and driving to work with the mountains in view…you never get over beauty like that."

Complexions Contemporary Ballet, New York City

(From left) Compelexions' Addison Ector, Kelly Sneddon, and Brandon Gray in Gutter Glitter (photo by Justin Chao, courtesy Complexions)

Number of dancers: 14, with 2 apprentices

Pointework: Required at auditions and in company class

Founded by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancers Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, Complexions Contemporary Ballet is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The company tours internationally, showcasing physically and aesthetically arresting neoclassical works. "I love that our programs can be set to classical music, or to music by Metallica or David Bowie," says five-year company dancer Addison Ector. Ector also relishes Complexions' diversity. "I don't think it would have been an easy road for me as an African-American male trying to make it in a classical company. And in Complexions, different body types are celebrated, too."

A version of this story appeared in the March 2018 issue of Dance Spirit with the title "Ballet with a Twist."

The Conversation
Cover Story
Photo by Joe Toreno

It's almost 2019 and the ballroom dance scene is positively booming! From prestigious world championships to TV shows, kids are at the core of all this hip-shaking action—and we're so here for it. These eight up-and-comers in particular are shaping the field. They're the next generation of superstars to make the leap from technically exquisite ballroom-ites to bona fide celebrities.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Low-quality screenshot, high-quality dancing. (via TheaterMania)

Well, we knew on an abstract level that Broadway's-golden-age guru Warren Carlyle would produce incredible choreo for the upcoming Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate! We just didn't know it would be THIS incredible.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Photo by Camryn Elizabeth, courtesy Djouliet Amara

At age 23, Djouliet Amara is a successful professional dancer signed with a talent agency in NYC. She's studied at The Ailey School and even danced in "Memoria" with The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. Having performed at City Center and appeared in numerous commercial campaigns for brands like Forever 21, Refinery29, and Danskin, it would appear that Amara is living a life most dancers only dream of. But as glamorous and successful as her career has been, Amara's journey to this point has not been an easy one. Her biggest challenge was her battle with an eating disorder that nearly cost Amara her career. Find out how this dancer found body acceptance and, in so doing, uncovered a dream she never knew she had. —Katherine Beard

Warning: This story may be triggering for those who have suffered or are suffering from disordered eating.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
Us, @ this hilarious (and informative!) clip.

Even if you're a full-fledged Broadway baby, you'll learn a thing or two from LMM.

Keep reading... Show less
How To
Photo by Kaitlin Marin, courtesy American Repertory Ballet

"Lame duck." It sounds like nothing else in the classical ballet vocabulary, right? Also known as step-up turns or step-over turns—or, more technically, as piqués en dehors—these tricky pirouettes show up all over the classical ballet repertoire, perhaps most famously in Odette's Act II variation in Swan Lake. Here's how to keep your lame ducks from looking, well, lame.

Keep reading... Show less
Fashion
Matthew Bourne's "Nutcracker" (photo by Simon Annand, courtesy Raw PR)

When most of us think of The Nutcracker, we imagine a growing Christmas tree, dancing mice, and a little girl named Clara (or Marie) traveling to the Land of Sweets. But companies around the world have been reinventing the holiday classic, changing the storyline or adding their own spectacular sets and characters. To get in the Nutcracker spirit this season, check out these out-of-the-box productions.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Jasmine Harper with Neil Haskell on "So You Think You Can Dance." (Photo by Adam Rose/FOX, courtesy FOX)

Every year, our friends over at Dance Magazine select 25 standout dancers, choreographers, and companies for their "25 to Watch" feature. The list is always overflowing with talent, but this year's iteration was especially exciting—four of the featured dancers have graced the pages of DS at one point or another: former cover star Aran Bell, DS Cover Model Search semi-finalist Sophie Miklosovic, Jasmine Harper, and "You Should Know" alum Easton Payne. It was a totally full-circle moment to see each of them score a coveted spot on this list. Check out their profiles below (which originally appeared in Dance Magazine), and major congratulations to everyone else selected this year!

Keep reading... Show less
Dance Videos
(screenshot via YouTube)

Maddie Ziegler is the kween of dance these days and it seems like there's no move this teen dancing machine can't do...or is there? In a recent video with Teen Vogue, Maddie shows us just how lit her dance skills are by demonstrating 10 iconic music video dance routines. From Britney Spears to Michael Jackson, the "Dance Moms" star gets her groove on as she dissects some of the most popular dances of all time. Though Maddie is a great dancer, it's pretty entertaining watching her do moves that might be a little outside of her comfort zone.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Giphy

It's the age-old debate: Is dance a sport? The answer is, without a doubt, YES. Of course, dance is much more than just a sport. But when we get down to the logistics of it all, it's impossible not to recognize it as the athletic endeavor it is. Here are 10 reasons why dance absolutely qualifies as a sport.

Keep reading... Show less
Just for Fun

Colder weather is (finally) here, which means it's time for a good dance movie binge. But which iconic films should you put on? To narrow your search, we went ahead and ranked 30 of the greatest dance movies of all time.

Of course, we know a list like this is bound to be controversial—so if you disagree with our lineup, have at it in the comments!

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story
Photo by Joe Toreno

It's almost 2019 and the ballroom dance scene is positively booming! From prestigious world championships to TV shows, kids are at the core of all this hip-shaking action—and we're so here for it. These eight up-and-comers in particular are shaping the field. They're the next generation of superstars to make the leap from technically exquisite ballroom-ites to bona fide celebrities.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Getty Images

The Nutcracker has become an essential part of the holiday season—not to mention a part of most dancers' DNA. These days, the ballet is a beloved tradition, and the lifeblood of many dance companies, whose budgets depend on its reliably great ticket sales. But did you know that it was a flop when it first premiered in Russia? Or that George Balanchine himself once played Drosselmeyer on TV? Here's a timeline of the rich history of The Nutcracker.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer to Dancer
Courtesy MSG Entertainment

For some it's a holiday tradition, for others its an iconic spectacle, but no matter the reason, more than 1 million people will watch the Rockettes perform in the Radio City Christmas Spectacular each year. And though the production has been around since 1933, much of what goes on behind those velvety curtains and intricate sets remains a mystery. To curb our curiosity and find out what ensues when these leggy ladies aren't doling out their sky-high kicks, we got a backstage tour from the legends themselves.

From hair and makeup, to warm-up exercises, and costume quick changes (the fastest quick change in the show is a #mindblowing 75 seconds, by the way) we got a glimpse into the glamorous (and sometimes not so glamorous) world of the Rockettes.

Keep reading... Show less

Showstopper sees all different dancers from across the world at their dance competitions. They understand sometimes it can hard to know how to stand out among the 100s of dancers that perform on their stages.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
Photo by Donna Ward, courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

On March 30, 1958, at the 92nd Street Y in NYC, dancer Alvin Ailey and a group of African-American dancers performed onstage together for the first time. Since then, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the company Ailey formed, has become legendary in the dance world. To commemorate its 60th anniversary, Ailey has dubbed its annual City Center season "Ailey 60." From Nov. 28–Dec. 30 choreographers including Ronald K. Brown, Jessica Lang, and Rennie Harris will present premieres, alongside the works of current artistic director Robert Battle, Judith Jamison, and over two dozen pieces by Alvin Ailey himself. We asked a few of the company members to share what the anniversary means to them.

Keep reading... Show less
Cover Story

When Hannahlei Cabanilla rolled up to her Dance Spirit cover shoot—just 36 hours after being named the "So You Think You Can Dance" Season 15 champion—she looked impossibly fresh-faced and well-rested. The Anaheim Hills, CA, native may have had "about eight blisters," as she joked, on her feet; she may barely have slept since the big win; and she may have just performed on "Live with Kelly and Ryan." But she jumped right on set, and quite literally didn't stop jumping for the next five hours. The fabulous technique, irresistible personality, and (especially) boundless energy that earned her the title of America's Favorite Dancer were all on full display.

So what was it actually like for Hannahlei to compete on the show she'd watched since she was a tiny dancer—and what's next for the now–19-year-old? Read on.

Keep reading... Show less
Dance News
via @wholenessmom on Instagram

The holidays are just around the corner and that means it's time to get your wish lists finalized. And while we have no doubt that stylish leos and cozy warm-ups will find their way onto your list, we think you'll want to consider adding some of these lit dance books to your holiday lineup, too. From revamped Nutcracker tales to biographies of your favorite dance stars, we've rounded up the latest and greatest books that every dancer will want to see in their stockings this season.

Keep reading... Show less

Sponsored

Video

mailbox

Get Dance Spirit in your inbox

Sponsored

Giveaways