Ballet Next, one of the most interesting independent dance companies to emerge recently, was founded by former ABT principal Michele Wiles and ex-NYCB Charles Askegard. Together they aim to make ballet more accessible, investing in new works and audience engagement. One of the company’s projects is the Ballet Next Exhibitions Series, where audience members are encouraged to ask questions and participate in live discussions with the artists on topics like dance technique, choreography, production aspects and music.
Photographer Brian Mengini dropped in on Ballet Next in rehearsal and talked to Michele about her ideas and motivations:
Ballet Next is the newest ballet company coming out of New York City. Co-founded by Michele Wiles and Charles Askegard - who have only been dancing together for a little over a year – Ballet Next has made quite the splash since coming onto the scene and giving its inaugural performance at the Joyce Theater last year.
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The company’s performances feature live music and offer a mixture of classic and contemporary. For the classics, however, you will not find fancy costumes and glitter: they present timeless pieces like the Act II of Swan Lake in a stripped-down version, so that audiences can focus on the music and the movement.
Ballet Next uses a core of six guests who are currently dancing with major US ballet companies. Their upcoming performance at MMAC has a lineup that includes Drew Jacoby, NYCB’s Georgina Pazcoguin and ABT’s Misty Copeland. What is the appeal of Ballet Next for someone who may already be with a company such as NYCB? Michele says “It’s new, fresh and dangerous, which is exciting. Dancers are attracted to that feeling. We are creating an atmosphere that allows the dancers to take risks and explore.”
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Wiles had done some work with Askegard at a gala in Mobile (Alabama) and other shows through Youth America Grand Prix. While traveling, they began to discuss their concerns about major companies and things they wanted to change. Out of those discussions they decided to join forces and create their own vehicle. She adds “I wanted to experience my art in a different way. While the structure of a big company has its benefits, I feel more fulfilled as a human to be able to take on all of those responsibilities myself.”
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What are some of their goals? “To continue to collaborate with dancers, choreographers, musicians and composers. We are interested in touring Europe and looking for opportunities for ballet to give back; opportunities for the power of ballet to do good” says Wiles.
Some of the choreographers they admire or would love to work with are: William Forsythe, Jiří Kylián, Paul Lightfoot & Sol Leon, Margo Sappington and Mauro Bigonzetti. For Wiles, Ballet Next offers the best parts of the classics, new choreography and amazing talent. For the dancers, this means a renewed sense of dance and, for everyone, the purity of dance.
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All photos by Brian Mengini. More here:
About the Author:
Photographer Brian Mengini resides in suburban Philadelphia and keeps a studio in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. Brian’s unending passion for ballet came in the summer of 2007, when the Mann Center asked him to come in and shoot the Royal Ballet’s final performance of Swan Lake. Since then, his images have appeared in a variety of exhibits and publications including Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine. In June of 2010, Brian started Barre Boys, a website dedicated to the male in ballet with a goal of squashing stereotypes and inspiring more males to pursue ballet. Together with his wife, he has launched Hope Dances, a nonprofit dance outreach program for children with special needs.