Ballet by the Sea

This past weekend, UNCW announced it's partnering with the Carolina Ballet on summer residency program. The addition of a professional ballet company is a big change for the school, and the region. WHQR's Megan Williams looked into this coming attraction...

Wilmington, NC – It's not every year UNCW reserves the grand atrium of its School of Education for Shakespeare's birthday. Maybe for his 500th or something big like that. But last weekend, the school went all out and the bard was just turning an unwieldy 442 years old. No, the Elizabethan ensemble, the massive catered spread, and the fancy-dressed guests were there to celebrate the birth of something rather different: a partnership between UNCW and the Carolina Ballet.

That's right, Wilmington is getting a ballet company, at least for one month a year. Starting next summer, the Carolina Ballet, normally based in Raleigh, will begin a summer residency program through the university.

During their stay, the company will train nearly a hundred ballet students: sixty from national auditions and thirty talented locals.

Standing in the crowd after announcing the residency, UNCW Chancellor Rosemary DePaolo said hosting the ballet is very much a part of her vision for the school. "But," she continued, "it will also bring people from all over the nation, young dancers from all over the nation, and create a much higher profile for dance, as well as for the university."

Wilmington audiences will certainly be a part of that higher profile. The company plans to put on two local performances each summer during their residency. A big change given that the Carolina Ballet's only made it to this area twice in the last five years.

It's rare for a ballet company to form this kind of partnership with a university. Most just start their own schools. But this company is only nine years old, and UNCW's involvement gives their program instant legitimacy with students and parents. It also provides an important extra month of work for the dancers. And finally, according to program director Tyler Walters, it should improve the company's quality overall.

"The real promise of this," he says, "is the opportunity for the company to have additional rehearsal time to create new works. This is an area that most companies have a difficult time funding and finding the rehearsal time for, is the creation of new works. And so this presents a great opportunity for the company to do something it might not otherwise have time to do."

This partnership is another milestone for a ballet company that's growing quickly. Despite some financial troubles in the past few years - the company has had to cut live musicians from most of its performances - the ballet's made it onto many dance critics' top ten lists. Ask members of the Carolina Ballet what's gotten them to this point... and they'll send you down the hall, to artistic director Robert Weiss.

His sneakers squeaking on the floor of the company's cavernous rehearsal bay in Raleigh, Weiss seems to put together a staging of Cinderella almost on the fly. He mimics the dancer's motions, debates music with the pianist, and appropriates bits of horseplay into his choreography.

Weiss' resume includes a stint as a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, performing in works choreographed for him by the legendary George Balanchine. To found the Carolina Ballet, he recruited females dancers from across the country, and male dancers - more of a rarity - from around the world. After eight seasons of rapid growth and periodic belt-tightening, Weiss says he's looking forward to the summer program as a time to focus.

"There's still going to be pressure because you have to produce work in four weeks," he admits. "But there won't be anything else. It's not like when we're here and I have to worry about fundraising and this and that and the other thing and I'm worried about the next program and the next program. This is just that segment of our year. I think it will be more relaxed and I think that that can sometimes be more creative, yeah."

The Carolina Ballet, the latest summer visitor to the region, but not too different from many others: coming down to recharge at the beach.

Megan Williams, WHQR News.

You can find out more about the Carolina Ballet at their website:

Support for local arts and cultural programming comes from WHQR members, and Landfall Foundation, an organization of residents who support projects enhancing health, education and the arts in New Hanover, Brunswick and Pender Counties.