Michele Wiles, Artistic Director of BalletNext
Michele Wiles describes the beginning of her dance career in two words, "straight shot."
Tucked away in a corner at DANY Studios where she's auditioning dancers for her company, BalletNext, Michele rattles off her resume. It plays out like every dancer's dream: "Six years at the Kirov Academy, international ballet competitions from age 10 to 16, and then to American Ballet Theatre - Studio Company for a year followed by apprentice, corps, soloist for five years, and principal for seven. It was a straight shot," she says.
A lumbar stress fracture at the beginning of her Principal career at ABT in 2005 marked the beginning of a different track. "When an injury happens you think about your life and the future. Suddenly you are less of the invincible machine. The questions start coming...."
Fittingly, BalletNext was anything but a straight shot. "I wanted to see how I could experience this art, my art form, in different ways, on my own terms." Continued Wiles, as daunting tasks go, starting a new ballet company in New York City ranks on high, but one of the few options available to pursue what Wiles needed. So, BalletNext was founded to create new works with classically trained dancers, choreographers, live musicians with a focus on process.
I'm so honored that I had the opportunity to be a Principal dancer at ABT, be on that stage with the cast of prodigious talent, be a part of that history and dance the great classical roles such as Sylvia and Swan Lake. There was another side for me that needed exploration. The lumbar fracture was serendipitous.... allowing another creative door to be pushed open into a world apart form the very specific world of classical ballet. And the past four years have not disappointed in experience. I came up with the name BalletNext because I wanted to stay true to the technique and discipline of classical ballet while being progressive in our thinking. You have to embrace failure as a very real possibility. How do you meld those two personalities together? I am a classical ballerina steeping in technique with an exquisite inner critic that as my peers will understand is never satisfied. So I've followed the impulse to break some boundaries with great success and a bunch of stuff that didn't quite work. BalletNext is a significant challenge because we have to constantly innovate to fulfill the mission. I can take solace in time and process - something we have the luxury of exploring in a small company environment with less schedule pressure. Reading I Was A Dancer by Jacques D'Amboise, his recollections of the humble beginning of New York City Ballet were striking given the institution we now know and love. NYCB blew up three times, and at times there were more dancers on stage than there were in the audience. I take confidence knowing what others before me have endured. Our work at BalletNext is highly demanding. The first commissioned work in 2011 by choreographer Mauro Bigonzetti, called La Follia, set up the pace. The ballet, created on two powerful women summons serious balances and the tensions by the baroque music demand and all-out performance. I want my dancers to take ownership of their position at BalletNext. Everyone wears a few hats, and I encourage that because I think it develops what you have to say on stage and develops maturity. Everyone thaw the opportunity to provide feedback in the choreographic process. I believe an iterative process is a source of strength for the BalletNext creative process. All the work at BalletNext is new and that evokes both excitement and insecurity. I have found that if I'm not uncomfortable during the creation of new choreography, then I am not pushing the limits enough... there really is no safety to be found in the BalletNext enterprise other than the promise of having another chance to try again. After four years, I am now discovering a basic confidence that BalletNext can have an enduring future. You have to believe and make things what you want them to be. It was the same for my classical career...keep at it good, bad....whatever. Just keep swimming.