ABT Partners with Segerstrom

November 22, 2014

American Ballet Theatre has been spreading out its educational efforts. In 2011 it designated the University of North Carolina School of the Arts an affiliate school, and recently announced a joint series with Columbia University.


But last week’s announcement was the biggest of all: ABT will join with Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, to establish a new school for ballet. It will be open to 3 to 14 year olds, no auditions necessary. Enrollment has begun; classes start in September and follow the same curriculum as ABT’s JKO School. Alaine Haubert, former ABT principal and ballet mistress who currently teaches at Cal State Long Beach, has been chosen to direct the school.


Segerstrom is the biggest presenter of dance in Southern California. They’ve imported ABT many times, and starting next year they will be the permanent home of ABT’s Nutcracker, choreographed by Ratmansky. It has also welcomed visiting blockbusters like Osipova and Vasiliev’s Solo for Two show. And next week, the Mikhailovsky Ballet comes to Segerstrom, fresh from Lincoln Center.

I know from being a judge at Youth America Grand Prix, that Southern California sees the largest number of entrants in YAGP’s regional competitions. (Disclosure #2: I have also taught an occasional session in dance history at ABT’s JKO School.) So I think this makes sense for ABT because they’ll have access to a larger pool of aspiring dancers. Plus it adds to my idea of L.A. as a new mecca for dance students. 

A couple weeks ago I taught classes in the Gillespie Performing Arts Building at UC Irvine, not knowing how it got the name Gillespie. Now I know. The donor William Gillespie is the link between UC Irvine, which has a very strong ballet component, and Segerstrom. He’s also on the board of ABT and has made all this possible.



But as America Hernandez pointed out in the Orange County Register, there are already strong ballet schools in the area. Will the new school undermine the existing schools? Also, it’s unusual for a presenter to start a school, so I wonder if the school will suffer from not having a professional company to look up to? In the same article, Judy Morr, the force behind Segerstrom’s commitment to dance, addresses those concerns by saying that the students will have a special opportunity to watch companies like Mikhailovsky Ballet, ABT and Eifman Ballet from the wings. Wonderful, but…is that what the dancers of these companies would welcome?

One thing is for sure: The students who graduate from the Gillespie School at 14 will have plenty of options to continue training nearby. There’s the Dmitri Kulev Classical Ballet Academy, which feeds top students into YAGP, and other schools like Southland Ballet Academy and Festival Ballet Theatre. And there’s the new Colburn Dance Academy, co-directed by Jenifer Ringer and James Fayette.

Click here to find out more about ABT’s new William J. Gillespie School.


Photos of JKO School by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy ABT