It's a Ballet Company. But It Doesn't Have Dancers or Rep—Yet.

October 4, 2017

Creating a ballet company for your city? There are many ways of going about it. Some start from the bottom, creating a school, training dancers and eventually incorporating them into a company. Others begin at the top, rounding up a board, hiring a director and then dancers.

But Indianapolis City Ballet, founded in 2009 by the late Robert Hesse and now led by his son Kevin, presents an alternate paradigm: start with building an audience. After several attempts to sustain a professional company in Indianapolis failed, Hesse and his team are experimenting with a new model: a non-profit producing organization that seeks to bolster the city’s dance community by sponsoring events like gala performances, master classes and competitions.

“We endeavor to make Indianapolis one of the great cities for young dancers and dance fans,” says Hesse. Generously funded by private donors, corporations and the Indianapolis Foundation, ICB is not associated with any particular school or aesthetic philosophy, but seeks to enrich the cultural life of Indianapolis through exposure to ballet, though not with a company of dancers or a repertory of its own.

A past ICB competition

One of the ways ICB builds the Indianapolis audience is through the ICB Dance Competition, to be held this weekend. Students compete in front of a distinguished panel of judges including Susan Jaffe of University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Melanie Person of The Ailey School and Claudio Muñoz of Houston Ballet, and have the opportunity to win summer intensive scholarships. Students can participate in master classes, a film screening, Q&A sessions and more. The competition aims to bring ballet to the larger Indianapolis community, engaging dance students as well as ballet aficionados.

A past ICB competition

That’s just one of the attempts ICB has made to develop a loyal ballet audience. Since its founding, they’ve held a monthly master class series, with artists such as Ashley Bouder, Herman Cornejo and Patrick Armand teaching up to 30 students at a time and allowing an additional ten observers. ICB has also coordinated with WFYI Public Television to produce and air documentaries and programs that highlight ballet.

A master class with Ashley Bouder

ICB’s most visible event is the annual Evening with the Stars Gala, which presents an international roster of guest artists like Daniil Simkin, Sofiane Sylve and Tiler Peck, giving the Indianapolis community an opportunity to experience some of the world’s most outstanding exemplars of the form.

ICB’s Evening with the Stars Gala

Right now, ICB doesn’t have plans for a permanent company. “We believe ICB may be the most exiting ‘non-company’ in the world,” says Hesse.