Segerstrom Center for the Arts President Casey Reitz and American Ballet Theatre (ABT) Executive Director Kara Medoff Barnett have just announced a three-year partnership beginning in December of 2021, naming ABT the official dance company of the Segerstrom Center. In March 2022, ABT and The Center will present a mixed repertory program to include the world premiere of a new work by Alonzo King, the West Coast Premieres of Alexei Ratmansky’s Bernstein in a Bubble (2021), and Jessica Lang’s ZigZag (2021) which features songs recorded by Tony Bennett. In March 2023, ABT will present the U.S. premiere of Like Water For Chocolate (2021), an evening-length ballet by Christopher Wheeldon with music by composer Joby Talbot. Details for the 2024 ABT productions will be released at a later date.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts President Casey Reitz - Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Segerstrom Center for the Arts President Casey Reitz – Photo by Todd Rosenberg

ABT, one of the finest ballet companies in the world, has had a long connection with The Segerstrom Center for the Arts. The Center has presented ABT’s world premiere of Mikhail Baryshnikov’s Swan Lake in 1988,  and in 1999 its production of Le Corsaire was taped for broadcast on PBS’s Dance in America, winning an Emmy Award. In 2003, The Dream was also taped at the Center for broadcast on Dance in America. In 2008, ABT co-commissioned Twyla Tharp’s Rabbit and Rogue with Segerstrom Center for the Arts, which received its World Premiere in New York and its West Coast Premiere at the Center. In 2018, the premiere of Vladimir Varnava’s ISADORA took place at The Center. Among other ABT productions performed at the Segerstrom Center were the West Coast Premiere of Artistic Director Kevin McKenzie’s production of The Sleeping Beauty in 2007, the World Premiere of a new production of Firebird by ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky,  Romeo and Juliet, and over 63 performances of The Nutcracker.

I asked Casey Reitz, what led to this recent decision for ABT to be named the official dance company of the Segerstrom and the three-year partnership?

“It just made sense. We have had a long-standing relationship with ABT gracing our stage and entertaining our patrons for 34 years!,” Reitz said. “ABT has produced innovative performances that highlight the beauty and art of dance. With the ABT William J. Gillespie school, this is a great opportunity for our talented students to be a part of the continued education of classical ballet. Having the opportunity to bring 3 new works to our Southern California audience and students is an amazing opportunity and it solidifies our support in preserving the legacy of classical dancing.”

Kevin McKenzie recently announced his departure as Artistic Director, but Reitz said that The Segerstrom’s decision had nothing to do with McKenzie or Kara Medoff Barnett leaving the company.  “We began discussing this long before we knew that he or Kara were leaving,” he said.

What impact will this have on ABT’s west coast touring repertoire?

“Being named the Official Dance Company of Segerstrom Center for the Arts, ABT will only be performing these shows at the Center for the West Coast tour. We are very lucky to be partners in this new endeavor,” he responded.

Segerstrom Center for the Arts - American Ballet Theatre The Nutcracker - Misty Copeland and Daniil Simkin - Photo by Doug Gifford

Segerstrom Center for the Arts – American Ballet Theatre The Nutcracker – Misty Copeland and Daniil Simkin – Photo by Doug Gifford

Hopefully that will expand in the years ahead to include dance enthusiasts throughout the state.

Reitz said that the number of ABT dancers will vary with each residence and that “as a non-profit organization Segerstrom Center for the Arts will rely on both philanthropic contributions from our community as well as ticket sales to fund the productions.”

My final question for Reitz was what he would like readers to know about this partnership that makes it special to Southern California and the impact on dance in this region?

“Segerstrom Center for the Arts has always been committed to being a leader in building a community that is passionate about dance and the performing arts for Orange County,” he said. “These three unique and beautifully crafted works that will grace our stages will not only be for Orange County residents but for all dance and ballet aficionados throughout Southern California. We are committed to new ways of telling stories through the art of dance.

San Francisco Ballet in Alonzo King's "The Collective Agreement" - Photo by Erik Tomasson.

San Francisco Ballet in Alonzo King’s “The Collective Agreement” – Photo by Erik Tomasson.

“I am so pleased to continue our long relationship with Segerstrom Center for the Arts, a place I consider a second home to ABT,” said Kevin McKenzie, ABT Artistic Director.  “This partnership will allow ABT to expand our programming and experiment with new ways of telling stories.  In our first collaboration with renowned dance maker Alonzo King, ABT dancers will stretch their wings with King’s unique form of expression and brand of movement.  I am excited to see the results.  And from page to stage, Christopher Wheeldon will bring Laura Esquivel’s celebrated novel Like Water for Chocolate to life for its U.S. Premiere at Segerstrom Center.”

In addition to being one of the leading presenters of dance in Southern California, the Segerstrom Center is a leader among the nation’s performing arts centers for providing education programs designed to inspire young people through the arts. In 2015, ABT, The Segerstrom Center and America’s National Ballet Company® joined forces to create the American Ballet Theatre William J. Gillespie School whose faculty include former members of ABT’s Artistic Staff, ABT alumni, and graduates of the ABT/NYU Master’s Program in Ballet Pedagogy. The Principal of the ABT William J. Gillespie School is Alaine Haubert who has been associated with ABT since 1965 as a dancer, coach, Ballet Mistress, adjudicator, director of Summer Intensives, and advisor for the ABT National Training Curriculum. Forty students are featured annually in ABT’s production of The Nutcracker; and have performed alongside ABT dancers in the World Premiere productions of The Sleeping Beauty (2015) WhippedCream (2017), and the West Coast premiere of the company’s Harlequinade (2019).

Jessica Lang Dance - Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Jessica Lang Dance – Photo by Todd Rosenberg Photography.

“American Ballet Theatre’s mission calls us to preserve the classics and extend the repertoire of classical ballet,” says Medoff Barnett. “As the Official Dance Company of Segerstrom Center, ABT brings both the beloved classics and exciting new works to Southern California audiences.  With talented students at the ABT William J. Gillespie School and enthusiastic audiences, Orange County offers ABT’s artists the warmest of welcomes.  Segerstrom Center’s leadership recognizes the importance of innovation and invention to the future of the art form, and through this partnership, they provide opportunity to choreographers and dancers to introduce new works.”

The Segerstrom Center is located at 600 Town Center Drive Costa Mesa, CA 92626. For more information please visit their website.

To visit the American Ballet Theatre website, click HERE.

Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.

Featured image: American Ballet Theatre – Hee Seo and Thomas Forster in “Romeo and Juliet” – Photo by Denise Leitner