Heading into its 7th Season, Cleveland Ballet Is Making Huge Strides

The Nutcracker, December 3-5. Photo by New Image Photography.

By Steve Sucato

If you haven’t been paying close attention to Cleveland Ballet of late, the company has gotten rather big, rather fast. Founded in 2014, it has gone from a fledgling ballet troupe with a handful of dancers and being funded out of pocket by company founders Gladisa Guadalupe, a dancer with the former Cleveland Ballet which folded in 2001, and Russian businessman, Dr. Michael Krasnyansky, to currently being the largest professional dance company in Northeast, Ohio.  Entering its 7th season as one of the fastest growing ballet companies in the country, Cleveland Ballet now boasts 25 contract dancers and an annual operating budget of 2 million.  

The company has also been busy of late accumulating the trappings of a ballet company with the future goal of being internationally recognized like their namesake predecessor. The company has more than doubled its Miles Road studio/office space to 15,000 square feet, adding studios (including one with performance lighting), offices, meeting rooms, dressing rooms, a dancer conditioning room (where a University Hospitals sports medicine physical therapist visits once a week), a dancer lounge with kitchenette, a dance book library, temperature and humidity controlled costume and set storage spaces, a photographer studio, and perhaps most impressively, a new costume shop with 8 sewing machines and a dry-cleaner-like computer-controlled costume storage system.

Krasnyansky says the choice to have their own fully outfitted costume shop ultimately made financial sense. “Simple math told us it was the right thing to do,” says Krasnyansky. “Our costuming costs for the school and company will be less long term and we don’t have to rely on subcontractors that may not deliver on time.” Krasnyansky says in future they intend to take on outside costuming work as well for added income.  

The company has also more than doubled its staff to include development, marketing and production directors, an executive assistant to the artistic director, costume shop staff, a staff illustrator, a photographer/videographer and production and merchandise managers. Further expansion plans are in the works to add even more space for a gym and café.

Not surprisingly, area funders, businesses and organizations have taken notice including a partnership with Gates Mills’ Gilmour Academy to provide educational and housing opportunities for non-area Cleveland Ballet students, a summer residency partnership with Vermillion’s Harbourtown Fine Arts Center, and Playhouse Square naming Cleveland Ballet as one of its resident companies in 2017.

To keep the company working during the global pandemic, Guadalupe and Krasnyansky developed a series of small, in-person outdoor performances at area vineyards, Akron’s Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, and the Great Lakes Science Center as well as small tours to Florida which helped them reach new audiences and aided in the company’s growth.

“This is the way our company is being built, one cookie at a time filling the cookie jar,” says Guadalupe.

Further helping to fill that cookie jar are the additions of several world class veteran dancers for the upcoming 2021-22 season including former New York City Ballet principal dancer and Canton-native, Zachary Catazaro along with husband and wife pair Narek Martirosyan and Albina Ghazaryan, former principal dancers with Israel Ballet. Predominately a company of young, beginning career dancers, those veteran dancers figure to significantly raise the company’s talent level. Also adding to the company’s international talent pool are newer company members Emmanuel Martirosyan (Armenia), formerly of New Jersey Ballet, Bruno Palheta Oliveira (Brazil), and Nicola Marchionni (Italy). They join company stalwarts Lauren Stenroos, Madison Campbell and a host of other young talent including Japan’s Kaela Ku in upping the company’s stature and broadening the repertory that can be performed. Future plans are to add more world class choreographers’ works to the company’s repertory mix.

Guadalupe says despite the addition of top-flight veteran dancers this season, she and Krasnyansky feel it is important that Cleveland Ballet be known as being a collective of individual artists from different cultures with diverse bodies, skills and artistry, and not just for a few of its star dancers.  

Don Quixote, October 15-16. Photo by New Image Photography.

In the company’s return to live in-theater performances this season, the company will offer up three classic story ballets all staged by Guadalupe beginning with Don Quixote, October 15 & 16 at Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre. This condensed ballet classic Guadalupe says will tell Miguel de Cervantes familiar Don Quixote tale in 2-acts instead of the 4 or more that many productions based on Marius Petipa’s 1871 ballet contain. Guadalupe’s paired down interpretation will reflect her feeling that “at its core, Don Quixote is a love story. It is a quest for one’s perfect match – the one who is viewed as idyllic in every way.” Set to music by Ludwig Minkus, Guadalupe says the windmill chasing Don Quixote’s story will also not be presented nearly as unrealistically as it has been in the past. “We all have a little Don Quixote in us,” says Guadalupe. “It is how we overcome obstacles and work to attain our dreams that define the person we become.”

The Nutcracker, December 3-5. Photo by New Image Photography.

Cleveland Ballet’s popular The Nutcracker production also returns after a pandemic-year hiatus, this time to Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre for 5 shows, December 3-5. Guadalupe says the Cleveland-centric production that contains nods to choreographers Dennis Nahat and Ian Horvath’s 1979 version for the former Cleveland Ballet, will feature expanded sets to accommodate the Connor Palace’s larger stage space. The ballet in 2 acts is a re-envisioned version of E.T.A. Hoffman’s 1816 story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” set to composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s iconic 1892 score for the ballet.  

The company will then perform The Little Nutcracker, a scaled-down version of that production, December 18 & 19 at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens in Akron.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, May6-7. Photo by New Image Photography.

Closing out their mainstage season, May 6-7 at Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre, the company will present a brand-new ballet version of the Shakespeare comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream choreographed by Guadalupe to Felix Mendelssohn’s familiar score for the ballet. Like her Don Quixote production, Guadalupe’s will condense her interpretation of the story to suit modern audiences and include dancers from The School of Cleveland Ballet. Excerpts of the production will also be performed May 15 at Canton’s Gervasi Vineyard.

Like many U.S. ballet companies emerging from pandemic restrictions, Cleveland Ballet is playing it somewhat safe in terms of its mainstage season program with offerings of all familiar story ballets. Nonetheless, if you haven’t seen the company, or seen them lately, this coming season is surely the time to do so.

For more information and tickets visit clevelandballet.org

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.