World Ballet Festival Is Taking Ballet’s Stars on the Road

June 7, 2024

This June, the Los Angeles–based touring organization World Ballet Company is presenting World Ballet Festival, four mixed-bill programs that will bring fan favorites of the classical canon to four cities across the U.S. But the excerpts themselves are not the only stars of the evening: Each stop will feature guest artists from major American ballet companies, including New York City Ballet, Boston Ballet, and San Francisco Ballet.

The festival will tour to Minneapolis, San Diego, Detroit, and Spokane, and includes performances by principal dancers like NYCB’s Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia, and SFB’s Sasha de Sola and Aaron Robison. World Ballet Company’s own dancers, along with guest artists from Los Angeles Ballet and LINES Ballet, complete the roster of performers.

For Gulya Hartwick, one of WBC’s co-founders and a festival producer, making dance approachable and accessible to audiences is the driving mission behind the tour. She says that over 60 percent of the organization’s audiences nationwide are new to ballet.

“In this festival we wanted to show timeless hits,” says Hartwick. “If ballet is a new art form for someone, we want to show pieces that the audience will be able to relate to and understand. Then it will be easier for them to say, ‘I loved it, and now I want to see more.’ ”

Tiler Peck stands in arabesque on pointe, and Roman Mejia stands behind her in tendu, holding her hands lightly. They perform in Balanchine's "Rubies" and wear bright red costumes.
Tiler Peck and Roman Mejia in George Balanchine’s “Rubies.” Photo by Erin Baiano, courtesy World Ballet Company.

The festival’s producers see the programs as a sampler of ballet’s blockbusters, Hartwick explains, meaning that they are recognizable and hold a wide appeal to audiences who might not be regular attendees. Each city has a unique program, composed of base repertoire alongside guest artists and local performers at each location. Selected ballets include Balanchine’s Tschaikovsky Pas de Deux, excerpts from Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, and Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain.

Adrian Blake Mitchell, the festival’s programming director, explains that the tour locations were chosen carefully based on the local enthusiasm for previous WBC performances. WBC, which performs in over 280 cities nationwide each year, typically presents full-length story ballets like Cinderella and The Nutcracker, and it has visited each of the festival’s stops at least once in the past year during its annual production tour across the U.S.

“We were able to gauge which cities are really hungry for this level of dance,” Hartwick says, explaining that the company tours to communities that may or may not have a resident ballet company, or be a regular stop for other touring companies.

Beyond touring, World Ballet Festival seeks to actively involve each community it visits in its performances. At each stop, smaller regional companies and dance schools are invited to present their own works onstage.

In the future, Hartwick and Mitchell hope to expand the festival to more cities across the country, and to enable the visiting artists to teach master classes to local dancers.

“The festival [aims to] bolster whatever is happening there at that moment,” says Mitchell.  “We’re adding to, not taking away from, what a particular city has going on in terms of dance.”