In step with the next generation

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Founder and artistic director of BalletNext on mentoring young dancers


  • Michele Wiles and BalletNext dancers. Photo: Nisian Hughes

  • Michele Wiles. Photo: Albert Ayzenberg

  • Michele Wiles with jazz trumpeter Tom Harrell, whose quintet occasionally accompanies BalletNext performances. Photo: Nisian Hughes

Michele Wiles calls upon her experiences as a fledgling ballerina in New York to set the stage for those who are coming after her. The contemporary company she founded, BalletNext, allows classically trained dancers to experiment creatively with diverse artists.

A former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, the Maryland native moved to New York at 18 to begin as an apprentice with the famed institution. “And I feel like every young dancer, whether they go to a neighborhood school or a rigorous program like I did, needs a moment to explore who they are in their artistry,” Wiles, 37, explained.

With that in mind, she is launching NextGeneration in August. The program, which will run on a trimester basis, will enable young dancers to participate in the company’s classes to explore different approaches and develop their unique styles.

What is your ballet background in New York?

I moved to New York to be an apprentice with American Ballet Theatre. I did my first tour with them as an apprentice in 1998. I did an entire MET season, and after that, was offered studio company and after a year of being in the second company, was offered a core contract.

What is the mission of BalletNext?

To have a foundation and respect and a nod to classical ballet technique and training. Using that in combination with unlikely artists and things that are happening today.

What is the demographic of your company?

At the moment, there’s seven dancers, including myself. The company trains daily and has a very strong technical base that is grounded in ballet. I help them with their ballet technique. Every single girl offers something special. They’re into acting; they have their modeling jobs. Violetta Komyshan is with [actor] Ansel Elgort. They met in high school at La Guardia. She has been following BalletNext since she was 16 and now she, for the first time, is performing with us.

Tell us about your collaboration with a deaf dancer to incorporate sign language into performances.

A lot of what’s happening this year, people have reached out to me, because BalletNext has built a reputation and brand name of being experimental and exploring with other people. So Bailey Ann Vincent reached out to me via email. She came up, I met her and this sort of evolved out of our relationship. Quite honestly, both of us walked into the studio not knowing what this was going to be. We were using signing concepts and it is about a young girl, Follin, actually Bailey’s daughter, losing her hearing and figuring out her way in society. It slowly evolves into feeling a connection and eye contact. We make three different kinds of sounds with pointe shoes and clapping and voices that you might not hear in classical ballet.

Explain the NextGeneration program.

This is a very interesting thing. It goes back to myself choosing where I was going to go. I wanted to create this for the next generation where they have an opportunity to work with me and see the company and experience different types of work and develop themselves as well-rounded people.

What do you look for in applicants?

I’m looking for applicants who are interested in working with different types of people, but still have a love of pointe shoes and ballet. And a lot of them are university types, interestingly enough. Not to say that I’m not interested in anyone else.

You recently came back from maternity leave. How has having a baby changed your perspective at work? How do you balance motherhood with your career?

It’s completely changed my perspective. It’s interesting; your body goes through a metamorphosis, very transformative. And I feel like I’m in the same development stages as my daughter and the dancers. It’s almost like I had to retrain myself, in a sense. I feel like I’m growing with her. She’s walking more now. And funny enough, my body feels more in shape and I feel like I can dance more. There’s been this symbiotic development physically that’s happened. There’s also been a lot of balancing that’s been going on. Coming from such a crazy training background where you’re just focused on that ... a baby in the middle of this, you realize you have time for family and your husband.... And it only feeds your soul.

What are your future plans?

To keep performing more and keep collaborating with unlikely artists. I really feel like it grows the dancers and it expands my human knowledge as well. Because you can never stop learning.

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