Inside the Carolina Ballet

This young dance company in Raleigh celebrates a decade of success.
Sara Askew Jones / Photography courtesy of Carolina Ballet

Carolina Ballet made its debut in 1998. Since that time the professional dance group in Raleigh has secured a loyal local following, garnered accolades from national and international critics, and performed around the globe. Who knew that a start-up company could make the grand leap to success in so little time? We take a peek behind the curtain and talk with artistic director Robert Weiss.

What brought you to Carolina Ballet?
I saw an ad in a dance magazine that said, “Looking for a man or woman of vision to start a ballet company on the highest level.” The thing most attractive about it was the opportunity to start something from the very beginning. It’s been successful because initially the right people were brought together who understood the importance of the endeavor.

How did you build the company?
I found talented people around the country and was able to bring three extraordinary dancers with me. I am married to a ballerina, Melissa Podcasy, who was obviously willing to come with me. Then I brought in two other experienced dancers―Marin Boieru and Timour Bourtasenkov. Everyone else was 18 years old and talented but green. We started with 18 dancers and 3 apprentices. We gave 20 performances the first year.

For such a young company, you have an impressive repertoire.
We’ve created more than 65 new works in 10 seasons here. The thing that’s amazing about it is that we are a company of only 32 dancers. New York City Ballet is the only company in this country that has created more new works during the same time period, but they have more than a 100 dancers.

How have you approached iconic classical ballets?
All of these ballets were meant for bigger companies with much larger budgets. The New York City Ballet did Romeo and Juliet last year, and the budget was $2.5 million just for the production. We did Romeo and Juliet at the end of my first season in May 1999 and spent $75,000. We rented the costumes and built a very simple set. We have an amazing resident lighting designer, Ross Kolman. It makes an enormous difference because the lighting creates the atmosphere, and if there’s not an elaborate set, the lights take over. We’ve been able to do it basically with smoke and mirrors. The productions have never looked less than lavish, but of course, they are minimal.

What are your most treasured performances?
When you create a ballet, it’s like having a child. You don’t really have a favorite. We performed Swan Lake in China. We took Messiah to Hungary in 2002. The audience went crazy. We got an incredible review from the German critic who had come from Frankfurt to see it. The closing paragraph said, “Dancers of this maturity and depth are seldom seen in Europe today.”

Last summer Carolina Ballet did a partnership with UNC Wilmington. Are you going to continue that this summer?
Yes, our dancers did a summer residency there, and it was very successful. We are going back this year, and the plan is to keep doing it. It gives the dancers another four weeks of work in the summer. Our company members teach participants ages 14 to 20. Last year, we taught about 100 kids.

How would you summarize these past 10 years?
It’s been an incredible journey because we have been able to thrive in spite of some tough times. Just the fact that we are still here and that we have created all this work is an amazing thing. But we still have a lot of things that we want to do. As much as we have been embraced by the community, my hope is that we will find more people who will be willing to support us on a higher level.

For more information: Visit www.carolinaballet.com.

"On Point in Carolina" is from the May 2008 issue of Carolina Living, a special section of Southern Living for our subscribers in North Carolina.