Mystic Ballet goes global to expand

Glenn Goettler/Mystic Ballet Mystic Ballet Artistic Director Gregor Thieler, left, came to the local company from the Weisbaden Ballet in Germany, and artist-In-residence Jozsef Hajzer is a Hungarian-born German citizen who came to Mystic after a season at the New York City Ballet.

When Mystic Ballet steps into its new season today, the performance promises an international touch.

It's all a reflection of what Mystic Ballet has blossomed into since it was founded 13 years ago - a place that brings together dancers and choreographers from around the world.

The performance boasts, among its pieces, the premiere of a work by Jozsef Czaba Hajzer, a German citizen who was born in Hungary. He is Mystic Ballet's current artist-in-residence - and was a 2009 Diamond Project Choreographer with New York City Ballet.

The other two pieces on the program are by Gregor Thieler and Sergei Vanaev. Thieler came this summer from Weisbaden Ballet in Germany to become Mystic Ballet's artistic director. Vanaev, a Russian who trained at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow, became Mystic Ballet's assistant artistic director and resident choreographer in 2007.

Even beyond the choreographers, the performers represent a world view. Last year, Mystic Ballet auditioned 1,500 professional dancers in five different continents and selected 13 of them to come to Mystic as part of a residency program.

The dancers - from Italy, Australia, Germany, Brazil - live in two houses on Hewitt Street in Mystic. The language they use when working together is English.

Christine Olivier, Mystic Ballet's director of programming and development, says, "The really interesting thing about the residency program is that these dancers have committed to coming here as their 9-to-5 job, essentially. They come to rehearsals, they rehearse during the day, then they go home in the evenings and they're members of the community. They're shopping at the grocery store, they're exercising at the YMCA."

That all reflects the continuing growth since Mystic Ballet was founded by Goran and Desiree Subotic. (Mystic Ballet comes by its international interest honestly; Goran Subotic is originally from Yugoslavia, and he met Desiree, an Arizona-born dancer, on a trip to America.)

What began as a teaching institution has built into a strong dual-focused organization, with both a school and a professional contemporary ballet company.

It's not that the two elements are isolated from each other. Olivier says that everything taught in the professional company trickles into the school. Hajzer, for instance, will not only spend time with the professional troupe but will also work with the junior company while he is here.

As Mystic Ballet's new artistic director, Thieler hopes to continue to develop original productions and to bring in international work.

He says it was "a gift" to come to Mystic Ballet. He was drawn to the team and to the spirit here.

"What for me is most important as a dancer and as an artist, the most important message in dance is to be able to inspire the audience, to be able to transfer an energy and emotion," Thieler says.

"These young dancers who come in here ... are getting something that most people don't get in the dance world - individual coaching and getting exposed to many different works from international choreographers, international teachers."

The related idea, of course, is that audiences gain something, too.

"There is some possibility to get exposed to a lot of different things, and you don't have to travel to New York. You don't have to travel to Boston. You can have it right here," Thieler says. "People have the chance to get exposed to international culture, to international works."

Xanthe Geeves, a dancer who came to Mystic Ballet from Australia, echoes those sentiments, saying that she loves working with people from different backgrounds and that they all feed off each other's inspirations. They're working and living in an supportive atmsophere, one that encourages performers not to be just a tool in dance but to be creative themselves, and everyone becomes quite close, according to Geeves.

Olivier says the dancers are "here because what they love is dance, and everything Gregor has described is the reason that these people are here from all over the world at the prime of their career. But beyond that, beyond how they're fulfilling themselves artistically, they have this great environment, where they're sharing a house with people who share the same passion as them in a community that supports them."

k.dorsey@theday.com

IF YOU GO:

What: Mystic Ballet

When: 2 p.m., Oct. 16, 23 and 30

Where: Mashantucket Pequot Auditorium, Mashantucket Pequot Museum, 110 Pequot Trail, Mashantucket

Tickets: $15-$40

Contact: (860) 536-3671, mysticballet.org

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