Jessica Wallis founded Ballet in the City (originally Ballet in Cleveland) to ensure and enhance the presence of ballet in American cities. Founded in 2012, the organization now offers scholarships, summer intensives, and unique presentations of world-class ballet at a national level. The World Dances spoke with Wallis about the passion driving Ballet in the City, the importance of ballet, and some exciting news! Follow @balletincity and check out Ballet in the City on Facebook for announcements, tour dates, and more.
What inspired you to start Ballet in the City?
I started it to revitalize the professional ballet scene in Cleveland, originally. We then rebranded to be Ballet in the City. Companies like American Ballet Theatre used to tour to Cleveland regularly, as did Joffrey and National Ballet of Canada. I really missed that as an audience member and I was sure I wasn’t the only one who missed seeing that level of dance. We started with working with Ballet West’s Allison DeBona. It was right before the second season of Breaking Pointe came out, so she was really in the limelight. Allison is an amazing teacher, so now we have a summer intensive that we run with her. Recently we worked with Kathryn Morgan to create The Red Shoes, which we’re now taking to cities nationwide.
Your partnership with Kathryn Morgan has been a huge success!
Kathryn Morgan and I are making the announcement that we’re taking An Evening with Kathryn Morgan, the performance we produced with her, to the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.!
Congratulations! Can you please tell us more about the project?
We started working with Kathryn Morgan last spring. Kathyrn, of course, was a soloist with New York City Ballet and resigned to take charge of her health. She then launched her own YouTube channel, which is extremely successful with over 40,000 followers. I saw her as a dancer who was doing her own thing, and she wasn’t constrained by a contract, which allowed her to do something unique. We developed this full-length performance called An Evening with Kathyrn Morgan, which basically tells her life story. It shows how she started dancing all the way up through her life now. She dances different variations throughout the evening, but we wanted the performance to include a piece that was a brand new ballet, unique to her, that had never been performed before. We came up with The Red Shoes, choreographed by Donald Garverick. It’s about a 10-minute variation, which is really hard for a dancer to carry all on her own! The acting is intense, too. We presented the piece in Cleveland this last fall. We’re taking it to Detroit in the summer, and we decided to take it somewhere really big after that. That’s where Kennedy Center is coming in.
Why do you think it’s important to bring ballet, specifically, into cities across the U.S.?
I am passionate about ballet. If any city is without the presence of something for a long time, that thing becomes irrelevant. I didn’t want ballet to become irrelevant in my hometown—or anywhere, which is, in part, why we rebranded to be a national organization. Especially now, in the dance community, it’s really easy for ballet to get lost. It might not seem to have the glam of the competitions, but it’s so vital. It’s too important to let it die out.
How did you develop your passion for ballet?
I grew up dancing and was an apprentice with the Ohio Ballet. Then I was injured and went to college to become an academic teacher. It was hard for me to deal with the lack of creativity in the classroom though. I asked myself, “What’s always made me happy?” I didn’t have to think for more than a second; it was ballet. That combined with what I saw as a need in the community -- Ballet in the City grew from there.
What’s the biggest challenge in running Ballet in the City?
I’m the kind of individual who wants everything to be successful right away. Everything we’ve done has been well attended and well received, and we’ve had a lot of great fortune. But I want our organization to be big right now! So my challenge is keeping myself on track, taking one step at a time, and knowing it really will grow to be bigger. I have to keep reminding myself that taking baby steps to make the impact I want to make is necessary. Anyone who’s ever done anything really big had to start somewhere, and you just grow from there. So yeah, being patient!
Ultimately, what is the impact you hope to make?
This is a pretty big goal, but ballet is so stigmatized still. I want to show that ballet is something that has a place in every city and can be meaningful in some way, big or small, to every person. So many people think ballet is unimportant, or just tiaras and tutus. I want people to know that’s not all it is. I would love for people to think about ballet a little bit differently because of the thumbprint our organization has been able to make.