The BLOG: Culture

Boston Ballet announces nine new dancers, Erica Cornejo’s retirement

Reina Sawai and Greig Matthews in The Sleeping Beauty; photo by Michael Pohn, courtesy of Reina Sawai

Reina Sawai and Greig Matthews in The Sleeping Beauty; photo by Michael Pohn, courtesy of Reina Sawai

On Monday, the Boston Ballet announced its roster for the 2016-17 season. The Company welcomes nine new dancers of seven nationalities, and also announced that this will be Principal Dancer Erica Cornejo’s final season before retirement. Cornejo has danced 11 seasons with the Company, beginning in 2006. Her final appearances onstage will be May 2017 in The Sleeping Beauty.

One of Boston Ballet’s new dancers joins as a soloist, and six as “artists of the Company,” a title which now replaces “corps de ballet.” The new members from France, the U.S., Georgia, South Korea, Australia, Japan and Denmark contribute to a total of 71 dancers in the Company, which represents a total of 18 nationalities. The Company is comprised of 57 dancers in the main professional company, and 14 in Boston Ballet II.

“As Artistic Director, every new season brings an opportunity to shape the Company in its evolution,” Boston Ballet Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen said in the press release. “I aim to hire talented, motivated dancers, to continuously develop them as artists and to expand their horizons to master our three different styles — from classical, neo-classical and contemporary works.”

Florimond Lorieux, an internationally acclaimed performer, will join Boston Ballet as a soloist. Lorieux is originally from France, where he trained at the Paris Opera School under Claude Bessy and Élisabeth Platel, joining the Paris Opera Ballet in 2005.

Daniel Cooper of Winston-Salem, N.C., joins the Boston Ballet as an artist of the Company. He most recently comes from the Pennsylvania Ballet, where he has been a corps de ballet dancer since 2008. Previously, he participated in the San Francisco Ballet’s trainee program, and danced three seasons with Boston Ballet.

Alec Roberts by Aleksander Antonijevic; courtesy of National Ballet of Canada

Alec Roberts by Aleksander Antonijevic; courtesy of National Ballet of Canada

Mamuka Kikalishvili and Nina Matiashvili hail from the country of Georgia — Kikalishvili from Poti and Matiashvili from Tbilisi. They will dance with Boston Ballet as artists of the Company. Kikalishvili, who won the gold medal in the Riga Spring in 2012 and was a finalist of the Helsinki International Ballet Competition, trained with the Vakhtang Chabukiani Tbilisi Ballet Art School, and danced professionally with the State Ballet of Georgia, the Hungarian National Ballet and the Hong Kong Ballet. Matiashvili also studied at the Vakhtang Chabukiani Tbilisi Ballet Art School. She danced as a soloist at the State Ballet of Georgia, and joined the Hong Kong Ballet in 2014.

Seung Hyun Lee and So Jung Lee, from Seoul, South Korea, will be artists of the Company. Hyun Lee, a recent graduate of the Korea National University of Arts, has won multiple awards, including the Senior Male gold medal at the Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition, Best Interpretation of the Classical Compulsory, first place at the 2014 Seoul International Dance Competition and a silver medal at the Korea International Ballet Competition. Jung Lee also studied at the Korea National University of Arts, in addition to the Seoul Arts High School. She boasts international awards, including gold medal at the 2009 Youth America Grand Prix, junior gold medal at the 2009 Seoul International Dance, bronze medal at the 2013 Youth America Grand Prix and gold medal at the 2015 Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition.

Another new artist of the Company is Alec Roberts of Adelaide, Australia. He previously danced with the National Ballet of Canada and the Queensland Ballet after representing the Australian Ballet School at Canada’s National Ballet School.

Erik Thordal-Christensen is a dancer from Copenhagen, Denmark, joining Boston Ballet as an artist of the Company. He trained with the Los Angeles Ballet, starting as an apprentice in 2012, and was promoted to the corps de ballet the following year. Thordal-Christiensen will be Boston Ballet’s only Dane dancing in the Company.

Finally, Reina Sawai joins the artists of the Company, representing a wide range of dance experience. Originally from Uryawasu, Japan, Sawai also studied in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Portugal. Professionally, she has danced with the National Ballet of Portugal and the Vienna State Ballet. She became a demi-soloist for Vienna in 2012, but after five years with the company, chose to leave in order to explore more styles of dance, including hip-hop, folk, contemporary and jazz.

In an interview with the NewBostonPost, Sawai said she was attracted to Boston Ballet by its diverse repertoire, especially the Company’s upcoming collaboration with contemporary choreographer William Forsythe.

“I love dancing (contemporary ballets). It’s out-of-the-box, it’s a step further, and the steps are still classical but something more,” she said. “I love the movement, how it’s not just an arabesque — you stretch out and somehow make it a little bit different. It’s very creative.”

Nissinen describes Boston Ballet’s partnership with Forsythe as “the next big phase of the Company’s development.”

“Working directly with Bill will bring a whole new dimension to their work and I cannot wait to see all the dynamic energy that’s coming,” he said.

In addition to the newly hired dancers, Boston Ballet’s roster will also look different this year with six previously announced promotions. To learn more about the Company’s promotions, read “Six promising promotions for Boston Ballet.”

Boston Ballet prides itself in nurturing dancers into the main company through the Boston Ballet School, its trainee program and BBII. The Company said more than 32 percent of the main company are BBII alumni, and 18 percent hail from the Boston Ballet School.

BBII welcomes 10 new faces this season: Gabrielle Beach (The Royal Ballet School), Derek Drilon (Joffrey Studio Company), Thomas Harrison (the American Ballet Theatre Jackie Kennedy Onassis School), Sage Humphries (Sarasota Cuban Ballet School), Clay Murray (Pacific Northwest Ballet School), Bella Ureta (Pacific Northwest Ballet School) and Gabriela Schiefer (School of American Ballet).

For full company biographies and a complete roster, visit the Boston Ballet’s newly designed webpage.

Boston Ballet’s first performance of the season will be the North American premiere of Ivan Liška’s Le Corsaire, running at the Boston Opera House, Oct. 27-Nov. 6.

Mary Hierholzer

Mary Hierholzer

Mary Hierholzer is a freelance journalist and communications specialist at Gordon College. Read her past articles here.