Arts

Boston Ballet fills coveted roster spots

Ji Young Chae is among the five new soloists for Boston Ballet’s 2015-16 season.
Rosalie O’Connor
Ji Young Chae is among the five new soloists for Boston Ballet’s 2015-16 season.

Boston Ballet’s roster for the 2015-16 season will include five new soloists: Ji Young Chae and Patrick Yocum, promoted from the company’s corps de ballet, plus new arrivals Maria Baranova from the Finnish National Ballet, Rachele Buriassi from Stuttgart Ballet, and Federico Fresi from Teatro alla Scala in Milan.

Altogether the company will have 68 dancers, including 10 in Boston Ballet II.

Boston Ballet corps members Diana Albrecht, Irlan Silva, and Junxiong Zhao have been promoted to second soloist, and Albert Gordon moves up from Boston Ballet II to join the corps.

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Newcomers to the corps include Jillian Barrell from Ballet Arizona and Drew Nelson from the Royal Danish Ballet. And joining Boston Ballet II will be Angela Bishop and Erin O’Dea from the Boston Ballet School, Elenora Morris from the National Ballet of Canada, Ethan Chudnow from the San Francisco Ballet School, and Samuel Ainley and Aaron Hilton from the School of American Ballet.

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These are coveted spots. Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen estimates he looked at “a little under 900 dancers” in the course of the past year. There are auditions in New York and Miami as well as Boston. And then, he says, there are dancers “who ask to come and audition, or to come and take company class and audition in that way. We have a database of several hundred dancers. Some of those are invited in, and then there are dancers on top of that.”

Baranova, he says, was born in Finland, of Russian parents, and last season was a principal at the Finnish National Ballet, where she was featured in Boston Ballet resident choreographer Jorma Elo’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” She’ll be the first Finnish dancer that Nissinen, a Finn himself, has hired here.

Buriassi came to Boston last fall to take company classes and watch performances. Nissinen describes her as “lyrical, but with a very good attack. She’s done [William] Forsythe, she’s done lots of [John] Cranko, so she already comes with the kind of versatility that’s expected here.”

As for Fresi, Nissinen calls him a “super-technician, a real powerhouse. He’s a little on the shorter side, and I haven’t really been looking for that type in recent years. But now I was, and I think he’s going to wow audiences with his strength and technique.”

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Both Chae and Yocum are being promoted to soloist straight from the corps, skipping over second soloist. Nissinen says that he’s watched Yocum grow from the school to the second company to the main company. Last season, Yocum was “Dream Armand” in Val Caniparoli’s “Lady of the Camellias” and was also featured in Helen Pickett’s “Eventide,” Lila York’s “Celts,” and Jeffrey Cirio’s “fremd.” Chae, Nissinen points out, danced the roles of both Sugar Plum and Dew Drop in “The Nutcracker” and was featured in Forsythe’s “The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude.”

With the departure of Cirio to American Ballet Theatre, the company will start the new season with just four principal men: Paulo Arrais, Lasha Khozashvili, Eris Nezha, and John Lam. Will that be enough to do John Neumeier’s “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler,” Cranko’s “Onegin,” and “Swan Lake”? Nissinen says he still has a principal position open, but he’s waiting to find the right dancer and notes that the company won’t be doing “Swan Lake” till April. By that time, he promises, “Either I will have a mega-international guest artist or I will have a super-principal here.”

In offstage news, Nissinen is bringing in Peter Stark, the founding artistic director of Next Generation Ballet in Tampa, to be associate director of Boston Ballet II and head of the men’s program of the Boston Ballet School.

“Over the years,” Nissinen explains, “Peter has consistently produced the best male talent in the country. So I’m very excited that he’s joining us.” Stark has been especially successful in preparing students for competitions, and Nissinen says that, going forward, “We will probably send some people to the competitions from the company and the second company and maybe even the school. I think we will play a little bit bigger role in the international field that way.”

Jeffrey Gantz can be reached at jeffreymgantz@gmail.com.

A previous version of this story misspelled the last name of Junxiong Zhao . It has been corrected.