Boston Ballet has announced its roster for the 2016-17 season, which will total 71 dancers, including the 14 in its apprentice troupe, Boston Ballet II. Altogether 20 new dancers will be joining the company. There's a title change this season: The dancers who make up the corps de ballet will now be known as "artists of the company." And principal Erica Cornejo, who arrived in 2006, will retire at the end of the season, making her final appearances in "The Sleeping Beauty."
This is truly an international company, with dancers from 18 countries, everywhere from Argentina to Albania, Spain to South Korea. Yet it's also a Boston institution: Nearly a third of the main company are Boston Ballet II alumni, and 18 percent are graduates of Boston Ballet School.
Of the new arrivals to the main company, soloist Florimond Lorieux comes from the Paris Opera Ballet, where he has been a sujet, or second soloist, for the past seven years. Joining Boston Ballet as artists of the company are Daniel Cooper from Pennsylvania Ballet; Mamuka Kikalishvili and Nina Matiashvili from Hong Kong Ballet; Seung Hyun Lee and So Jung Lee (no relation to each other) from Korea National University of Arts; Alec Roberts from the National Ballet of Canada; Reina Sawai, formerly with the Vienna State Ballet; and Erik Thordal-Christensen from Los Angeles Ballet.
Previously, the company had announced the promotions of Anaïs Chalendard and Seo Hye Han to principal, Junxiong Zhao to soloist, and Corina Gill to second soloist. Promoted from Boston Ballet II to artist of the company are Samivel Evans and Desean Taber. Four dancers from Boston Ballet School have been accepted into Boston Ballet II: Lex Ishimoto, Graham Johns, Abigail Merlis, and Christian Pforr. Joining BB2 from outside the school are Gabrielle Beach, Derek Drilon, Thomas Harrison, Sage Humphries, Clay Murray, Bella Ureta, and Gabriela Schiefer.
Chalendard and Han had many featured roles in the 2015-16 season. They both danced Odette/Odile in "Swan Lake"; Chalendard was Tatiana in "Onegin" and the Glove Seller in "Gaîté Parisienne," Han was Olga in "Onegin" and the Flower Girl in "Gaîté Parisienne."
"When an artist becomes a principal, it's because they have a very special way of being themselves," Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen said. "I've been very impressed with Anaïs from day one, but I feel that she's become richer and more well rounded, and I was very happy to promote her."
Of Han, whom he hired after she won a gold medal at the 2012 Boston International Ballet Competition, Nissinen said, "Her 'Swan Lake' was wonderful, and I've been waiting to be able to do this, and I'm so happy she made it. Now it's a whole new beginning for both of them."
Nissinen described his new French soloist, Lorieux, as "a beautiful, classical dancer, and we have a need for somebody like that. So I'm very excited that he's interested in coming to the other side of the Atlantic." Nissinen added that though Lorieux was only a sujet at Paris Opera Ballet, he'd been dancing some principal parts. "He'll be slotted for some major principal roles in 'Sleeping Beauty' and 'Le Corsaire' [which opens the season Oct. 27] and 'Nutcracker' and probably many other things."
How did Nissinen find Lorieux? "He connected with us. You don't talk to dancers who are under contract about working here. The rule is that when the dancer approaches you, it's all fair game. But we don't go contacting dancers from other companies when our friends run them. There are a couple of exceptions, but most of us have agreed that we don't do it."
As for changing the name of the corps de ballet, Nissinen says he's concerned that the dancers don't always get the respect they deserve. "I feel like these people are at such a high level and achieve so much. Then I realized that at Covent Garden [the Royal Ballet], they refer to them as 'artists of the company,' and my thought was that 'artists of the company' had more stature."