When “The Nutcracker” hits the stage this year, it will mark exactly three decades of involvement for a very busy man. Winthrop Corey, artistic director of the Mobile Ballet, says the anniversary is unbelievable.
“That’s outrageous. I think, ‘Where did all the time go?’ When you’re having fun, time really does fly,” Corey laughed.
In the mid-1980s, Corey was employed by New York’s prestigious Joffrey Ballet when he heard about an opportunity in Mobile. Organization and coalition was needed.
“I arrived after two artistic directors left and two ballet companies merged into one. I really met with a hodgepodge of dancers from all over the city. Not that they were bad, just that they were different and all had different training,” Corey recalled.
Early cohesion was just the first in continuing challenges. Each year and every new class of dancers brought new experiments and puzzles.
“I have to deal with who’s in my school and who gets elevated into my company, so it’s constantly changing because of the dancers and what they’re capable of. That keeps it interesting for me because I change choreography every year to suit them,” Corey said.
Corey has retained the terms of his initial arrangement, to return to Joffrey each summer and do guest work around the country but keep Mobile as a home base. It’s been beneficial for Mobilians most of all, who have enjoyed a company of unusual caliber for a modest market.
In the late 1990s another obstacle arose. Mobile Ballet’s facility in a strip mall near Cottage Hill and Azalea roads would no longer be available.
“They kicked us out because the shopping center would rather have the retail sales tax. We decided to find something we could buy, so we found this building on Downtowner Loop North and it’s been a fabulous location. It’s 15,000 square feet with four dance studios, full wardrobe storage, offices — it’s a great facility,” Corey said.
The new digs premiered at the beginning of 1998 with timely expansion. Their instructional program teaches just over 300 students a year, including an Eastern Shore contingent. That translates to thousands of area youth and dancers whose lives have been touched by Corey’s efforts in the last three decades.
It’s a lot of work for a man who handles choreography, blocking and stage direction in addition to overseeing sets, lighting and numerous other aspects of the individual productions. Plus, he makes the costumes.
“Costuming is a big passion that just kind of developed. When my wife and I started a company out of Rhode Island we didn’t have any costumes, so I got a Singer sewing machine for $34. That was 1970 and now I’ve got a better machine that was donated by a very generous board member,” Corey said.
So adept is his handiwork, he’s been requested to conduct seminars and their costumes are frequently rented to companies across the nation. The return on investment is considerable.
Corey said Mobilians are definitely drawn to storybook works like “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty” and “Swan Lake.” He throws in occasional variations and his original works have earned focus.
“Four other companies across the country have done our ‘Dracula,’ and my ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ earned me a fellowship from the state arts council,” Corey said.
He mixes in repertoire ballet, composite shows that mix shorter works and feature some of the best dancers in the nation. One will be the 2016-2017 opener.
On Saturday, Oct. 29, Mobile Ballet unveils “Stars of the American Ballet” featuring Daniel Ulbricht with principals and soloists from the New York City Ballet. The program features a Balanchine/Stravinsky collaboration, excerpts from “Tarantella” with music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk , a Balanchine and George Gershwin piece and “After the Rain” by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. The Mobile Ballet Company will perform an excerpt from “La Bayadere” staged by faculty member Renata Pavam, formerly with American Ballet Theater.
It begins at 7:30 p.m. at the Mobile Civic Center Theater (401 Civic Center Drive). Tickets range from $54 to $162. For more information call 251-342-2241.
Is 30 the magic number for retirement? Corey says no, but when that time comes he wants a hand in finding his successor.
“It’s a tricky job, not just teaching steps but dealing with donors and having a vision overall for an entire organization that is a million-dollar-a-year company. It’s my job to make sure that every part of it is running smoothly and correctly. Usually ballet companies are begging for money but we’ve gotten ourselves in the position to give a grant to help children in this community in the form of the Nutcracker Charity Ball. I’m very, very proud of that,” Corey said.