As the curtain fell on the Dec. 11 matinee of Mobile Ballet’s annual “Nutcracker” performance, it signaled the end of a monumental era in Mobile arts. After 30 years precisely, Mobile Ballet Artistic Director Winthrop Corey has stepped down.
According to a Dec. 6 report on WALA-TV’s website, Corey sent an email to dancers on Dec. 5 announcing his departure. It cited differences with the board of directors as the cause.
Artifice contacted Corey on Dec. 6 and, to his credit, he downplayed any potential controversy. It’s unclear whether negotiations for financial terms are still in play.
“The only thing I can say about it is that there are a lot of opportunities out there for me and I’m looking to pursue them. I felt that this is probably the best time to look ahead and see what the future is for me out there. It’s very positive. No scandal at all,” Corey said.
Corey said he’s spoken with colleagues across the nation and will travel for upcoming work. Mobile will remain his home base, a place he said always made him feel welcome and supported.
Artifice eventually acquired a copy of the email, in which Corey graciously credits generations of dancers as inspiration and thanks them. He describes the relay of events as “heartbreaking” and attributes his decision to “a change in leadership and vision by many of those on the present board of directors.”
According to the email, Corey’s plans are to remain in “the ballet world” and “continue to train young dancers and set ballets for companies throughout the U.S. and abroad.”
Artifice contacted Mobile Ballet for a response. The Mobile Ballet Board of Directors issued a statement on Dec. 9.
“[Corey’s] artistic direction, talent, teaching ability, contacts and passion have been primary contributors to Mobile Ballet’s growth and success since 1987. We are grateful for his many years of service and his long-term substantial contributions to our mission of providing superior dance education, presenting quality performances and promoting the ballet to the community as an expression of the human spirit,” the statement read.
The release said guest artistic directors are to be utilized for future performances and a national search will be conducted for Corey’s successor. Board President Sandra Parker, M.D., signed the statement.
Corey cobbled together Mobile Ballet from the remnants of two predecessor companies to forge one of the city’s hallmark cultural institutions. It’s hardly surprising given his impressive background.
According to his bio on Mobile Ballet’s website, Corey was a principal dancer with Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. He danced opposite Rudolf Nureyev and was five-time coach for the New York International Ballet Competition.
He was a teacher at the internationally acclaimed Joffrey Ballet when he first came to Mobile, and his terms with Mobile Ballet allowed him summers teaching at Joffrey for more than two decades. He has taught in the U.S., Canada and Portugal.
Corey has been a whirlwind, tackling choreography, blocking and stage direction in addition to overseeing sets, lighting and numerous other aspects. Their superb production qualities and high standards were startling and refreshing.
Corey also made costumes in his own shop. Those who saw his 2014 production of “Dracula” and the ornate attire in its wedding scene can attest to his accomplishment.
His costume expertise alone earned him accolades throughout the ballet world. He conducted classes and seminars and even rented out his creations to companies in larger markets.
Corey was awarded a dance fellowship from the Alabama State Council on the Arts. His original productions, including “Dracula” and “Streetcar Named Desire,” spread to companies throughout the continent.
The reaction to his departure has been noteworthy. When Artifice contacted board members, dancers and educators, they all spoke of Corey in glowing yet wistful terms. One who danced in two larger cities with stellar cultural reputations said he “treated dancers better than I saw in other places. I was spoiled by him.”
Online missives haven’t been as benign. As people do, unwelcome news generates aspersions through social media.
“I shudder at the thought of anyone thinking this was the right way to handle things. I am so very sorry that you don’t view this man as the treasure he is. Next time you decide to make such a drastic decision, I beg you to consider the lives you are crushing,” Riley Johnson posted on Facebook.
“Show me the resume that allows you to judge this man and what he has brought to our city relative to ballet and the betterment of arts for all in Mobile … To dismiss the brilliance of Winthrop Corey with no replacement in mind. Idiocy,” Larry Wooley wrote.
“This is a huge loss for not only Mobile Ballet but for the entire city. Mobile is losing the greatest artistic vision this city … has ever seen. The world is a more beautiful place because of him,” Carley Smith penned.
Roughly 30 of Corey’s young charges went on to professional careers from these humble beginnings. That alone is testimony.
Mobile Ballet’s next show is “Sleeping Beauty,” scheduled for March 11 and 12.
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