A familiar name has returned to the Mobile cultural scene after a short hiatus. Longtime dance maestro Winthrop Corey has been named Artistic Director for Classical Ballet of Mobile.
“There was a board meeting on Tuesday night [Dec. 12] and we all got together and discussed it. I liked what they were offering and they liked what they think I have to offer them,” Corey told Artifice.
Board President Connie Catranis said the vote was unanimous. She declined to discuss contractual details.
“We’re very thrilled to have him and very excited about it. The students are beside themselves, as are we,” Catranis said.
A former principal dancer with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and National Ballet of Canada, Corey served as artistic director for Mobile Ballet for three decades before stepping down immediately following its December 2016 rendition of “The Nutcracker.” The following hiatus was an obligation.
“I was under a severance package from Mobile Ballet. It was for one year and I had agreed not to teach or do most anything with ballet for that period. That one year is now up,” Corey said.
He’s already taught one class for the new school, with another coming this week. More will be added soon.
“We’ll figure out the schedule come beginning of January, after the New Year. I have to familiarize myself with the students and see what level I can serve best. They’re pretty much giving me an open ticket to do what I want and how I’m most comfortable, so I really do appreciate that,” Corey said.
Corey estimated around 90 students are enrolled. It’s encouraging.
“Yeah, for having been open such a short period of time. I’m very optimistic about that,” Corey said.
“We opened the doors in September. We’d hoped [to get Corey] but had to get open and get moving forward before we could even contemplate that,” Catranis said.
The new cultural institution recently achieved verified nonprofit status. The board president described the 14 directors on the board as busy.
“This has been a huge effort to get it all put together and everything has fallen into place unbelievably. Everyone working together has just really and truly — we keep saying this is bigger than we are, and this has been an amazing project,” Catranis said.
During his time in Mobile, Corey has choreographed numerous full-length ballets. His original productions included “Dracula” and “A Streetcar Named Desire,” for which he was awarded a dance fellowship by the Alabama State Council on the Arts. He is excited by the new facility near Langan Park.
“It’s beautiful. Three studios, a lovely waiting room, all the floors are sprung and they have the Marley surface, of course. It’s a magnificent facility,” Corey effused.
The description reflects sizable investment.
“Our board has been tremendously supportive but we did some fundraising. We had an event not long ago that was ‘Ballet at the Bar’ at Old Shell Growlers, who sponsored for us. We do have a lot of support and a huge following,” Catranis said.
By the president’s account, the board hasn’t divided duties into specifics thus far. She said efforts are widely collaborative, and that positive attitude has spread.
“[The studio] is where I’m most comfortable and I’m thrilled. I like the board of directors very much. They’re very supportive and we all seem to want the same thing, which is excellence in ballet in this town, so we’re striving for that,” Corey said.
The announcement closes what has been a fractious year for ballet in the Azalea City. Corey’s departure from Mobile Ballet led to unfortunate acrimony between supporters and directors.
It culminated in legal action. Circuit Judge Jay York dismissed lawsuits filed by a group of former and current Mobile Ballet directors.
Plaintiffs’ counsel filed petition for permission to file an interlocutory appeal, but, for now, the earlier rancor has calmed.
Everyone seems ready to move forward from the fracas. Mobile Ballet staged a unique autumn event featuring a high-profile alum, its traditional “Nutcracker” and has spring performances on tap.
As for Classical Ballet of Mobile, a performance schedule has yet to clarify.
“We’re talking about things. We’re planning things,” Catranis said.
Corey’s gratitude and excitement over his return to the barre is palpable.
“I did 30 years [at Mobile Ballet] and tried to develop something that was good for the community and I hope I did that and I hope I’m going to be able to continue to do that. I’m very optimistic,” the artistic director said.