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Interview with Bruce Steivel

by Saul Marziali

January 2013

Saul Marziali: Please tell us about your ballet education and career as a dancer.

Bruce Steivel: I began my early dance training as a tap dancer in North Carolina at a small local school. I became interested in dance while watching Fred Astaire on television and begged my parents to allow me to take classes, but they made me wait until I was 8 before they allowed me to begin classes. I had no intentions of going into ballet but when I was 12, I was invited to take a ballet class at another school and was hooked. When I was 15, I was appointed by the Governor of North Carolina to attend a special summer school for the arts in a neighboring town. At this point, a new arts school was opening in North Carolina - The North Carolina School of the Arts for which I auditioned and was accepted. I spent 3 years at the school taking dance classes on a daily basis with some of the most dedicated teachers I have ever known. Robert Lindgren, Duncan Noble, and Sonja Tyven were the principal teachers. It was through these wonderful teachers that I became opened to the world of ballet, learned the
dedication it required, and the love for the art which I have to this day.

The teachers at the North Carolina School of the Arts were dedicated to finding all of us positions with companies or pushing us into moving ahead with our professions. I moved to New York and studied at the School of American of Ballet directed by George Balanchine, and later with Harkness House. My first professional job was with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal where I danced for two years. My greatest desire was to dance in Europe, and I later danced with the Scottish Ballet and Ballet de Marseille with Roland Petit. I danced all the major roles that one can dream of, had wonderful experiences with world-renowned choreographers, including Jiri Kylian, Maurice Bejart, and Hans Van Manen, and danced ballets from Ashton to Grey Veredon. I had a wonderful dance career and am very happy to have been a part of the dance world at this time.

Marziali: You have directed many major ballet companies in the world, please, tell us about this.

Steivel: After finishing my career as a dancer, I became Ballet Master with Heinz Spoerli in Basel, Switzerland, and spent four years with this amazing company. I later joined Ballet du Nord and worked with Alfonso Cata who was a wonderful director and taught me the finer points of how to be an
artistic director. I left Ballet du Nord to take up the position of Artistic Director in Bern, Switzerland, during a change of Intendant. It was my first introduction to being in charge and was a little daunting to say the least. I choreographed my first ballets for this company.

I was offered the position of Artistic Director for the Hong Kong Ballet where I remained for four years. Hong Kong was a fascinating place to live and work. I was able to choreograph on some wonderful dancers, arranged for international touring for the company to America, Singapore, and mainland China. I left Hong Kong at the time of the change over from English to Chinese rule and took over the direction of the Universal Ballet of Korea in Seoul. I spent my time with this company working with the full length classical ballets brought from the Kirov and Oleg Vinagadov, arranging for the company’s first American and European tours, and mounting a few of my ballets on the very talented dancers of the company. It was a wonderful experience.

I left Korea to take up the position of Artistic Director for the Nevada Ballet Theatre in Las Vegas, Nevada. I spent 10 years with this company, choreographing many new works on the company and bringing in some of the best choreographers of our day to set their ballets on the company. The company grew from an 18 member company to a company of 43 well-trained dancers during my time. I decided after 10 years to spend time as a freelancer and have spent the past four years working with companies in Greece, Serbia, Japan, Thailand, Holland, Ecuador, and America.

Marziali: According to your experience, what is essential to being a successful ballet director?

Steivel: First and foremost an Artistic Director should not forget how difficult it is to be a dancer. We, as Artistic Directors, are only as good as our dancers, and if our dancers are treated with respect and concern for their welfare and future, our positions are made easier. A ballet company is like a family with children - the children must be disciplined, but also made to believe in themselves and know there is someone at the top who is concerned about their welfare and future. I definitely feel that days of
pushing dancers to a breaking point, screaming tirades, and degradation are long gone. Many of my colleagues went through this kind of abuse as dancers, and I have personally seen it happen in many companies. If we as Artistic Directors want respect, and dancers that work out of desire and
ambition, we have to treat them with the same.

Marziali: What could be improved in the future in order to give more artistic freedom to a ballet company?

Steivel: Every ballet company I know has financial problems and some more than others. Artistic Directors have to have an eye firmly placed on the desires of the public, and in this day and age, must produce what is economically viable for the company. [Having] a board of directors that is in
sync with the Artistic Directors vision is extremely important. The ADmust have support from the board which in turn will support the vision, bring in new works, and further the development of the company.

Marziali: You are currently directing and choreographing for the Peninsula Ballet in the U.S.A. Tell us, please, about this company and its future plans.

Steivel: Peninsula Ballet Theatre has been a small regional company with a very strong backing from the local patrons. We are able at this point to produce only two productions a year and employ the dancers for a maximum of 12 weeks. It is our desire to lengthen the contracts of the dancers, produce a minimum of 4 productions a year, and be able to offer the dancers a contract of not less than 32 weeks. Our board is increasing in numbers, and we hope our growth over the next two years will enable us to reach our
goals. We have opened a conservatory and now offer classes to younger dancers which in turn will increase our visibilty in the community and further our plans for the future.

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