There are accomplished, intrepid ballet companies in many U.S. cities that rarely, if ever, are seen by New York audiences. Tulsa, Oklahoma has had a ballet company since 1956. During the 1980s, when it was known as Tulsa Ballet Theater, it performed twice at Brooklyn College. Its repertory calling cards on both occasions were Balanchine rarities from an early, pre-New York City Ballet phase of his career. Founding directors Moscelyne Larkin and Roman Jasinski, a married couple who had performed with both major incarnations of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, resurrected key works from that era for their troupe.
A lot has happened in the 21 years since that last Brooklyn engagement—as will be evident when the 30-member Tulsa Ballet (as it is now known) makes its Manhattan debut next week. Marcello Angelini, an Italian who danced with many U.S. and international companies, has been artistic director since 1995, and has added works by many leading lights of classical and contemporary dance. He has also boosted the company’s repertory of classics such as Giselle and Swan Lake. Angelini has acquired works by Paul Taylor, Twyla Tharp, Stanton Welch, Nacho Duato, Christopher Wheeldon and Trey McIntyre, and also commissioned original works by what he hopes will prove to be the next generation of important and influential choreographers.
As he tells it, his arrival as Tulsa Ballet’s artistic director came about almost by chance. After early training in Italy, he studied in Kiev and then launched a career that saw him dancing, as company member and guest artist, all over. His resume includes Cincinnati Ballet and Ballet West, along with English National Ballet, Scottish Ballet and troupes in Berlin, Basel and Santiago. When he found himself sidelined by tendonitis, he recalled in a phone interview from his Tulsa office, “I asked my manager, ‘can I start applying for artistic directorships just to see to interview process goes?’” His manager steered him towards the Tulsa position; he applied and interviewed, then went back to dancing in Cincinnati—where he got a call: “If you want the job, it’s yours.” He arrived expecting to stay a few years. “I thought, I’ll learn the job and move on to bigger companies. But it has been such a wonderful ride here.
“I worked in so many countries and with so many cultures that it gave me a global vision of the best and the worst that every company offers to dancers. And that’s what I brought here to Tulsa. Having danced all over, I got in contact with, and experienced the works of, so many different choreographers. So I don’t like to limit what we do to anything. In fact, I think that probably our biggest asset is the versatility of this group.”
He had that in mind when he selected the program for the Joyce. Sir Kenneth Macmillan’s Elite Syncopations, created in 1974 for the Royal Ballet, is a jaunty interpretation of Scott Joplin’s music by one of Britain’s most acclaimed choreographers. Of more recent vintage is Por vos Muero, by Nacho Duato, who works in a less classical, more expansive and fervent style and whose dances are in demand worldwide. Korean choreographer Young Soon Hue created the program’s centerpiece, This is Your Life, for the company last year. Set to music by Astor Piazzolla and others, it draws on the concept of the 1950s television show of that title, and gives the dancers opportunities to speak as well as engage in some juicy, and downright quirky, movement.
True to the international flavor of Tulsa Ballet (14 countries are represented on its roster of dancers), Young Soon Hue is Korean, but is based Dsseldorf, Germany, where she is resident choreographer for the ballet company. Angelini is clearly excited by her work, and has already commissioned another premiere from her for the coming season (which will also include new ballets by former NYCB soloist Edwaard Liang and Ma Cong, a Chinese company member whose work Angelini has been nurturing.) “I was amazed by how precise she is when she’s teaching a ballet, and how disciplined and committed. I find her piece very special; it takes you on a roller-coaster of emotions in a half-hour.”
Tulsa Ballet has gone global in recent years, performing in South Korea, Belgrade, Portugal and Croatia. Nonetheless, next week looms large on its calendar, Angelini acknowledges. “Whether we like to admit it or not, New York is always a little bit scary. Unconsciously, I think, I wanted to try the company out all over the world before I took it to New York.”
Aug. 10 through 15, Joyce Theater, 175 8th Ave. (at W. 19th St.), 212-242-0800; times vary, $19 and up.