Face to Face: The Next Step
Charles Askegard talks about his transition from New York City Ballet to co-directing Ballet Next.
Charles Askegard may have taken his final bow with New York City Ballet last fall, but he isn’t hanging up his slippers. He’s joined forces with former ABT principal Michele Wiles to create Ballet Next, a New York City–based company that blends the classics with fresh contemporary work. Askegard’s new troupe (including guest artists Drew Jacoby, Misty Copeland, Joaquin De Luz and others) debuted at The Joyce Theater this past November. He is planning a U.S. and international tour this spring.
Renowned for his classicism and stately elegance, Askegard is perhaps most famous for his mindful partnering. With NYCB since 1997, he’s performed extensively in Balanchine ballets and has originated roles in works by Eliot Feld, Peter Martins and Chistopher Wheeldon.
Dance Teacher: How did the partnership with Michele Wiles come about?
Charles Askegard: I’ve known her for many years; we had a little overlap at ABT about 14 years ago. She was just coming in and I was heading out to NYCB. We never performed together, but I continued to follow her career because I thought she was very talented.
Then last year, I was putting a performance together for a friend, and I needed to find a dancer who could perform both Who Cares? and Le Corsaire. I asked Michele, because she was someone who could handle very diverse roles. We immediately hit it off, and we continued to do outside performances together. The idea of the company came pretty early on. We decided that it would be an exciting venture to take what we’ve learned over the course of our careers and apply it to something new.
DT: Why keep classical pieces in your company’s lineup?
CA: Both Michele and I are rooted in the tradition of classical ballet and feel it still holds a strong importance today. It would be like a symphony orchestra not playing classical music. But we also love new choreography, and we really are intent on working with great artists—whether they’re creating contemporary pieces or working in a classical sense.
DT: What are the biggest challenges to forming a new company?
CA: Fundraising. And the organization of it all. So much goes into forming a 501(c)3, getting a board together and finding administrative people. There’s a lot of paperwork. The business end is so time-consuming and takes a lot of energy and patience—just as much as the work in the studio.
DT: Are you looking forward to experiencing other outlets in dance?
CA: Absolutely. There’s a lot out there, from creating work myself, to working with other choreographers, to coaching younger dancers—and I will continue to perform. The funny thing is, the more you work with other dancers, the more you reflect on your own performing. I’ve coached a few dancers at NYCB, and it was always beneficial to me. I’d say, “Oh yeah, maybe I should try that, too.” DT
Photo: Paul B. Goode, courtesy of Ballet Next