Madison Ballet regroups with new home and focus

Women-led dance company boosts visibility
Madison Ballet regroups with new home and focus
Amy Stocklein

Madison Ballet has made leaps and plies with progress in 2019 on the shoulders of a group of women who have worked tirelessly to boost the company’s visibility.

The organization moved to a new space with three studios, large windows, a lobby and waiting rooms at 6734 Odana Road on Madison’s west side in May. Gretchen Bourg, who is Madison Ballet’s managing director, says the “quiet phase” of a capital campaign that raised 60% of a $1 million goal was critical in getting the new space built.

The company, formed in 1981 as the Wisconsin Dance Ensemble, changed its name to Madison Ballet in 2000. The School of Madison Ballet was created in 2005. The company languished in recent years and recruitment suffered in a space that had no windows or storefront area at Westgate Mall.

Rachelle Butler, who is the School of Madison Ballet’s director, saw a chance for change.

“One of my biggest dreams is to really diversify our school and allow children of color to feel comfortable here,” says Butler. “I want to be able to give those kids of color access, no matter what language you bring, no matter what it is. Access to the arts is very important.”

Madison Ballet is on the rise following a tumultuous year when the company slashed its dancer corps and reduced its season. W. Earle Smith left his post as artistic director in 2017 but helped oversee last year’s production of “The Nutcracker.” Jonathan Solari was named chief executive officer in June.

Sara Schumann will serve as artistic director for “The Nutcracker,” which will be performed in December at Overture Hall. Schumann also will oversee works in 2020, including a winter repertory performance in January and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in April.

Butler, Bourg and Veronica Castillo put in 13-hour workdays to prepare for the move and get the company ready for “The Nutcracker.” Castillo came on board as education and outreach coordinator in November 2018.

Bourg says investing in the school and new space will yield a return.

“Being able to finally share the good news and having this space as the embodiment of the good work that we’ve been doing feels finally real – it’s tangible,” she says.