The history of ballet in Geneva dates back to the 1800’s where dancers performed with the Theatre Neuves, located on the site of the present-day Grand Théâtre de Genève. In the early 1900’s, music educator Emile Jaques-Dalcroze, and conductor Ernest Ansermet introduced Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes to the Geneva public. The Grand Théâtre’s own corps de ballet primarily danced in ballet scenes within operas up until the 1940’s. In 1951, a fire destroyed the Grand Théâtre. During its reconstruction, the Grand Casino hosted the Paris Opera as well as Maurice Béjart’s Ballet of the 20th Century. This period was to become a turning point; a bigger vision emerged, one that embraced the plurality of 20th century dance.
To honour the re-opening of the Grand Théâtre in 1962, Janine Charrat, the great French dancer, became the first Artistic Director of the Ballet du Grand Théâtre. Serge Golovine followed Charrat as Artistic Director from 1964 to 1969. Alongside his work as choreographer and dancer, Golovine was a prolific teacher. In 1969, George Balanchine, one of the great choreographers of the 20th century, became Artistic Advisor. He transformed the Geneva Balletinto a European ambassador for his New York City Ballet and appointed Alfonso Cata as Director. Cata produced Balanchine’s greatest choreographies and invited works by choreographers Antony Tudor and Todd Bolender, further strengthening the public appeal of the Ballet. In 1973, Patricia Neary, soloist with the New York City Ballet, took the reins of Director. With her departure in 1978, the Balanchine era ended. Peter van Dyk, principal dancer at the Paris Opera, directed the Ballet until 1980. Oscar Araiz, the great Argentinean choreographer, became Director in 1980. Araiz brought as expressionist style to the Company. During his eight-year tenure, the Ballet premiered more than 30 works, including Tango, Scènes de Familles and Cantares. In 1989, Gradimir Pankov, former Director of the National Ballet of Finland and of the Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm, became Director. He was the Company’s first director who was not a choreographer, and this opened a new chapter in its history. A new repertoire of works came to Geneva, composed by choreographers such as Jiri Kylian, Rudi Van Dantzig, Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin. In 1996, François Passard and Giorgio Mancini, entrusted with the direction of the Company, continued the policy of inviting guest choreographers to Geneva.
In 2003, Philippe Cohen became Ballet Director. Since his appointment, Ken Ossola, Andonis Foniadakis, Joëlle Bouvier, Michael Kelemenis, Gilles Jobin and Benjamin Millepied are some of the artists granted carte blanche. He has also enriched the repertoire with works by renowned choreographers Carolyn Carlson, Lucinda Childs and Dominique Bagouet.
Today the Geneva Ballet is composed of 22 classically trained dancers from around the world. Each season features two new productions, repertoire performances at home or on tour, school productions and educational workshops. With international tours to the USA, Australia, South America, Asia and now South Africa, the Geneva Ballet continues to share its passion for the art of dance.