WA Ballet’s next artistic director Aurelien Scannella is walking into a company very much transformed from the one troubled by an industrial dispute, mixed on-stage performances and poor facilities when his predecessor Ivan Cavallari started the job nearly six years ago.
The mood was upbeat today as the Belgian-born Scannella met the dancers and inspected their spacious new studios and administrative base in Maylands after being appointed to replace Cavallari, who returns to Europe at the end of the year.
Unlike Cavallari, Scannella is not a choreographer but his talents lie in coaching and rehearsal after four years as a freelance ballet master and director. He said he was relishing the chance to take the reins over the next three years of its development.
“Since the beginning of my dance career it has been one of my goals, first as a principal dancer, then ballet master,” he said.
“It is the third step.”
He jumps on board as the company marks its 60th anniversary with a larger troupe of better-paid dancers and the new-paint smell still wafting through the three studios at the $12 million WA Ballet Centre, which opened in May.
“This place is amazing,” he said.
“I don’t know many companies in the world with such working possibilities.”
Scannella had discussed the company’s changing fortunes with former WAB artistic directors Ted Brandsen and Judy Maelor-Thomas, who both now work with the Dutch National Ballet.
“In the past five years the evolution was really amazing. I would say it is more a revolution.”
His first challenge, when he starts in January, will be to continue that revolution and maintain the international standards of the company by continuing to use international choreographers.
“But also I would like to insist on continuing to promote Australians. I am not a choreographer so there will be more space for different people in the repertoire.”
He had no plans to develop himself as a choreographer during his time here. “I am 38 now and I haven’t had any inspiration yet so I believe it is not for me.”
Scannella was selected from more than 65 applicants for the position made available when Cavallari was appointed director of the Ballet de l’Opera National du Rhin in Alsace, France.
New WAB chairman John Langoulant, who has replaced Bret Mattes, said Scannella had been a clear choice from the beginning of the search.
“He brings with him a wealth of experience and networks, and was considered the best ‘fit’ to take the helm of WAB after six years of exciting development for the company under Ivan Cavallari,” Mr Langoulant said.
Born in Mons, Belgium, in 1974, Scannella studied at the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp. He started his dance career at 18 at the Royal Ballet of Flanders in 1992, before winning a soloist contract with the Ballet of the Deutsche Oper am Rhein in Dusseldorf in 1995.
For the next 13 years he was an international freelance artist and principal dancer with major companies in Wiesbaden, Berlin and Basel until retiring from the stage in 2008 to focus on teaching.
He soon became a sought-after ballet master, responsible for coaching, classes and rehearsals across a wide range of classical and contemporary repertoire with the Dutch National Ballet (working with Brandsen and Maelor-Thomas), Ballet d’Europe, Royal Swedish Ballet, Hong Kong Ballet and National Ballet of Prague, among others. Last year, he staged Serge Lifar’s Suite en Blanc and George Balanchine’s Allegro Brillante for the Hong Kong Ballet.
His two-day visit to Perth this week was his first trip to Australia.
“I wanted to become a director and I wanted to discover Australia,” said Scannella, who will return in January with his wife, the French dancer Sandy Delasalle, and their son Mateo, 8.
Cavallari still has much to do. He is working towards the September 15 world premiere of his ballet Pinocchio, to be followed by the reprise of his version of The Nutcracker and the launch of the company’s 2013 season in October.