November 30, 2017

 Madison Ballet Artistic Director W. Earle Smith Says Goodbye After The 2017-18 Season

Leaving behind a 19-year legacy, Madison Ballet Artistic Director W. Earle Smith announced he will leave the organization at the end of the 2017-2018 performance season. Smith was a prolific director and choreographer for Madison Ballet and is leaving to pursue personal projects.

“I will be forever grateful for the opportunities that I have had with Madison Ballet,” says Smith. “I will cherish the wonderful time working with students and professional dancers during my tenure and will hold Madison Ballet near and dear to my heart. I am excited about the new adventures that lie ahead.”

Smith began his tenure at Madison Ballet in 1999 and quickly envisioned more for the organization, expanding its educational programs, as well as the performance season. Under Smith’s leadership, Madison Ballet’s operating budget grew from approximately $250,000 to $1.1 million.

In 2005, Smith opened the School of Madison Ballet (SMB), a highly respected school that currently enrolls over 400 children and adults annually. Additionally, SMB established Madison’s first all-male boy’s ballet class, as well as the city’s first pre-professional program. This program was created to provide training opportunities for dancers seeking a professional career. 

One of Smith’s most visible accomplishments has been the formation of a Madison-based professional ballet company. The company, comprised of almost 20 dancers, forms the artistic core of the organization, playing lead roles in performances, the school, and outreach programs.

Smith choreographed over 25 new works for Madison Ballet’s repertoire, including five full-length ballets. His high-flying Peter Pan was an instant family favorite, and his rock ballet, Dracula, garnered such critical and box office success that it helped the company gain a foothold in the touring circuit. Overseeing the company’s annual performances of The Nutcracker, this beloved Madison production has been seen by over 200,000 people since Smith took the helm.

Smith’s reputation in the dance community allowed Madison Ballet to acquire the rights to several ballets by George Balanchine—founding Artistic Director of New York City Ballet and widely considered a 20th century master. Adding these ballets to Madison Ballet’s repertoire is a testament to Smith’s artistic leadership. Through Smith’s innovative work, Madison Ballet has evolved into an organization with a strong regional presence and a national reputation for excellence.

Earle Smith’s dedication to the development of the students and professional company of Madison Ballet “has been inspirational,” remarks board president Robert Cottingham. “I have been honored to work with him and to be associated with the many wonderful productions he has brought to the stage. On behalf of the Board of Directors of Madison Ballet, we congratulate Earle on his achievements and wish him much success in the future. His contributions to this organization will be felt long after he is gone, and we will continue to uphold Madison Ballet’s commitment to bringing professional ballet to the greater Madison community.”

W. Earle Smith will remain with Madison Ballet through the 2017-18 Season, which includes three productions: The Nutcracker (Dec 9-26, 2017), She (Feb 2-3, 2018) and Rise (March 30-31, 2018). The board of directors will conduct a search for the next Artistic Director.

Smith sees a bright future for Madison Ballet. “So many people over the years have contributed to the success of Madison Ballet.” He notes, “I have had the privilege of working with many talented dancers, faculty, musicians, volunteers, board members, production, and administrative staff. It is always the heroes on stage, backstage, and behind the scenes that make a performing arts organization great.”


Founded in 1981, Madison Ballet is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit performing arts organization based, led by Artistic Director W. Earle Smith. Its mission is to promote appreciation of and access to ballet by providing training and performing opportunities through public performances and educational initiatives.

Now in its 36th year, Madison Ballet is the second-largest dance organization in Wisconsin. Over 12,000 people attend Madison Ballet’s original production of The Nutcracker each year. In addition, Madison Ballet presents a varied repertoire of other performances each season, from intimate mixed-bill programs to elaborate full-length productions. Community outreach programs such as Madison Ballet: Offstage & Personal and Behind the Curtains bring the magic of Madison Ballet to both the young and young-at-heart, providing new perspectives on this timeless art form.

The School of Madison Ballet (SMB) opened in September 2005 and has become one of the most highly respected dance education programs in the Midwest. SMB provides classes and pre-professional training for over 400 students from children to adults. Alumni of the school and studio company have gone on to prestigious companies and schools, such as Sacramento Ballet, Miami City Ballet, School of American Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet School, and Ballet Chicago.


Download a version of this media release HERE


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