AROUND THE WORLD IN 5TH POSITION
By Hal de Becker
When I attend dance performances at The Smith Center and Ham Hall and chat with friends and acquaintances during intermissions, someone always asks, “What ever happened to Bruce Steivel?” I decided to find out.
Bruce was artistic director of Nevada Ballet Theatre for ten years beginning in 1997. In 2007, a few days after the final curtain came down on the annual performance of his acclaimed Nutcracker ballet, it was announced that he was leaving the company.
BRUCE REHEARSING ‘NUTCRACKER’
Bruce had come to NBT in the wake of Vassili Sulich’s contentious departure after 25 years at the company’s helm. Bruce quickly succeeded in soothing the dancers’ discontent, revitalizing their enthusiasm, and earning their confidence.
Under his leadership, NBT rose from a minor regional company to a major one and remained so throughout his tenure. He added more dancers, performances and tours, as well as works by master choreographers including Ashton, Balanchine and Twyla Tharp. He also provided his own authentic staging’s of ‘Swan Lake’, ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Giselle’ and a delightful ‘Coppelia’.
He enriched NBT’s repertoire with 30 new ballets, of which he choreographed 17. His signature piece, ‘Peter Pan’, premiered in 2000 and became an immediate favorite of local audiences. ‘Fest Polonaise’, ‘Nutcracker’, and ‘In the Mood’ are among his many other memorable works all of which contributed to the company’s development and success.
BRUCE AND NATALIA CHAPOURSKAYA IN ‘COPPELIA’ 1999 NBT
He also acquired world class ballet instructors to teach students at NBT’s academy. A number of academy graduates were taken by him into the professional company.
Commenting on his leaving NBT, the Las Vegas Sun noted that there was, “No public fanfare. No long goodbyes.”
But Nancy Houssels, NBT’s gracious co-founder and driving force, stated in press interviews, “Bruce put his heart and soul into the company…we are grateful for his contributions...we’re going to miss him...he did a lot of great things here.”
And then he just disappeared from the dance scene – or so it seemed as viewed from Las Vegas. But along the way to tracking him down I soon discovered that stellar ballet companies and academies around the world had rushed to draw him into their orbits.
The first of his ports of call was the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg a famed tax haven nestled between France, Germany and Belgium. There he directed the Concourse International de Dance. He then paid a visit to his home in the French countryside to open the windows, dust, sweep, and consider the many different offers he was receiving.
He’d always loved Vienna, the waltzing capital of Austria, so it wasn’t surprising that he accepted an invitation to guest teach company classes for the 120 dancers of the Vienna Staats Ballet and Volksopera. After agreeing to the director’s request that he return to work further with the company, a request that I learned usually accompanied his engagements, he fulfilled a similar position with the National Ballet of Holland.
From the land of tulips to the icy climes of Norway, Bruce continued sharing his talent and experience. However, I suspect that after the Norwegian National Ballet he was delighted to move to the sunny surroundings of the National Ballet of Greece.
Seeking a change of scene, he traveled to Asia to teach master classes for the Ayumi Ballet in Tokyo and Bangkok City Ballet in Thailand. A bout of homesickness drew him back to the USA, via the National Ballet of Ecuador and more master classes. Then it was on to teaching and coaching assignments at Louisiana Dance Theatre and Virginia School of the Arts.
Before returning to Europe he staged his productions of ‘Dracula’ and ‘Nutcracker’ for Peninsula Ballet Theatre in northern California and served as its Artistic Director until it conflicted with his international commitments.
An engagement to conduct master classes, coach, and direct the 98 dancers of the National Ballet of Serbia in Belgrade and its sister-company the Serbian National Ballet in Novi Sad, led to the mounting of a lavish production of his “Peter Pan.” With the ballet’s immense success and Bruce’s productive work with the dancers, he was offered and accepted the position of artistic director.
Bruce enjoyed being back at the center of international ballet, knowing, mixing with, and being consulted by leading figures of that world. But gradually he began to feel that he was on a never-ending ’grand tour’.
BRUCE WITH SON AND NEW GRAND DAUGHTER
He had long contemplated having his own ballet company and in April 2013 he founded ‘Bay Pointe Ballet’ (BPB) in South San Francisco, California.
As this project was progressing, there were times when he had to tear himself away and go back on the ‘road’, or rather skies, to fulfill commitments in Europe and Asia. On one of his return trips to California and BPB he taught master classes and staged an excerpt from his ‘Dracula’ for students at Dixie College in Utah.
This past December Bay Pointe Ballet had its premiere with a performance of Bruce’s ‘Nutcracker’. It was a resounding success. Two former NBT soloists, Eldisa Armendariz and David Ligon, performed with the company. Ms. Armendriz danced the role of Sugar Plum.
In March of this year Bruce was back on the other side of the world -- where else? But this time he returned quickly to supervise construction of BPB’s new state of the art studios. The school made its debut in June and I’m told registration is already filling up.
As I write this, he’s back in Thailand but insists he’s winding down these far-a-way commitments so as to devote himself exclusively to Bay Pointe Ballet. I’m sure that everyone who knows Bruce and, indeed, anyone who enjoyed the golden years of his directorship at NBT, joins me in wishing him health, happiness and continued success.