Raleigh Dance Theatre (RDT), the affiliate performance company of The Raleigh School of Ballet (RSB), was founded in 1984 by Ann Vorus to provide performance training for qualified area dancers. The company matured under her direction to the acclaim of local dance critics. Milestones included the performance of Giselle with the North Carolina Symphony in its inaugural ballet series in 1991, and acceptance as a performing member company into the prestigious Regional Dance America/Southeast (RDA/SE) in 1993.
Mary LeGere became associate artistic director in 1992, and was named artistic director in 1994 when Ms. Vorus resigned to concentrate on directing RSB. During the 1994-1995 season, the company’s name was changed to Carolina Ballet, and the board of directors launched a campaign to develop a fully professional ballet company. The company continued to grow, and elevated the quality of non-professional ballet in the area to the very highest level, drawing critical acclaim and reaching new artistic heights with the performance of such works as George Balanchine’s Raymonda Variations. The close of the 1996-1997 season marked the final stage in achieving professional status with the hiring of Robert Weiss as artistic director.
In 1997, the artistic staff and dancers who were instrumental in Carolina Ballet’s success re-established Raleigh Dance Theatre to serve its original mission: to provide performance training for young ballet dancers while promoting and fostering dance awareness in the community. In 1999 RDT became an honor member company of RDA/SE.
RDT is a versatile company with the ability to perform the classics as well as contemporary works. From 1990-2001, The Dancing Princess, created by Ann Vorus, was a holiday tradition. In 2002, RDT created the popular series Storybook Tales. Over the years RDT has built a repertoire of story ballets created by Ms. LeGere, Jennifer Sommers (Associate Director 2000-2005), and Megan Marvel (Associate Director 2006-2021). In addition, the company has worked with choreographers including Laura Dean, Leslie Jane Pessemier, Zalman Raffael, and Tyler Walters.
RDT has collaborated with many local artists such as the North Carolina Master Chorale and Triangle Youth Philharmonic. The late Pulitzer Prize winning composer Robert Ward worked with RDT on three occasions to create new ballets.
RDT’s training program has proven successful for dancers working toward a career in the field. Until 2018, when Carolina Ballet started its own school, RDT dancers were invited to perform with Carolina Ballet’s corps de ballet in many ballets including Nutcracker, Firebird, Cinderella, and Midsummer Night’s Dream. Many of these dancers then became Carolina Ballet company members. RDT Dancers have gone on to professional careers performing with many other companies around the world, including American Ballet Theater, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Company, Royal Danish Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Stuttgart Ballet, Royal Ballet of Flanders, and New York City Ballet.
During Mary LeGere’s tenure as Artistic Director (1994-2021), Raleigh Dance Theatre’s performance opportunities expanded to include more performances for each production, annual attendance at the UNCSA Festival of NC Dance and at the RDA/SE Festival, which RDT hosted in 2000, 2005 and 2016.
In addition, RDT expanded its outreach programming to include:
- Partnership with Girl Scouts NC Coastal Pines presenting special workshops and performances.
- Leaping Readers presentations, where RDT dancers bring children’s literature to life in Wake County Libraries and assemblies in public schools.
- George W. Newton School Performance Initiative bringing elementary students on field trips to see ballet in the theatre.
Finally, during her tenure, Ms. LeGere and the RDT Board created three discretionary funds to enhance its programming. The Ann Vorus Choreography Fund (2003) allows RDT to bring in outside choreographers and expand our Emerging Choreographers program. The Barbara and Bernard Carlin Music Fund (2016) created the opportunity to present our 2018-2019 performances as The Season of Live Music. The Mickey and Frank LeGere Costume Fund (2015) provides new costumes each year.
Prior to the close of the 2020-2021 season, Mary LeGere announced her retirement and the RDT board of directors approved the appointment of Megan Marvel as Artistic Director, Hong Yang as Artistic Advisor, and Layla El-Khoury as Administrative and Artistic Coordinator. Ms LeGere was honored with the title Artistic Director Emeritus and the RDT board created a new Fund, The Mary LeGere Company Fund which will be used to support dancers in need and special projects.
Raleigh Dance Theatre’s mission remains unchanged since its inception. With the support of community volunteers serving on the board of directors, dancer families who make up the RDT Guild, contributors who continue to financially support the company, and the dancers and staff who give their heart and souls to the artistic endeavors of the organization, RDT looks forward to many successful years ahead.