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Ryan Piurek
IU Media Relations

Alain Barker
IU Jacobs School of Music

Last modified: Friday, July 7, 2006

Appointment signals new era for IU Ballet Theater

July 7, 2006

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Michael Vernon has taught ballet all over the world and says that wherever he goes, people know or have heard about the excellence of Indiana University's Ballet Theater and renowned Jacobs School of Music.

That the music school and its ballet department are held in such high regard around the globe "speaks volumes," Vernon said, about its exceptional faculty and students, many of whom have gone on to perform for the world's leading ballet companies.

Michael Vernon; photo by Christophe Buszkiewicz

Print-Quality Photo

As the newly appointed chair of the Jacobs School Ballet Department, Vernon has been charged with carrying on the tradition of excellence and high professional standards that have become synonymous with ballet in Bloomington, while also putting his own "stamp" on the ballet department. It's a mission, he says, that he looks forward to leading. Known for his visionary teaching methods, tailored to the individual needs of dancers, Vernon hopes to foster a rigorous learning environment that prepares young dancers and choreographers for life in the ultra-competitive world of professional dance.

"I think that dancers need great teaching and also need to dance great ballets. Everything needs to be of the highest quality," said Vernon, who was born in London and trained at the Royal Ballet School. "They need to learn ballets that will challenge them and that they can learn from. When they join a ballet company, they'll have a running start. It's also really important for us not just to develop dancers, but also to develop choreographers. I look forward to a great and close collaboration between the school's music students, its dancers and choreographers."

Jacobs School of Music Dean Gwyn Richards praised Vernon's appointment, calling it "a pivotal moment in the history of ballet at Indiana. Building upon developments of recent years, Michael will further connect our students to the professional world, expand our technical proficiencies and establish our program as one of the leading centers for choreographic training in North America. We are thrilled that Michael is joining our distinguished ballet faculty and look forward to the developments to come," he said.

To establish such a well-rounded training center, one that he says is "run like a ballet company," Vernon will summon many of the resources offered at the Jacobs School of Music, especially its premier faculty and student musicians, scenery and costume workshops.

Vernon has been well-trained for the position he will assume this fall. He studied at the Nesta Brooking School of Ballet and Royal Ballet School in London with such legendary teachers as Dame Ninette de Valois, the founder of the Royal Ballet, and famed Russian dancer and choreographer Leonide Massine. He performed with the Royal Ballet, the Royal Opera Ballet and the London Festival Ballet before coming to New York in 1976 to join the Eglevsky Ballet as ballet master and resident choreographer. In 1989, he became artistic director of the Long Island-based company and, during his tenure, the company became known for the highest standards of technique, as well as innovative and creative presentations. He resigned from the company in 1995 to focus on his freelance work as a teacher/coach and choreographer.

He has choreographed many ballets for the Eglevsky Ballet, in addition to ballets for many other professional companies in the United States and worldwide. Mikhail Baryshnikov commissioned him to choreograph the successful pas de deux In a Country Garden for American Ballet Theatre. His solo S'Wonderful was danced by ABT principal Cynthia Harvey in the presence of President and Mrs. Reagan and shown nationwide on CBS television. He also served as the assistant choreographer on Ken Russell's movie Valentino, starring Rudolph Nureyev and Leslie Caron.

He currently teaches classes at New York-based Steps, where he trains and coaches dancers from ABT, the New York City Ballet and many other national and international ballet companies. He works regularly for the Manhattan Dance Project and is artistic advisor to the Ballet School of Stamford. Since 2000, he has taught and choreographed the ballet company and ballet school at the Chautauqua Institute, directed by former IU Ballet chairman and artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux. His annual activities also include a long association with Ballet Hawaii.

Vernon was company teacher for the ABT from 2001 to 2002 and worked as a company teacher for the Metropolitan Opera Ballet from 1994 to 1998. He was also a guest teacher for the Juilliard School in 2001, and has had long associations with Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey Company and School.

Throughout his many teaching and choreographing experiences, including time spent working with ballet companies in Australia, China, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, the Philippines and Sweden, Vernon has sought to be a "presenter of knowledge," offering suggestions and advice, but keeping an open mind to the needs and individual talents of his dancers. He plans to bring this philosophy with him to IU Ballet Theater, where he will join such dance luminaries as IU Distinguished Professor of Music Violette Verdy and Professors Jacques Cesbron and Virginia Cesbron.

"Teaching is about gathering and sharing knowledge. Even though I have my own strong ideas, I always keep an open mind and think it's important to learn from every situation. While respecting the past, and cherishing the accomplishments of the present, it's imperative to develop the art form with the future in mind."

For more information about IU Ballet Theater and the upcoming 2006-07 season, go to

To speak to Vernon, contact Ryan Piurek, IU Media Relations, at 812-855-5393 or or Alain Barker, IU Jacobs School of Music, at 812-856-5719 or