True to Form

W. Earle Smith does ballet his way

As a professional ballet dancer, W. Earle Smith encountered his fair share of demanding directors and unyielding choreographers. Now that he’s artistic director of Madison Ballet, Smith’s goal is to be none of these stereotypes. And he’s earned respect for charting his own course. “I’ve been called a humanistic choreographer,” he says.

At the helm of Madison Ballet for eleven years, Smith melds his experiences as a dancer as well as a financial analyst and youth counselor. He knows his role and he takes it seriously. “My job is to promote our mission, which is to promote the art of ballet,” he says. “My artistic vision supports that.”

Smith is an adventurous choreographer and lets his dancers become part of his artistic vision. “There comes a very distinct point in the rehearsal process that I have to give it to them,” he says. “They have to make it their own.” At this moment, Smith says, the ballet becomes what he intended it to be.

Yet Smith always begins his choreography the same way: with the music. “I let the music tell me what the movement is,” he says. In the last decade he’s developed a signature style that blends musicality, athleticism and the angular, neoclassical Balanchine tradition in which he was trained as a dancer.

This style doesn’t immediately overlap with how story ballets such as Cinderella—which Madison Ballet performs this month—are usually staged. But that’s not stopping Smith. “The story is fluffy, the music isn’t,” he says.

And the choreography he creates certainly won’t be, either.

Madison Ballet’s production of Cinderella runs March 13–14 at Overture Center. 258-4141,

Katie Vaughn is associate editor of Madison Magazine.

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