About the organization
Under the leadership of Artistic Director Cassandra Crowley since 1981, Canton Ballet is now one of the foremost arts organizations in the state. An honor company in Regional Dance America since 1984, Canton Ballet has hosted three regional ballet festivals, and performed in the Young! Tanzsommer festival in Innsbruck, Austria four times. With the School of Canton Ballet, a company of more than 35 pre-professional dancers, and an expansive repertoire, Canton Ballet is a highly regarded training ground for serious young people.
Director Crowley continues to raise the artistic bar and each year strives to further enrich the school and the company technically, artistically and financially. World renowned master teachers regularly work with the faculty and the company, providing challenging learning opportunities and international experiences. Guest choreographers bring unique diversity of dance styles and teaching styles to expand both the repertoire and the experience for the company dancers. From the beauty of classical ballet to the debut of world premieres by acclaimed choreographers, the current Season brings with it a rich, challenging and diverse repertoire. Cassandra Crowley and Canton Ballet are never content to remain the same, and the exhilarating repertoire is designed to keep the company vital, while enticing audiences to explore all aspects of dance.
Crowley instills a strong work ethic in her performers and fosters a level of grace, confidence and discipline that dancers carry with them throughout their lives. The organization takes great pride in the career success of its performers. The vast majority of company dancers receive scholarships to prestigious colleges and universities as well as summer programs with elite ballet schools around the country. Many graduates have gone on to establish professional careers with prestigious dance and theatre companies. Others have pursued professional careers in areas such as medicine, law, public service and teaching attributing much of their achievements to the personal discipline and leadership skills learned as a Canton Ballet company member. As a measure of the success of the organization, many alumni are highly involved as artistic faculty, board members, key volunteers and financial supporters.
One of Ohio’s oldest and most successful arts institutions, Canton Ballet was founded by school director Suanne Ferguson and board president Jane Bingham Fawcett as Canton Civic Ballet in 1965. The company debuted with a performance for MacDowell Club. In 1968 the first public performance of The Nutcracker was held at Timken HS to sell-out audiences. In 1970 John Begg of Cleveland became first full time artistic director with Ferguson as associate artistic director and the ballet became a founding member of the Midwest region of National Association of Regional Ballet. In 1972 at the invitation of dean Jack Morehart the new School of Canton Ballet opened at KSU Stark with the CB as company-in-residence. In 1978 the school moved into the former First Christian Church downtown with offices at the new Cultural Center for the Arts. That same year then-artistic director John Wilkins founded the ballet’s Peter and the Wolf outreach program, beginning its long 31 year history.
In 1978 Canton Ballet introduced the first school outreach performance of Peter and the Wolf for Canton School children, and has continued this tradition every year. This production is now seen by students throughout Stark and surrounding counties.
Cassandra Crowley became school director in 1980 and artistic director in 1981. Also in 1981 a fire completely destroyed the church studios and the full costume inventory, causing the ballet to move to various other community sites. A new Cinderella production in rented costumes temporarily replaced The Nutcracker for three years. The Timken Foundation provided a major grant to the Cultural Center for construction of a wing which in 1983 became the permanent home of all ballet operations. Under Crowley the ballet joined the northeast region of Regional Dance America (RDA) in 1982, becoming an honor company in 1984, an elite status which it holds to this day, and in 1984 mounted a new production of The Nutcracker to resume its former place as annual winter season.
In 1987 Angelo Lemmo joined the ballet faculty and in 1991 was appointed choreographer residence. Former CB company member Jennifer Catazaro Hayward joined the artistic staff and faculty in 1990, was later named assistant artistic director. Early childhood specialist and former CB company member Julie Mizer Grasse joined the faculty in 2000 as early childhood specialist. In 2008 office administrator Deborah Barath became manager and volunteer Jeanne Coen was appointed marketing/development director.
In 2019-20, the performing company members number over 35 jr. and sr. high school students and the school has an enrollment of 325 students ages toddler to adult.