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Dance

Making a leap, from around the world

19 new dancers join expanded Boston Ballet

From left: Adiarys Almeida, Keenan Kampa, Lasha Khozashvili, and Joseph Gatti are among the dancers added to Boston Ballet’s roster this season. From left: Adiarys Almeida, Keenan Kampa, Lasha Khozashvili, and Joseph Gatti are among the dancers added to Boston Ballet’s roster this season. (Essdras M Suarez/Globe Staff)
By Karen Campbell
Globe Correspondent / September 12, 2010

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It is the end of August, and new principal dancer Lasha Khozashvili has been at Boston Ballet less than a week. But already he dances like he owns the place, filling the studio during a rehearsal of “La Bayadere’’ with lofty jumps and bold turns, his long strides rocketing him through space. With curly dark locks and flashing eyes, this native of Tbilisi, Georgia, is destined to be a company heartthrob, but a wide grin and an exaggerated “Whew!’’ at the end of one particularly energetic series of leaps also suggest a lively sense of humor. He claps appreciatively as fellow dancers Lia Cirio and Jaime Diaz complete their pas de deux.

Khozashvili is just one of 19 new dancers who will infuse Boston Ballet’s ranks with fresh energy when the company opens the season Oct. 23 with the fifth annual “Night of Stars’’ gala, followed by a company premiere of “La Bayadere’’ Nov. 4-14. Pointe shoes, tights, and leotards in tow, they’ve come to Boston from around the globe — Cuba, Japan, Brazil, Ukraine, France, Australia, Spain, and more. They represent a significant expansion of Boston Ballet’s artistic roster, bringing the full company total (including the 11-member apprentice troupe Boston Ballet II) to 58 dancers from 15 countries.

Just two years ago, facing a financial crunch, Boston Ballet laid off staff and reduced the main company from 50 to 41. Artistic director Mikko Nissinen said the aim was to operate short-staffed for two years in order to regroup and pay off debt, then build the company back up.

“We did two to three rounds of trimming on every possible front,’’ Nissinen said recently by phone. “We cleaned out our debt royally, and moved our financial picture to a very good place.’’ This season, working on a budget of $24 million-$25 million, the main company roster is back up to 47, and further additions are planned over the next few years.

Khozashvili, who previously danced with the State Ballet of Georgia, comes in as the first principal hired from outside the company since Erica Cornejo in 2006. “He’s a phenomenal dancer,’’ Nissinen says. “Very impressive technique, a virtuoso romantic type. Ladies, fasten your seatbelts.’’ (Actually, ladies, Khozashvili has been married for four years to another new dancer, corps member Ekaterine Chubinidze.) For Khozashvili, Boston Ballet represents an opportunity to settle in and grow. Rather than resting on his star power, he welcomes the challenge of expanded repertoire. “New style, new repertoire, good teachers will make me better dancer,’’ he says earnestly in charmingly accented broken English. “I feel here I can be more than I was.’’

Two new soloists, Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti, have been added as well, both coming from Spain’s Corella Ballet. Partners on- and offstage, the two also danced for the Cincinnati Ballet, and Nissinen calls them “super pros.’’ (They’ll dance the famous “Le Corsaire’’ pas de deux on opening night.)

The Cuban-born Almeida, a former dancer with the National Ballet of Cuba, has been praised for the purity of her technique. Gatti, a gold medalist in the 2007 World Ballet Competition with training from the Royal Ballet School and American Ballet Theatre, has been lauded for his fluidity. Both were drawn to Boston Ballet by the opportunity to perform a diverse repertoire with a prestigious company while bringing some balance to their personal and professional lives. “The city is incredible,’’ Almeida says. “The company is great, and it has an amazing facility and dancers. Everybody gets along, just working to do their best.’’

In addition to three Boston Ballet II members promoted to the corps de ballet, nine new dancers have been imported. The most highly anticipated is Keenan Kampa, 21, a gold medalist at the National Youth Ballet Competition in 2006 and a semifinalist at the Prix de Lausanne. A freckle-face blonde with an unassuming demeanor, the Oak Hill, Va., native just graduated from the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, the only American student ever given a Russian diploma by the Kirov Ballet’s prestigious school.

Even in rehearsal, you can glimpse why Kampa was invited to the academy. As other corps dancers slouch and sprawl while waiting, the ambitious Kampa balances on pointe, periodically popping into effortless spins. One gets the sense she won’t be buried in the ranks for long. “It’s hard going from Vaganova, where I got some of the top scores and leads in productions, to doing bare minimal corps stuff here,’’ she acknowledges. “But I know as a dancer it’s something I need to go through. I just hope I can continue to grow.’’

That’s exactly what Nissinen is hoping for — for all his dancers and for the company as a whole. “When you add new dancers, the chemistry of the company changes, and I get to redefine it closer to my vision,’’ he says. “I find it really refreshing. Nobody gets static. Dancers challenge each other to get better, and I totally welcome that.’’

Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com

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NIGHT OF STARS

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