Bristol Ballet was started in 1948 by Constance Hardinge as a school for the training of young people in the art of dance. In 1959, Miss Hardinge founded a performing company, comprised of 12 young dancers – 10 girls and 2 boys – between the ages of 13 and 15. This company grew in stature and became one of the leading regional ballet companies in the nation. It has been a member of the Southeastern Regional Ballet Association, had many renowned guest teachers and choreographers, and trained many dancers who have gone on to professional dance careers. In 1965, Maria Tallchief, noted American ballerina and founder of the Chicago City Ballet, visited Bristol Ballet to select a handful of young students to receive Ford Foundation Scholarships to pay their tuition for studies at Bristol Ballet.
In 1966 Bristol Ballet produced the area’s first “Nutcracker” ballet, which has become a long-standing favorite of children and adults alike. Other productions have received regional acclaim, such as “Mountain Ballad”, “The Cloistered’, “Recess” – all original works by Miss Hardinge. Noted choreographers have set pieces on the company including Robert Barnette, Richard and Christina Munro, and Norbert Vesack.
In 1972, Miss Hardinge was named Head of the Dance Department of Virginia Intermont College, and the ballet company expanded to include dancers studying at VI as well as local members. The company grew to its largest and most recognized during these years. VI’s Dance Department grew to about 60, the most the college had ever seen.
In 1986 the company returned to its origins and was largely a regional company of local dancers, still receiving recognition for its outstanding work in training dancers and educating the public about dance.
A year after Miss Hardinge’s death in 1992, the school and company were incorporated as one non-profit entity, run by a board of directors and an artistic director. Michele Plescia returned to the Tri-Cities area in 2004 and became the Artistic Director. Upon her retirement as Artistic Director July 1, 2022, Amanda Hairston and Moira Frazier Ostrander took the reins and will lead Bristol Ballet to more successful seasons. Michele remains on staff as Artistic Director Emeritus and as a part time instructor.
Bristol Ballet’s mission is to train and educate people about the art of dance, through exceptional ballet training for youth, and through productions for the public. Through its long history, the organization has served tens of thousands of young dancers and audience members. Children are the main focus of its educational efforts; however, educating and entertaining all of the public are important.
In 2018 the Virginia Commission for the Arts, during its 50th Anniversary celebrations, recognized Bristol Ballet as a Bedrock Institution, for its more than 70-year history of providing quality dance education and entertainment.