Alberta Ballet has its origins in a small, amateur dance troupe called Dance Interlude. This troupe was founded in 1958 by Edmonton-based dance instructor Ruth Carse, a former dancer in the National Ballet of Canada and the director of the ballet program at the Muriel Taylor School of Dancing. Dance Interlude officially changed its name first to Edmonton Ballet in 1960 and then, at the behest of the provincial government, the Alberta Ballet Company in 1966, with Carse still as its artistic director. The company would eventually shorten its name to the current Alberta Ballet.
In 1975, Carse retired from her position as artistic director and was replaced by Jeremy Leslie-Spinks. Leslie-Spinks served in that position for only one year due to disagreement over his more contemporary focus and a financial crisis. Leslie-Spinks was replaced by Les Grands Ballets Canadiens assistant artistic director and choreographer Brydon Paige, who served as artistic director until 1988.
During Paige’s tenure, Alberta Ballet became more classically-focused as Paige personally choreographed versions of well-established ballet scores such as Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, Stravinsky's The Firebird and Prokofiev's Cinderella. Paige also featured works by outside choreographers and attempted to blend a classical approach with contemporary works. Under Paige, the profile of Alberta Ballet was significantly raised and the company became fully professional but did not yet have a strong national or international reputation.
In 1988, Ali Pourfarrokh was selected as the next artistic director. A native of Iran, Pourfarrokh was a dancer in several leading companies through the 1950s and 1960s, including the American Ballet Theatre, the Metropolitan Opera Ballet, and the Frankfurt Ballet, and was the artistic director of the Iranian National Ballet from 1976 to 1979. Pourfarrokh took Alberta Ballet in a new direction, focusing more on contemporary dance with several short works programmed into one evening performance, and developed a more coherent vision for the company that helped raise its profile nationally and internationally.
The most prominent development of Pourfarrokh’s tenure was the amalgamation of Alberta Ballet and Calgary City Ballet in 1990, a move that resulted in Alberta Ballet moving its base of operations from Edmonton to Calgary with secondary offices in Edmonton. The company was then able to establish itself in the Nat Christie Centre, a newly-renovated heritage building that had been the rehearsal space and head office for Calgary City Ballet.
Upon Pourfarrokh’s retirement in 1998, Finnish-born dancer and choreographer Mikko Nissinen took over as artistic director. Nissinen brought a very specific vision to Alberta Ballet that emphasized classical technique and the performance of works that challenged the company’s dancers and led to an improvement in overall standards. However, dancer turnover was very high in this period and after three years of Nissinen’s leadership, the dance troupe had seen almost complete replacement.
Nissinen placed great emphasis on raising the national and international profile of the company. Early in his directorship, Nissinen led the company on a tour of China and in his final year he took the company to his native Finland as well as Egypt. Nissinen also forged an alliance with Ballet British Columbia that enabled the two companies to combine efforts for an annual touring production of The Nutcracker.
Nissinen resigned in 2001, a year in which the company posted large deficits due to inadequate funding and budget overrun. The current artistic director, Canadian-born Jean Grand-Maître, took over at a time of fiscal constraint but was able to erase the company’s deficit by 2004.
Grand-Maître found box office and critical success by creating ballets to popular music, including the 2007 production of Joni Mitchell's The Fiddle and the Drum and the 2010 production of a Broadway-style ballet based on the life of singer/songwriter Elton John, Love Lies Bleeding.
Grand-Maître also expanded Alberta Ballet to 30 dancers (making it Canada's third-largest ballet company), led the company on several tours of China as well as extensive domestic touring, and choreographed the company’s performance for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.