Why Daniil Simkin is Joining Staatsballett Berlin as a Principal Dancer

One of the ballet world's busiest superstars is adding another role to his resume, and it's a big one. American Ballet Theatre principal Daniil Simkin is joining Staatsballett Berlin as a principal beginning with the 2018-2019 season. Though he will be based in Berlin, the virtuoso will maintain his position at ABT, performing with the company as often as his schedule will allow.

In some ways, the move makes perfect sense: Simkin, who grew up in Germany, has been performing all over the world as a guest artist for years, and will get to tackle contemporary work that he doesn't have the opportunity to dance at ABT. Plus, he'll be joined by a very familiar face: ABT artist in residence Alexei Ratmansky will create a new La Bayadère for the company in the 2018-19 season.


But on the other hand, Staatsballett has been engulfed in controversy for the last few years. Few were happy when contemporary choreographer Nacho Duato was hired as director back in 2014. Since then, his tenure has been rife with criticism and even a dancer strike. Last year, it was announced that Duato would be stepping down to be replaced by choreographer Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman, former artistic director at the Royal Swedish Ballet. The dancers were even more unhappy with this leadership choice, creating a petition against them that gained thousands of signatures.

But none of that has deterred Simkin, who's excited about joining a company that's in transition—and whose hiring could be a glimmer of hope for dancers worried that the company will move too far away from classical technique. He gave us the scoop on his new role:

Did you seek out this new position, or did the directors approach you?

I congratulated Johannes, who I've known for many years, when he was named director. I guested at the Royal Swedish Ballet with him. We kept in touch and eventually Sasha came into the discussion and it crystallized—I don't know who brought it up—but we came to the conclusion that this would be a win-win situation because I could return to Germany and be part of something new. They are resetting the whole institution, and I'll be a key figure in that.

Do you still have family in Germany? Was that part of your decision?

Yes, my parents live in Frankfurt and I'm excited to be closer to them. I know a lot of the dancers from back when I was in Berlin at age 17. I know Polina Semionova very well, I just danced with her recently. I miss Europe, having grown up there, and I'm excited to expand my spectrum of choreographers. There are many layers to this decision.

Any choreographers in particular you're excited to work with?

I would be excited to work with Sasha and William Forsythe and Kylián. The contemporary classics. I'm more than open to be part of cutting edge European choreographers' creations, and Johannes has great taste. He made great headway at the Royal Swedish to produce contemporary choreography while maintaining classical ballet. I believe in the concept of a company that can create something cutting edge while also dancing classical works.

What about INTENSIO and the other side projects you've worked on while in New York?

I just finished Falls the Shadow at the Guggenheim which went very well. I'm hoping to continue with that creativity on the side. I'll be based in Berlin but I'm open to possibilities.

Do you have any sense of how much you'll be back at ABT?

I will be a principal dancer. I will still be an integral part of the company. In the big picture this is a new step for me and a new chapter in my life. It's kind of like the return of the prodigal son: I feel in my heart that I'm part of the culture in Germany and I'm happy to bring back what I've learned in the States.

Congratulations to Simkin on his new position!

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Clockwise from top left: Photo by Loreto Jamlig, Courtesy Ladies of Hip-Hop; Wikimedia Commons; Photo by Alexander Iziliaev, Courtesy Pennsylvania Ballet; Natasha Razina, Courtesy State Academic Mariinsky Theatre; Photo by Will Mayer for Better Half Productions, Courtesy ABT

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