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Here's Who We Think NYCB's Next Director Could Be

For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.

Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.

Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:


Jenifer Ringer

Since she retired from NYCB in 2014, Ringer has quickly become one of the most sought-after master teachers in ballet. And as founding director of the Colburn Dance Academy, she has helped redefine Los Angeles as a destination for top-notch ballet training. Plus, she's just the kind of principled, considerate leader the company desperately needs. (Her recent response to the query raised by former School of American Ballet student Alexandra Waterbury about whether aspiring ballet dancers should "run in the other direction" says it all.)

Justin Peck

Peck working with Victoria Jaiani. Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy The Joffrey Ballet

In many ways, Peck seems like the most obvious choice. Now in his fifth year as NYCB's resident choreographer, he's also a soloist with the company and currently serves on the interim leadership team. But Peck has stated frankly in interviews that he isn't interested in the position, so we can pretty much count him out.

Benjamin Millepied

Millepied checks all the boxes of what the company would traditionally be looking for: he's a former NYCB dancer, a prolific ballet choreographer and has leadership experience as the former director of the Paris Opéra Ballet and the founder of L.A. Dance Project.

But the job description for NYCB's new leader suggests they might go in a new direction and not hire a choreographer. Plus, Millepied left Paris Opéra because he wanted to spend more time choreographing and less time doing administrative work. Last April, a survey detailed a harassment problem at Paris Opéra, though it's unclear whether any of it happened under Millepied's watch.

Christopher Wheeldon

Wheeldon rehearsing at The Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy The Joffrey Ballet

Wheeldon, too, checks many of the boxes that we think the search committee is looking for. But, like Peck, we find it unlikely that he would give up his career as a globetrotting choreographer to settle down with one company.

Lourdes Lopez

Lopez at the Dance Magazine Awards. Photo by Christopher Duggan

She's already demonstrated that she can take a company going through a challenging moment and turn it around within a relatively short amount of time. And as we were reminded when Lopez was honored with a Dance Magazine Award in December, the Miami City Ballet director and former NYCB principal is an eloquent, visionary leader. But the question remains whether she'd leave her thriving troupe in sunny Miami.

Peter Boal

Boal coaching PNB dancers. Photo by Lindsay Thomas, courtesy PNB

A longtime NYCB principal and now the highly respected director of Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet, we could see Boal being on the search committee's short list. He would bring a unique knowledge of the Balanchine and Robbins canon and a taste for programming choreographers like Crystal Pite who would expand NYCB's repertoire in exciting ways. He's also a thoughtful, warm presence in the studio: The job description requires a "humane leader," and we think he fits the bill.

Suzanne Farrell

Farrell rehearsing Balanchine's Gounod Symphony. Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy The Kennedy Center.

When Martins retired, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet had just performed for the last time. Perhaps it was the timing, but Farrell's name began appearing in conversations on social media as a possible contender for the director position. But is the former NYCB star really in the running?

Her relationship with the company is a bit complicated, and though she has an unparalleled mastery of the Balanchine technique, she doesn't have much experience—or interest, it seems—in programming contemporary work. And when asked about NYCB's sexual harassment problem in 2017, she responded with "no comment": Not exactly the hard stance against harassment that the new director needs to have.

Jonathan Stafford

The leader of NYCB's interim team, Stafford's mettle has been tested in the past year as he has led the company through a challenging time. The team has taken thrilling risks with their programming choices that have already paid off and brought new audiences to NYCB. But unlike most of the other former NYCB dancers on this list, Stafford doesn't quite have the star power a director traditionally needs to attract donors.

Damian Woetzel

Woetzel rehearsing Misty Copeland at Vail Dance Festival. Photo by Erin Baiano, Courtesy Vail

As former director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program and current director of Vail International Dance Festival, the former NYCB principal would be a top contender for the position in any other universe. But Woetzel just began his tenure as president of Juilliard, which is not the kind of role one gives up in a hurry.

Wendy Whelan

Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Whelan

Whelan seems to be the dance community's choice for the role. (A petition to hire her currently has almost 16K signatures.) She's an incredible teacher and coach, an outspoken feminist, an impresario and an unfailingly kind person. And as the petition states, hiring Whelan—or any of the accomplished women on this list—would break a huge glass ceiling.

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021