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

Credits with photos below.

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.

Broadway

We knew that Ivo van Hove and Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker's production of West Side Story would challenge our preconceived notions about the show.

But a recent Vogue story gives us a taste of just how nontraditional the Broadway revival will be. Most notably, van Hove is cutting "I Feel Pretty" and the "Somewhere" ballet, condensing the show into one act to better reflect the urgency of the 48-hour plot. (The choice has been approved by the West Side Story estate, including Sondheim, who has "long been uncomfortable" with some of the "I Feel Pretty" lyrics.)

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Ailey II artistic director Troy Powell teaching an Ailey Workshop at NYCDA. Courtesy NYCDA

Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.

"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."

Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:

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Cover Story
Jayme Thornton

It's a much-repeated part of Francesca Hayward's origin story that she discovered ballet at age 3, when her grandparents bought a video of The Nutcracker to keep her occupied and she immediately started dancing around the room. What's less well-known is that there was another video lined up next to The Nutcracker that Hayward liked to dance along to: Cats. "I really just did the White Cat bit and fast-forwarded the rest," she remembers. "I'd make my friends who came around be the other cats."

Twenty-four years later, she's not only become a Royal Ballet principal, but has been cast as Victoria the White Cat in Tom Hooper's new movie adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, out in theaters on December 20. "I remember the director telling me I'd got the part: 'Just to let you know you're the lead in a Hollywood film,' he said." Hayward laughs. "This is crazy!"

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Left: Hurricane Harvey damage in Houston Ballet's Dance Lab; Courtesy Harlequin. Right: The Dance Lab pre-Harvey; Nic Lehoux, Courtesy Houston Ballet.

"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.

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