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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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Skylar Brandt's Taste in Music Is as Delightful as Her Dancing

American Ballet Theatre soloist Skylar Brandt's dancing is clean, precise and streamlined. It's surprising, then, to learn that her taste in music is "all over the place," she says. (Even more surprising is that Brandt, who has an Instagram following of over 80k, is "in the dark ages" when it comes to her music, and was buying individual songs on iTunes up until a year ago, when her family intervened with an Apple Music plan.)

Though what she's listening to at any given time can vary dramatically, the through-line for Brandt is nostalgia: songs that take her back, whether to childhood, a favorite movie or a piece she's recently performed. Brandt told us about her eclectic taste, and made us a playlist that will keep you guessing:

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NYCDA Is Redefining the Convention Scene Through Life-Changing Opportunities

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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Courtesy The Joyce

Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

In an industry that has been clamoring for more female leadership, Linda Shelton, executive director of New York City's The Joyce Theater Foundation since 1993, has been setting an example for decades. As a former general manager of The Joffrey Ballet, U.S. tour manager for the Bolshoi Ballet, National Endowment for the Arts panelist, Dance/NYC board member and Benois de la Danse judge, as well as a current Dance/USA board member, Shelton has served as a global leader in dance. In her tenure at The Joyce, she has not only increased the venue's commissioned programming, but also started presenting beyond The Joyce's walls in locations such as Lincoln Center.

What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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