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:
Ringer coaching at Colburn.
Photo by Rose Eichenbaum
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.)
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.
Photo by Morgan Lugo
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Photo by Rosalie O'Connor via sab.org
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.
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.
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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What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.
"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."
These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?
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Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.
We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.
I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.