From left: Jonathan Stafford; Photo by Paul Kolnik; Wendy Whelan, Photo by Lindsay Thomas

Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan Will Lead New York City Ballet

Well over a year after the retirement of Peter Martins, New York City Ballet has announced that former principal dancer Jonathan Stafford will lead the company and its affiliated School of American Ballet as artistic director. Fellow former principal Wendy Whelan will serve as associate artistic director.


Since last January, Stafford has helmed the interim leadership team, including Justin Peck, Craig Hall and Rebecca Krohn. And while he has led the company through a challenging year, he's still somewhat of an unconventional choice. While he was a compelling, understated dancer, he was never a bona fide star, as directors of major companies typically are. Stafford is not a choreographer, either, though the company did state during the search that they weren't necessarily looking for someone who would be making work.


Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Whelan

Whelan has the star power that Stafford may be lacking. But it would be a misrepresentation of her abilities and qualifications to say that she's been hired for this purpose alone. In fact, many were hoping that Whelan would be named director herself—a petition to hire her received over 15,000 signatures. This may not be the glass ceiling-smashing that many were hoping for, but The New York Times reports that Stafford and Whelan will work as partners, with Stafford overseeing the day-to-day operations of the company and Whelan having a bigger hand in programming. Each independently told the search committee that they would be interested in working together.

The set-up begs the question: If the two leaders will truly be "partners," why are they not co-artistic directors? Considering the company's recent scandals—and the troubling historical gender dynamics of the company—the arrangement sits just a bit uncomfortably. NYCB told The Times that they felt like having a clear leader was important after the rocky experience of having Martins and Jerome Robbins as co-leaders.

But having Whelan at the helm of programming is sure to bring exciting changes. She told The Times that she's interested in "more women choreographing, more diversity on stage, bigger ideas, more open ideas, more daring ideas." Since retiring from NYCB, she's worked with a wide range of choreographers—from Kyle Abraham to Lucinda Childs to Arthur Pita. If that's any indication of what her seasons will look like, we're in for some dynamic evenings at the ballet.

Both leaders said that improving the company's culture is a top priority. Board chairman Charles W. Scharf praised Stafford for the progress he's already made in this area, having opened up communication between dancers and leadership and organizing the company's first-ever performance reviews.

The news broke at a meeting with dancers this morning, where it was also announced that Peck would stop dancing for the company after the spring season, and will take the title of artistic advisor.

Stafford will begin his new position effective immediately, and Whelan will begin mid-March.

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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