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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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.)
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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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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