On the Move: Septime Webre and Patricia Barker on Their New International Gigs
This summer, it was announced that two American ballet directors would be taking over major international troupes. Septime Webre is headed to Hong Kong Ballet, while Patricia Barker is taking the reins at Royal New Zealand Ballet. We caught up with Webre and Barker to get the scoop on their new posts and what’s coming next.
Septime Webre, Hong Kong Ballet
A beloved figure at The Washington Ballet, Septime Webre directed the company for 17 years with an eye toward inclusiveness, racial diversity, and the shaping of a repertory with a little something for everybody. He stepped down in June 2016. “I wanted to spend a period of time as an artist,” he says. It turned out to be a shorter period than planned. Webre is now taking over a troupe halfway around the world. With around 50 dancers, Hong Kong Ballet is roughly twice the size of his former home, and state-funded. He’ll keep a foot in DC, curating a summer performance series for Halcyon Stage, a program he launched this year under the auspices of the larger creative organization called Halcyon.
Webre knew the Hong Kong Ballet, though not intimately, from its recent U.S. tours. Its repertory is a mix of classics and existing works by familiar choreographers like Christopher Wheeldon and Alexei Ratmansky. Webre plans to keep the classics but increase the number of ballets created on the dancers, with a focus on works that reflect the culture of the region. And he’ll continue to make his own ballets on HKB. Already, he is thinking about putting together programs inspired by Chinese and Hong Kong literature, and the mix of fashion, pop and contemporary art for which the island is known. As he puts it: “I want the company to reflect Hong Kong’s status as Asia’s most cosmopolitan city.” Ever the enthusiast, he has already chosen a Chinese name: Wai Sing Tin, which means “He who protects the sun or talent.” —Marina Harss
Patricia Barker, Royal New Zealand Ballet
“I am an adventurous individual with one more adventure in me,” says Patricia Barker about her move across the world to become Royal New Zealand Ballet’s new artistic director. The 54-year-old former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal is only the second woman to hold the post in RNZB’s 64-year history. Having honed her artistic and business acumen as artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet, Barker looks to apply those skills to running the much larger RNZB, whose operating budget is $13 million (compared to GRB’s $2.5 million). Barker will stay on as GRB artistic director for this coming season until a suitable replacement is found, running both companies concurrently.
With 2018’s programming already in place, Barker says her first year will be all about getting to know the company’s 36 dancers and New Zealand audiences, as well as programming RNZB’s 2019 offerings. Barker notes the importance of approachable programming, such as story ballets, historical pieces and Balanchine works. She is also interested in commissioning new works that will excite home audiences across New Zealand and spawn international tours. Barker says, “I want to build on the company’s prior successes and continue to move it forward.” —Steve Sucato