Is Patricia Barker Already Shaking Up the Roster at Royal New Zealand Ballet?
According to several reports from New Zealand–based news outlets over the past week, the Royal New Zealand Ballet is facing significant internal upheaval just a few months after Patricia Barker took over as artistic director.
New Zealand Herald
reported that of the company’s 36 dancers who were employed for the 2017 season, 16 will be leaving prior to the start of the new season. Among those leaving are three retiring dancers, one taking parental leave, six departing for contracts with European companies and an unspecified number whose contracts have not been renewed.
Adding fuel to the fire were rumors that no students from the New Zealand School of Dance would be hired, though this has already been debunked with the announcement of the 2018 Todd Scholar, a 2016 NZSD graduate. (Auditions for company positions for the 2018 season have not yet been announced.) Nevertheless, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has reportedly expressed concern over the number of New Zealanders who will be dancing for the national company; a RNZB spokesperson stated that they expect to have a comparable portion in the company as they have in past years.
The recent announcement that Nicholas Schultz and Laura McQueen Schultz would be joining RNZB as ballet masters has also added to the furor. The American couple are leaving comparable positions at Grand Rapids Ballet, where Barker is continuing her artistic director duties until a suitable replacement is found.
While a drastic shift in company rosters and artistic staff in the wake of new directors is hardly unusual, this situation does not seem so cut and dried. At the moment, it reads less as a sea change spearheaded by Barker than as a confluence of circumstances that, taken together, seem more connected than they are. After all, RNZB’s 2018 programming was already in place when Barker stepped into her role, making it far less likely that the dancers choosing to take jobs elsewhere are doing so in response to her artistic choices. But it will be impossible to say for sure until we see the 2018 roster—and hear Barker’s take on all of this.