Susan Jaffe Named American Ballet Theatre’s New Artistic Director

May 9, 2022

American Ballet Theatre has named celebrated former principal dancer Susan Jaffe its next artistic director, effective December 2022. Jaffe will take the helm from Kevin McKenzie, who plans to retire at the end of the 2022 season, his 30th as director.

“What a profound honor it is for me to come back home to lead American Ballet Theatre,” Jaffe said in a statement. “[It] is truly a dream come true.… I look forward to working with everyone to bring ABT into its future.” Jaffe is first woman to hold the role in her own right—Lucia Chase (1945–1980) and Jane Hermann (1990–1992) shared artistic leadership with Oliver Smith—and she joins recently appointed CEO and executive director Janet Rollé as the all-female leadership of one of the world’s most important ballet companies.

Jaffe, a 2003 Dance Magazine Award honoree, brings a wide range of experience to draw from as she shapes ABT’s artistic future and contributes to the ongoing evolution of ballet culture. One of the most famous dancers of her generation, Jaffe was hired into the ABT corps in 1980 by then-new artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov, was promoted to principal after three years, and achieved international acclaim during her 22 years with the company. Her mastery of a richly varied repertoire—from Odette/Odile and Aurora to dramatic ballets by Agnes de Mille and Kenneth MacMillan and contemporary works by Merce Cunningham, Mark Morris and Twyla Tharp—presaged the versatility required of dancers today.

As a guest artist, Jaffe danced with The Royal Ballet, the Kirov (now Mariinsky) Ballet, La Scala Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet and many others. She has also held numerous roles within the ABT organization, including teaching in the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, and serving as director of repertoire for the company and advisor to the chairman of the board.

Most recently, Jaffe was appointed Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s artistic director in July 2020, helping steer PBT through the pandemic with digital and outdoor programming and choreographing a Swan Lake production that premiered this May. As a member of PBT’s Equity Transformation Team, Jaffe focused on diversity and inclusion in training, performance and hiring. Jaffe also served eight years as the dean of dance at University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

“I am so pleased that ABT will come under Susan’s care,” McKenzie said in a statement. “She is a wonderful teacher and coach, bringing the experience of an extensive and acclaimed performing career.… Susan comes equipped with her own expertise and the ability to get the best out of those around her.”