The Hasty Departures of Some Artistic Directors

February 21, 2012

There’s been a spate of announced departures of artistic directors that all have some unpleasant back stories. Edward Villella is being forced out of Miami City Ballet for reasons that seem fickle. Dennis Nahat has been forced out of Ballet San Jose for reasons that seem nefarious. These titans have built their companies with their blood, sweat, and tears. And at English National Ballet in London, Wayne Eagling is leaving after only about six years at the helm due to what seems like funding problems.

We don’t know and can’t know all the reasons behind these unsettling conflicts. One factor is board members who want more control. But, in the case of ENB, Judith Mackrell says in her online article “the number-crunching has become brutal at ENB.” (Read her full explanation here.)

And it’s so sudden that they have to find a replacement in the next, um WEEK. (If you know of an appropriate applicant to ENB, they should email Evelyne Owen, Human Resources Director, at [email protected] by March 2).

I wish all these companies would be more civilized and take a page from the Ailey organization. When Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater announced that their charismatic leader Judith Jamison was stepping down, they said they would do a three-year search. Now that’s respect! Obviously the board was not under the delusion that they could find someone of her caliber in a jiffy. (Read my expanded interview with Robert Battle, to find out how smoothly that transition went.)

I don’t see why the board of Miami City Ballet couldn’t have given Villella three years. They’ve allotted two, but it’s right after the company triumphed in Paris, and triumphed again by presenting the first U.S. commissioned ballet of the promising Liam Scarlett. (Here’s our enthusiastic review.) The timing makes no sense—even to some board members.

In the case of Nahat, he wasn’t in the loop about the board’s decisions. It reminds me of the Soviet treatment of Bolshoi directors. When Vladimir Vasiliev was fired from his job as director of the Bolshoi Ballet in 2000, he found out only from a radio announcement.

Disrespecting the position of artistic director also disrespects that dancers. And that can show onstage.



Photo of Edward Villella, with Carlos Guerra and Jennifer Kronenberg, courtesy MCB.