A New Wave: 3 Big Leadership Changes Announced This Month

August 29, 2022

Last week, the ballet world received a wave of news announcing three significant changes in ballet leadership. Read on for the latest developments in artistic directorships.

Aaron Watkin to Take the Helm at English National Ballet

On August 24, English National Ballet announced the appointment of Aaron Watkin to artistic director, effective August 2023. This most recent update follows the news of Tamara Rojo’s departure from ENB; she takes the helm of San Francisco Ballet at the end of this year. Watkin, a native of Canada, has spent the past 16 years as artistic director of the Semperoper Ballett in Dresden, Germany. Watkin also danced professionally with ENB, Dutch National Ballet, National Ballet of Canada and William Forsythe’s Ballett Frankfurt, before acting as choreographic assistant to Forsythe.

Black and white image. Aaron Watkin, shown sitting chest-up, rests his left arm on a ballet barre against the mirror as he watches rehearsal in a studio. He has dark short hair and a clean-cut short beard, and he wears a light-colored polo shirt.
Aaron Watkin in rehearsal. Photo by Ian Whalen.

In the company’s most recent press release, Watkin shared his hope to continue “embracing tradition and forging innovation” at ENB, leading a “truly open and inclusive organization” that brings “world-class dance to the widest possible audience.” 

Melissa Barak Appointed Artistic Director of Los Angeles Ballet

Melissa Barak, a young professional woman with long blonde hair, is shown sitting chest-up in a long-sleeved black shirt on a comfortable brown leather chair in front of a light gray background. She wears a silver watch on her left wrist as she folds her hands together, resting her chin on tip of them as she looks confidently into the camera with a slight smile.
Melissa Barak is Los Angeles Ballet’s new artistic director. Photo by Jin Lee.

August 24 saw another significant leadership announcement with Los Angeles Ballet’s appointment of its new artistic director, Melissa Barak, effective immediately. Prior to this position, Barak led her own Santa Monica–based company, Barak Ballet, which she founded in 2013. She danced professionally with LAB, New York City Ballet and Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company. During her five seasons dancing with LAB, Barak choreographed the company’s first choreographic commission, Lost in Transition (2008), and has since created additional pieces for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Richmond Ballet, Dayton Ballet, American Repertory Ballet, Sacramento Ballet and Barak Ballet.

LAB founding co-artistic directors Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary left the company earlier this year.

Nashville Ballet’s Paul Vasterling to Retire

Paul Vasterling, at the far right, stands in the midground in a darkly lit theater space wearing a gray suit and light blue button up. He wears glasses and faces the stage (out of screen), watching intently with his arms at his sides. The house lights in the theater are a soft orange yellow color.
Paul Vasterling at Tennessee Performing Arts Center rehearsing Romeo and Juliet. Photo by MA2LA.

Nashville Ballet announced on August 25 that artistic director Paul Vasterling will retire at the conclusion of the 2022–23 season. Vasterling’s 25 years at the helm makes him the company’s longest-standing artistic director. In recognition of his contributions to NB, Vasterling will be appointed artistic director emeritus upon his retirement. He will be succeeded in June 2023 by current associate artistic director and CEO Nick Mullikin.

Vasterling joined NB as a company dancer in 1989 and was appointed artistic director in 1998. He has created over 40 original ballets during his tenure, including Lucy Negro Redux (2019), which will air as Black Lucy and the Bard on PBS’s Great Performances on September 16.