Comings and Goings: Ballet Is Seeing Some Major Leadership Changes

July 12, 2021

The ballet industry has seen some major changes recently. In addition to the recent retirement announcements of San Francisco Ballet’s Helgi Tomasson and American Ballet Theatre’s Kevin McKenzie, several more directorship changes are on the horizon. Below is a quick roundup of recent news concerning leadership transitions, dancer promotions and even a company name change.

Hope Muir to Lead National Ballet of Canada, Plus 9 Dancer Promotions

After a two-year international search, the National Ballet of Canada announced on July 7 that current Charlotte Ballet artistic director Hope Muir will take over artistic leadership of the company beginning January 1, 2022. At this time, it has not been announced who will fill Muir’s position at Charlotte Ballet. NBoC’s former artistic director, Karen Kain, officially stepped down on June 30 and is now artistic director emerita.

Before her departure, Kain announced nine company promotions. Koto Ishihara, Siphesihle November, Tina Pereira and Ben Rudisin will become principal dancers; Jeannine Haller and Calley Skalnik have been promoted to first soloist; and Brenna Flaherty, Noah Parets and Genevieve Penn Nabity rise to second soloist. Corps de ballet member Nan Wang will also retire at the end of this season, after 17 seasons with the company.

NBoC also announced that principal ballet master Lindsay Fischer will be leaving this summer. He will become principal company teacher and assistant education director of Sarasota Ballet beginning in August. 

Director Moves in Europe

On June 15, Switzerland’s Zurich Ballet announced that renowned British choreographer Cathy Marston will replace Christian Spuck as the company’s ballet director and chief choreographer at the beginning of the 2023–24 season.

Spuck, who has been at the helm of Zurich Ballet since 2012, is set to become the next artistic director of the Staatsballett Berlin, starting in 2023. The company, Germany’s largest, made the announcement on Instagram in June. Dr. Christiane Theobald has been serving as Staatsballett’s acting artistic director since the 2020 departures of Johannes Öhman and Sasha Waltz.

Meanwhile, at Belgium’s Royal Ballet of Flanders, artistic director and choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui announced that he will be leaving the company at the end of the 2021–22 season. He will be taking on a new position as artistic director of Switzerland’s Le Grand Théâtre de Genève during the summer of 2022. Cherkaoui has led Royal Ballet of Flanders for seven years.

Gillian Murphy Takes New Post at American Repertory Ballet

American Ballet Theatre principal Gillian Murphy has become American Repertory Ballet’s first-ever artistic associate, joining her husband and newly appointed ARB artistic director Ethan Stiefel. Murphy will continue to perform with ABT while performing her duties at ARB, which include staging repertoire, coaching dancers and teaching company class.

Kevin Irving Leaves Oregon Ballet Theatre

Oregon Ballet Theatre’s artistic director Kevin Irving resigned last month after eight years leading the company. His resignation, he later said in an email to supporters, was at the request of the company board. Former OBT principal and OBT2 manager Peter Franc will succeed for the interim alongside new executive director Thomas Bruner.

Nicolo Fonte, the company’s resident choreographer and Irving’s partner, announced his resignation shortly after and requested the immediate removal of his name and biographical information from the OBT website.

A group of male and female dancers in dark-colored leotards create a circular-shaped tableau. Some jump in the air with bent legs, while others create a similar shape pushing over their pointe shoes.
Dancers of the newly named Philadelphia Ballet. Dean Alexander, Courtesy Philadelphia Ballet

Pennsylvania Ballet Is Now Philadelphia Ballet

Pennsylvania Ballet recently revealed a new name: Philadelphia Ballet. The school and second company names have also been adjusted, to the School of Philadelphia Ballet and Philadelphia Ballet II. The change is accompanied by a revamped, Philadelphia-centric company image, including a new logo visible on the company’s website and social media.

New Faculty Appointments at ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School

Cynthia Harvey, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, recently announced three new appointments to the school faculty. Effective July 12,Aubrey Lynch will become JKO’s dean of faculty and student affairs. Lynch, who recently served as the director of dance and chief education and creative programs officer at Harlem School of the Arts, will oversee admissions and recruitment as well as all aspects of student life. Rubén Martín, The Washington Ballet’s current ballet master, has been named JKO’s principal teacher, and international ballet coach and former National Ballet of Cuba principal Caridad Martinez joins as a faculty member.

Ballet Tech Names Dionne Figgins As Its New Leader

BalletTech, the nonprofit organization in New York City that combines ballet training and public education, has named a new artistic director for the first time since its establishment in 1978. The organization’s founder, Eliot Feld, will step down on August 1, 2021, succeeded by Dionne Figgins, a former Dance Theatre of Harlem company member and Broadway performer.