How a Choreographer Becomes Director

November 28, 2001

Many artistic directors, especially of contemporary companies, arrive at their post after making a name for themselves as choreographers. But what makes a choreographer a good fit to lead a company? For Nederlands Dans Theater director Paul Lightfoot, whom writer Laura Cappelle profiles in our February/March issue, the transition wasn’t necessarily natural.


A self-described “hyperactive creature,” Lightfoot told Cappelle that he had been “making up little dances” since he was a child, and started taking part in choreographic workshops as soon as he joined NDT as a dancer in 1985. He created his first work for NDT2 at age 21—and he describes it as a “disaster.” But he says then-director Jirí Kylian didn’t say a thing: “He just told me to try again.” Soon after, Lightfoot started to work with his then-girlfriend Sol León, a Spanish dancer, and a rare choreographic partnership took off. Under the moniker “Lightfoot León,” the pair has created over 40 works for NDT, and in 2002, they were appointed resident choreographers.


When the directorship of NDT first came up, Lightfoot originally declined. “Jirí suffered very much being both a choreographer and a director,” he remembers. “Once he sat me down and said: Promise me you’ll never become an artistic director. It destroys you.”


Yet when the company was in serious trouble two years ago (a review of government arts funding recommended a 50 percent cut), Lightfoot realized he needed to step up. You can read about where he’s taken the company since in our February/March Director’s Notes.