Here's Who We Think NYCB's Next Director Could Be—Dance Magazine
Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Whelan
For the past few months, the dance world has been holding its collective breath, waiting for New York City Ballet to announce who will take over the helm as artistic director.
Though former ballet master in chief Peter Martins retired over a year ago after accusations of sexual harassment and abuse (an internal investigation did not corroborate the accusations), the search for a new leader didn't begin until last May.
Nine months later, the new director's name could be released any day now. And we have some theories about who it might be:
Since she retired from NYCB in 2014, Ringer has quickly become one of the most sought-after master teachers in ballet. And as founding director of the Colburn Dance Academy, she has helped redefine Los Angeles as a destination for top-notch ballet training. Plus, she's just the kind of principled, considerate leader the company desperately needs. (Her recent response to the query raised by former School of American Ballet student Alexandra Waterbury about whether aspiring ballet dancers should "run in the other direction" says it all.)
In many ways, Peck seems like the most obvious choice. Now in his fifth year as NYCB's resident choreographer, he's also a soloist with the company and currently serves on the interim leadership team. But Peck has stated frankly in interviews that he isn't interested in the position, so we can pretty much count him out.
Millepied checks all the boxes of what the company would traditionally be looking for: he's a former NYCB dancer, a prolific ballet choreographer and has leadership experience as the former director of the Paris Opéra Ballet and the founder of L.A. Dance Project.
But the job description for NYCB's new leader suggests they might go in a new direction and not hire a choreographer. Plus, Millepied left Paris Opéra because he wanted to spend more time choreographing and less time doing administrative work. Last April, a survey detailed a harassment problem at Paris Opéra, though it's unclear whether any of it happened under Millepied's watch.
Wheeldon, too, checks many of the boxes that we think the search committee is looking for. But, like Peck, we find it unlikely that he would give up his career as a globetrotting choreographer to settle down with one company.
She's already demonstrated that she can take a company going through a challenging moment and turn it around within a relatively short amount of time. And as we were reminded when Lopez was honored with a Dance Magazine Award in December, the Miami City Ballet director and former NYCB principal is an eloquent, visionary leader. But the question remains whether she'd leave her thriving troupe in sunny Miami.
A longtime NYCB principal and now the highly respected director of Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet, we could see Boal being on the search committee's short list. He would bring a unique knowledge of the Balanchine and Robbins canon and a taste for programming choreographers like Crystal Pite who would expand NYCB's repertoire in exciting ways. He's also a thoughtful, warm presence in the studio: The job description requires a "humane leader," and we think he fits the bill.
When Martins retired, the Suzanne Farrell Ballet had just performed for the last time. Perhaps it was the timing, but Farrell's name began appearing in conversations on social media as a possible contender for the director position. But is the former NYCB star really in the running?
Her relationship with the company is a bit complicated, and though she has an unparalleled mastery of the Balanchine technique, she doesn't have much experience—or interest, it seems—in programming contemporary work. And when asked about NYCB's sexual harassment problem in 2017, she responded with "no comment": Not exactly the hard stance against harassment that the new director needs to have.
The leader of NYCB's interim team, Stafford's mettle has been tested in the past year as he has led the company through a challenging time. The team has taken thrilling risks with their programming choices that have already paid off and brought new audiences to NYCB. But unlike most of the other former NYCB dancers on this list, Stafford doesn't quite have the star power a director traditionally needs to attract donors.
As former director of the Aspen Institute Arts Program and current director of Vail International Dance Festival, the former NYCB principal would be a top contender for the position in any other universe. But Woetzel just began his tenure as president of Juilliard, which is not the kind of role one gives up in a hurry.
Whelan seems to be the dance community's choice for the role. (A petition to hire her currently has almost 16K signatures.) She's an incredible teacher and coach, an outspoken feminist, an impresario and an unfailingly kind person. And as the petition states, hiring Whelan—or any of the accomplished women on this list—would break a huge glass ceiling.