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Finalists for AD position named

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A press release from PNB:



SEATTLE, WA —Pacific Northwest Ballet trustee and Chair of the Search Committee, Carl Behnke, confirmed today the names of five semi-finalists selected in the search for PNB’s new Artistic Director. Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, artistic directors of PNB and the PNB School since 1977, will retire at the end of the 2004-2005 season. Their replacement is expected to be announced by early 2005.

Selected from a group of nearly 50 applicants, the five semi-finalists have been selected based on the criteria established by PNB’s Artistic Director Search Committee, which is comprised of PNB leadership Trustees, as well as two artistic advisory panels. Members of the panels include dancers, musicians, administrative staff, trustees and community leaders. After nearly two years of planning and meetings, search committee and panel members identified several hallmark attributes that define PNB and which would, ideally, be reflected in and compatible with the skills and experience of its new artistic leader. These attributes include a creative and imaginative individual able to challenge and inspire PNB artistically, a deep commitment to dance education and ensuring the strong positive symbiotic relationship between the company and its school, and an individual who has varied experience in performance and choreography as well as demonstrated ability to direct a ballet company.

The confirmed candidates in alphabetical order include:

Peter Boal

Currently a Principal with the New York City Ballet, Peter Boal became a member of New York City Ballet’s corps de ballet in 1983 and became a Soloist four years later. In 1989 he was promoted to the rank of Principal.

Mr. Boal has been featured in numerous ballets including many of the works of George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Peter Martins, as well as numerous others. Mr. Boal’s television appearances include Dance in America’s “Balanchine in America” performing WESTERN SYMPHONY and “The Balanchine Celebration” performing AGON, the Live From Lincoln Center broadcast of “New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project: Ten Years of New Choreography,” dancing in RED ANGELS; and the May, 2004 Live From Lincoln Center broadcast of “Lincoln Center Celebrates Balanchine 100,” dancing in DUO CONCERTANT.

In addition to touring with New York City Ballet, Mr. Boal has performed as a Principal Dancer with a number of National and International companies. In 1996, Mr. Boal was a recipient of the Dance Magazine Award, and in 2000, he received a New York Dance and Performance Award (Bessie) for his sols performance in Molissa Fenley’s STATE OF DARKNESS.

Mr. Boal, while also maintaining full-time faculty member responsibilities at School of American Ballet, recently founded and directs "Peter Boal and Company", a group of four NYCB dancers that commission new choreography and revivals. Having premiered this past March, the group has since performed at the Joyce Theater in Manhattan, Jacob's Pillow in Becket, Massachusetts and the Biennale in Venice, Italy.

Mr. Boal is married to dancer Kelly Cass and the couple has two sons, Sebastian and Oliver, and one daughter, Sarah.

Thordal Christensen and Colleen Neary

Thordal Christensen, who received his dance training at both the Royal Danish Ballet School and School of American Ballet, and, in 1985, was invited to become also a member of the New York City Ballet where he danced a varied repertoire including ballets by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Peter Martins. In 1986, he joined Pacific Northwest Ballet along with Colleen Neary where he rose to the rank of Principal in 1989. In 1992 he was invited to join the Royal Danish Ballet where he continued his dance career for the next seven years. His choreographic debut was in 1994 at the Royal Danish Ballet with Behind the Curtain and Thordal has since created a number of other works for the Royal Danish Ballet. In 1999, Thordal was named the Artistic Director of the Royal Danish Ballet and its School. In 2002, he was made Knight of the Dannebrog by Queen Margrethe II of Denmark.

Colleen Neary, who danced as a Soloist from 1969-1979 with the New York City Ballet, also served on the faculty of School of American Ballet as well as company teacher for New York City Ballet. Invited in 1979 to be Ballet Mistress and Choreographic Assistant for the Zurich Ballet, Colleen staged several works of Rudolf Nureyev’s for a number of European companies. In 1984, Ms. Neary was invited to join Maurice Bejart’s The Ballet du Xxieme Siecle as Principal Guest Artist and company teacher where she danced numerous roles created for her by Bejart. After six years as Principal dancer with Pacific Northwest Ballet, she was invited to join the Royal Danish Ballet as Ballet Mistress and company teacher and, in 1999, became 1st Ballet Mistress where she staged the classical repertoire and worked with her husband in an artistic and administrative capacity. Colleen is a Repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust and has staged numerous Balanchine ballets such as Agon, The Four Temperaments, Theme and Variations, Serenade, Concerto Barocco, and Symphony in C among others for ballet companies all around the world.

Thordal Christensen is married to Colleen Neary and they have two children, Erik Aage and Helena Patricia.

Jeff Edwards

Jeff Edwards began his dance career with New York City Ballet in 1984, rising to the rank of Soloist. In 1993, he was engaged as First Soloist (highest rank) by the Zurich Ballet in Zurich Switzerland where he performed numerous roles from the classical repertoire and, from 1995 -1998, also performed as First Soloist with the Lyon Opera Ballet in Lyon France. Returning to America in 1998, Jeff attended Brown University and graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Magna Cum Laude. In 2001, Jeff became the Director of Education for Twyla Tharp Dance where he helped develop The Fugue Project to make Ms. Tharp's works more accessible to universities and conservatories as well as designing teaching materials for that project.

In 2002, Jeff was selected as a Management Fellow at the Kenney Center’s Vilar Institute for Arts Management participating in its innovative hands-on educational approach which includes professional development, strategic planning, fundraising, press relations/marketing and project development. Joining The Washington Ballet in Washington, D.C. in 2003, he currently serves as Associate Artistic Director. Jeff is also a Repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, and he has taught at universities, conservatories and ballet companies around the world.

Benjamin Houk

Benjamin Houk performed with Pacific Northwest Ballet for thirteen years. As a well known principal dancer he originated many roles including Romeo in Kent Stowell's The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Mr. Houk began his career with Joffrey II, and performed widely as a guest artist. Adept at both contemporary and the great classical roles, he performed in a wide range of works by Balanchine, Baryshnikov, Stowell and Fosse's Anne Reinking among others, and has performed in musical theater, film and TV including PBS' Bill Nye the Science Guy. As a dynamic and innovative Artistic Director, Mr. Houk led the Nashville Ballet (1996-98), and Fort Worth Dallas Ballet (1998-2001). Under his direction both companies experienced a surge in artistic achievement, contributed and earned income, popular appeal and critical acclaim. Mr. Houk has staged and assisted stagings of ballets by Balanchine, Bournonville, Petipa, Saint-Leon and Stowell, and has enjoyed success choreographing many works nationally and abroad including Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Coppelia, Passacaglia, First Light and Shout. He has also choreographed for opera, theater and TV. Thoroughly experienced in Arts in Education programs as director and lecturer, he has inspired thousands of children around the country. He has also served as a guest lecturer for, among others, Vanderbilt University, Microsoft, and for The Kennedy Center's Imagination Celebration, and has served as a grants panelist for the National Endowment for the Arts.

Benjamin is married to former PNB soloist Lauri-Michelle Houk, a highly experienced teacher and school director, who has assisted in staging several ballets including works by Houk, Petipa, and Stowell among others.

Victoria Morgan

Victoria Morgan has been the Artistic Director of Cincinnati Ballet since 1997. In her first five years she revitalized the repertoire by personally creating many world premieres such as Romeo And Juliet, Princess And The Pea, Beyond Innocence, Graceland (in collaboration with Jay Goodlett), and the highly acclaimed Cinderella, widely recognized as one of her best works. Ms. Morgan came to Cincinnati Ballet after nearly a decade as resident choreographer for the San Francisco Opera. She was also a Principal dancer for San Francisco Ballet (1978-1987) and Ballet West (1969-1978). She danced lead roles in numerous classical ballets such as Giselle, Swan Lake, Cinderella and several works by George Balanchine. Ms. Morgan has also danced in modern and contemporary ballets by Michael Smuin, William Forsythe, James Kudelka and Val Caniparoli to name a few. In addition, Ms. Morgan performed lead roles for television and film and her choreography was featured in the PBS documentary, “The Creation of O.M.O.”

Ms. Morgan launched her choreographic career in 1985 and has created more than 35 works for 20 opera and ballet companies across the United States including San Francisco Ballet, Utah Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and New York City Opera. Ms. Morgan produced one of the first ballet CD-ROM’s, which is an audio and video description of more than 700 ballet steps and positions


Founded in 1972 and under the artistic guidance of Kent Stowell and Francia Russell since 1977, Pacific Northwest Ballet is one the largest and most highly regarded ballet companies in the United States. The Company of forty-six dancers presents over ninety performances each year of full-length and mixed repertory ballets at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall and on tour. The Company has toured to Europe, Australia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Canada, and throughout the United States with celebrated appearances in Washington D.C. and New York City. Pacific Northwest Ballet School, under the direction of Ms. Russell, is nationally recognized as setting the standard for ballet training offering a complete professional curriculum to over 850 students. The School also provides comprehensive dance education to the greater Seattle area reaching over 10,000 adults and children each year through DanceChance, Discover Dance, Bravo!Ballet and other outreach programs and activities.

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A very interesting list of candidates! I'm glad that most of them come from the PNB tradition as Russell and Stowell have developed it -- I'd like to see some continuity. Victoria Morgan seems to be the odd person out in this list.

The big shock is seeing Peter Boal's name. I'd wondered if he was interested in directing a company some day, given his involvement with the little troupe he created, but I don't know if he has the necessary experience at this point. And I'd hate to see New York lose him -- not just as a dancer but as a teacher.

Interesting, too, that there are two married couples on the list (if you count Benjamin Houk's wife). Russell has always said that she couldn't imagine either herself or her husband directing PNB alone, so I imagine they must have influenced this choice.

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Ari, I'm sure the candidates have been thoroughly interviewed by now and anyone on this list would have expressed a strong desire for the position. I share your surprise at the sight of Peter's name and your desire to see him stay in New York -- at least until he's ready to hang up his slippers.

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Perhaps the rationale was to show supporters (donators) that PNB will have a good director or two and to diminish the chance that people will be less willing to donate to PNB during this transfer period.

On the other hand, I wonder what the Washington Ballet feels when it sees its AAD on this shortlist.

Must say it's funny to see the candidate's children named in their bios. I wonder whether we'll see footage of Francia Russell pulling little Sarah Boal's thumb out of her mouth. :rolleyes:

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Russell/Stowell not withstanding, I'm a little skeptical of husband and wife teams, both explicit and implicit; it strikes me as too much of an overarching power lock and one pair too many eyes testing loyalty. With the caveat that I don't know any of these people and what kind of colleagues or leaders they'd be, I have to say that of the list, I think that Peter Boal seems to me to be the strongest choice. He's had a fine eye for talent -- both dance and choreography -- for his own troupe. He also has had years of teaching experience, and he could draw some more men and boys into ballet on the West Coast. He has the conections to contemporary choreographers, but would also have key contacts into the Balanchine Trust. He's also one of the last dancers to have any contact with Balanchine (as a student).

Odd to see him vying with Edwards again. Must be strange for Barker, who said publically that she'd applied, to have her old partner, Houk, among the final candidates.

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Christensen seems to be the most qualified while Boal makes the most sense. It'd be a small step down for Christensen to jump from RDB to the smaller PNB.

It'd be great if Boal gets the post. How old is Peter Martins now? 60? In 5-10 years he'll retire from NYCB, by that time, Boal would have enough experience running a good size company to take over NYCB directorship.

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Martins was born in 1946, so he's either 58 or will turn 58 this year. Tomasson at SFB was born in 1942 -- he looks at least 10 years younger. Villella at MCB was born in 1936, but must have a picture of new knees and a back in a closet somewhere, given his description of crawling to the bathroom during his last performing years. MCB is also so much Villella's creation. I can't think of any other medium-large prestigious Balanchine-based ballet companies in the US in which to gain experience.

I'm not sure managing a royal-sponsored company is the best experience from which to take on the Board and patron (private and corporate) schmoozing/fundraising functions that are critical to US arts organizations. Although I'm sure it qualifies Christensen to exist in a hornets' nest :)

Seattle is a very nice city in which to raise children :P

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There's no point in me discussing Peter Boal pro or con (I'd trust him implicitly in any position, enough said.) Leaving him out of the equation, I would take Jeff Edwards very seriously as a candidate. Not only does he have the artistry, but he's been grooming himself for the administrative task.

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How old is Peter Martins now? 60?  In 5-10 years he'll retire from NYCB . . .

You think? I doubt it. Too much power, prestige and social access to walk away from. And there's the next young Martins' rapid rise through the ranks to ensure. Let's see, she's about seven now? Plus the likelihood that the next person would do a better job keeping the Balanchine rep vital and exciting. I think Martins considers his job a lifetime position.

Of course, one can always hope . . . . :P

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I don't know, carbro. Martins is under a great deal of pressure, and it remains to be seen how much longer he can take it. (To tell you the truth, I don't know how he's lasted as long as he has. It's not just the criticism, it's the often nasty and personal nature of the criticism that must be wearing, even if he tries to ignore it.) Kistler will probably retire in the next couple of years, and there will be less of an imperative to remain in New York. Not that I think his retirement is imminent, but five to ten years does not seem like an unrealistic time frame.

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It is my understanding that Peter Martins is an extremely effective executive leader, with a strong relationship with his board and funders. I doubt whether some carping from the house or the press really undermines him. As for retiring, why should he? He makes an excellent salary, has a prestigious post, and speaks to the cultural affairs of all of Lincoln Center, and indeed the entire city. He is a commanding presence, and hardly seems headed out to pasture. (I recently saw him coach Apollo, and he seemed more hot than old.)

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