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Historical Revisionism

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At the end of a review of Pacific Northwest Ballet's "Points of View" program, critic RM Campbell wrote a scathing criticism of the recent decision to name Francia Russell and Kent Stowell founding artistic directors of PNB:

Pacific Northwest Ballet is currently indulging in historical revisionism, which does not bode well. That is, the company, at the direction of its board of trustees, has declared Kent Stowell and Francia Russell founding artistic directors even though they arrived five full years after the ensemble's formation.

Their predecessors, Janet Reed and Melissa Hayden, have been virtually eliminated, although a little bouquet of peace was thrown in Reed's direction by naming her founding director of the school. The so-called explanation, both dim and dubious, is that Stowell/Russell's arrival in town, in 1977, was followed one year later with a change of name from Pacific Northwest Dance to Pacific Northwest Ballet, as if a whole new institution had been created. Nevertheless, the official record of PNB as an organization dates itself to 1972. Besides, Russell was not named co-artistic director until 1985.

This spurious repositioning of nomenclature neither honors institutional integrity on which the company likes to pride itself nor to its future under new artistic leadership. Instead of history being the handmaiden to egos, let it stand where it is.

I agree with Campbell's assessment: it's a bit ridiculous to have a major 25th Anniversary Celebration in 1999, including a history of PNB, if the Company was founded in the late 1970's. I think two of the reasons this could happen is because an entire generation has passed since Reed's and Hayden's tenure, and the population migration into the Seattle metro area.

More opinions?

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Helene, I agree with you and the critic. "Emeritus" would be a better title to have given, to honor the contributions of Kent Stowell and Francia Russell.

I've seen this revisionist history a little bit at ABT. When it recently celebrated its 60th anniversary, a book was released. It basically covered the company from Baryshnikov's arrival on. Although, I have to give credit to McKenzie for bringing back Tudor, De Mille and Fokine (especially for the City Center seasons).

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I think the title is meant as an honorary one, in recognition of Stowell and Russell's longevity and development of the company, rather than an attempt to state that they founded PNB, per se, although it must be admitted that the title suggests they founded the company. Pacific Northwest Ballet was indeed founded in 1972 and was at that time called Pacific Northwest Dance. Leon Kalimos was executive director of Pacific Northwest Dance when Janet Reed was hired in 1974 as ballet mistress and director of the school. Reed was never given the title of artistic director. When she left in 1976, Melissa Hayden was hired as ballet mistress. She was later given the title of artistic director, in January 1977, but by March had decided to resign. Stowell and Russell followed shortly thereafter in 1977.

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I'm sure that the titles were granted with the best of intentions, but it is a rather awkward re-writing of the recent past. Technically, there were no other previous "artistic directors," but it is a semantic distinction which could easily be mistaken by someone unfamiliar with the founding story of the organization.

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Technically, there were no other previous "artistic directors," but it is a semantic distinction which could easily be mistaken by someone unfamiliar with the founding story of the organization.

Quite right. The terms "founder" or "founding" imply that the person(s) so characterized was present at the creation, which is obviously not the case here.

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