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Job posting for artistic director


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I often stay up late at night and watch Classic Arts Showcase on cable TV,  where they show a lot of "golden age" Balanchine-era NYCB, mainly  from the Bell Telephone Hour and a program on French-Canadian television.  (They also present oddities like Maria Tallchief and Erik Bruhn  in the Don Quixote pas de deux,  Lupe Serrano with Jacques D'Amboise,  Lewis Christensen's Filling Station and Todd Bolender's The Still Point.)  It's clear from these archival records that even during Balanchine's tenure with NYCB,  the way his choreography was danced changed over the years,  as he himself changed and the dancers he worked with reflected their generation.  Getting former NYCB  stars to coach their old roles is a great idea,  in theory.  One can only hope that in practice,  they are able to transmit the spirit of Balanchine's choreography without trying to impose the technical inflections of their time onto today's dancers,  who mostly have more pronounced turnout,  higher passé  positions,  higher extensions,  and I dare say,  better port de bras and épaulement.  Male dancers back then,  like Eglevsky,  did multiple turns with their supporting foot almost flat to the floor.  (I'm not implying that today's dancers are "better" than the dancers of bygone times.  A star is a star is a star.  Stylistic differences don't  change that.)

When I first moved to NYC,  I studied with a famous couple who trained their daughter to dance exactly the way they had danced in their heyday.  While she had an impressive technique,  she was virtually uncastable with dancers her age,  as she looked like she had stepped off the pages of a history book.   While no doubt there are many fans who would love to see mid-1970s stagings of  Balanchine's work,  maybe they should remember that he himself said that,  "Ballet belongs to a dancer who is right now in front of your face."  Most of NYCB's dancers were born long after Balanchine died.  They are going to interpret his work in their own way,  no matter who stages it.

Edited by On Pointe
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On 10/12/2018 at 3:23 AM, canbelto said:

I'd like to know what he considers "sadly distorted and mannered" about Balanchine classes nowadays.

A few years ago senior SAB students performed a bit of classic Balanchine on network TV, and I remember thinking the performance was highly exaggerated. It seemed to me what would have been deemed unacceptable mannerism a few generations ago was now being taught as Balanchine style. Possibly this gets toned down once the students begin dancing in the company and discover their own sense of the style, but on the basis of that clip, I would also like to know exactly how Balanchine classes have changed, because I suspect Clifford has a point.

On 10/12/2018 at 2:54 PM, miliosr said:

(And while I'm carping, I don't think the Russians care what Clifford -- or Balanchine -- think/thought about Vaganova.)

Perhaps not, but eons ago, when Nina Ananiashvili and Andris Liepa came to NYCB to dance Theme & Variations (if I recall correctly) I read an interview in which Ananiashvili stated that they found the speed at which they were expected to dance overwhelming, and that their training had not prepared them for it. That would be an acknowledgment that the system has at least some gaps. (But of course, Ananiashvili isn't Russian. :))

Just over a week ago Nina Kaptsova (happy 40th birthday!) performed Tarantella at a gala in Moscow, and no doubt she danced it just as Clifford had taught it to her back in 2004, even if the process had been difficult.

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Volcano hunter, I think of what you describe as "highly exaggerated" is actually a stage some SABers go through in their first year or 2 at the school, and that it does, as you say, "get toned down,"  before most students, those lucky ones who get the contract,  arrive at the company. My daughter, who trained year-round at a Vaganova school, but spent a couple summers at SAB, found it amusing to see how the newbies would adopt what they thought were Balanchine mannerisms in the first week or so of the summer program. I actually think there's been less of that in recent years. There WAS a time,  when I first started attending NYCB performances a lot (what I call "the Yvonne Borree  years") where quite a number of the professional dancers seemed to have some extreme hand mannerisms,  but it's been so nice in recent years to see that it's not as ubiquitous as it used to be. 

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On 10/11/2018 at 9:24 PM, Drew said:

I'm a big fan of today's NYCB and think Martins did many things right, but it was still disconcerting to read on Hyltin's instagram that she felt couldn't even make use of everything McBride was telling her in rehearsal this season because she had been doing it so differently for so long and didn't have time to integrate it properly. ...I don't think Clifford will be next director of NYCB or SAB (and if I were a betting person I'd bet that isn't what he's after) but I'm all in favor of bringing back dancers who worked with Balanchine to the State Theater. I know it's not without drawbacks -- especially since different dancers learned things differently...and at different moments in Balanchine's trajectory. And presumably tact may be called for in certain situations...But still, bringing in Villella and McBride especially is one of the things the interim team has done that has most caught my attention. And having recently seen fantastic results with Farrell's own company shortly before it folded, I'm hoping Farrell can be brought back as well. That is, Clifford may not be wrong when he says "so much has been lost over the years." What may be wrong is imagining that change is not inevitable no matter who is doing the coaching--because "times are racing." But why not preserve as much knowledge as possible not just on tapes by the Balanchine foundation but on the bodies of dancers at NYCB?

Here's a YouTube video of Mimi Paul and John Clifford coaching Megan Fairchild and Jared Angle in Glinkiana (Valse Fantaisie). It may answer every question you ever had about what John Clifford is like in rehearsal. 

 

 

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Thank you for posting that video! It's so beautiful. And Mimi Paul seems like such a great coach for Megan, bringing out her extensions to their fullest and make sure she danced as swoony (is that a word? with full sweep?) as possible. 

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3 hours ago, Emma said:

Thank you for posting that video! It's so beautiful. And Mimi Paul seems like such a great coach for Megan, bringing out her extensions to their fullest and make sure she danced as swoony (is that a word? with full sweep?) as possible. 

And I think John Clifford was very clear about the musicality in the contrast of steady vs lyrical as well. At least from the video It seems like he'd be able to bring out a lot more from the nycb dancers

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6 hours ago, Emma said:

Thank you for posting that video! It's so beautiful. And Mimi Paul seems like such a great coach for Megan, bringing out her extensions to their fullest and make sure she danced as swoony (is that a word? with full sweep?) as possible. 

Mimi Paul looks like an excellent coach.

While John Clifford is certainly knowlegable, I was struck by the number of times he said "I." 

I never did... I always... here, I did [such and such]...

Most good coaches keep the emphasis on the younger generation. They realize that no one has to, should, or is even truly capable of dancing like another person. It's about empowering the younger generation to make choices in keeping with the style and aims of the choreography.... about showing them options that broaden the possibilities, options that make it more musical, bigger, more varied, more dynamic, more in keeping with the original intention. Clifford calms down a bit in the video, but I found the first six or seven minutes difficult to watch. It's one thing to talk about what Balanchine said in the studio, what he wanted, how he saw the movement. It's another thing entirely to say, in effect, "do it like me," even if you were once a good dancer. It's like he puts himself between the dancers and the ballet.

Mimi is entirely different. She says "you." "You do this, you do that, then you're completely caught up in the music." She gets herself out of the way and helps the dancers focus on their tasks. It's more than a semantic issue. It shows respect for the dancers in the room. They are also artists. They are going to be out there onstage. They have to assimilate whatever new information is being imparted. It's good coaching to say "you." If "ballet is now... there is only now" is true, as Balanchine said, then "I did this" doesn't really have a place in the room. Yes, build on what all the dancers did way back when, but recognize that it's not about your personal glory days of old, but about the new generation and their possibilities.

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3 hours ago, BalanchineFan said:

Mimi Paul looks like an excellent coach.

While John Clifford is certainly knowlegable, I was struck by the number of times he said "I." 

I never did... I always... here, I did [such and such]...

Most good coaches keep the emphasis on the younger generation. They realize that no one has to, should, or is even truly capable of dancing like another person. It's about empowering the younger generation to make choices in keeping with the style and aims of the choreography.... about showing them options that broaden the possibilities, options that make it more musical, bigger, more varied, more dynamic, more in keeping with the original intention. Clifford calms down a bit in the video, but I found the first six or seven minutes difficult to watch. It's one thing to talk about what Balanchine said in the studio, what he wanted, how he saw the movement. It's another thing entirely to say, in effect, "do it like me," even if you were once a good dancer. It's like he puts himself between the dancers and the ballet.

Mimi is entirely different. She says "you." "You do this, you do that, then you're completely caught up in the music." She gets herself out of the way and helps the dancers focus on their tasks. It's more than a semantic issue. It shows respect for the dancers in the room. They are also artists. They are going to be out there onstage. They have to assimilate whatever new information is being imparted. It's good coaching to say "you." If "ballet is now... there is only now" is true, as Balanchine said, then "I did this" doesn't really have a place in the room. Yes, build on what all the dancers did way back when, but recognize that it's not about your personal glory days of old, but about the new generation and their possibilities.

I haven't watched the whole thing, but this is exactly what I noticed so far. She talks about what you do, he talks about what I did. 

Also, thank you for posting this BalanchineFan.

Edited by FPF
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On 10/12/2018 at 11:45 PM, On Pointe said:

  Getting former NYCB  stars to coach their old roles is a great idea,  in theory.  One can only hope that in practice,  they are able to transmit the spirit of Balanchine's choreography without trying to impose the technical inflections of their time onto today's dancers,  who mostly have more pronounced turnout,  higher passé  positions,  higher extensions,  and I dare say,  better port de bras and épaulement.  Male dancers back then,  like Eglevsky,  did multiple turns with their supporting foot almost flat to the floor.  (I'm not implying that today's dancers are "better" than the dancers of bygone times.  A star is a star is a star.  Stylistic differences don't  change that.)

When I first moved to NYC,  I studied with a famous couple who trained their daughter to dance exactly the way they had danced in their heyday.  While she had an impressive technique,  she was virtually uncastable with dancers her age,  as she looked like she had stepped off the pages of a history book.   While no doubt there are many fans who would love to see mid-1970s stagings of  Balanchine's work,  maybe they should remember that he himself said that,  "Ballet belongs to a dancer who is right now in front of your face."  Most of NYCB's dancers were born long after Balanchine died.  They are going to interpret his work in their own way,  no matter who stages it.

I remember reading an interview with Merrill Ashley in which she discussed coaching, and she made the point that as a coach with no control over casting, she could advise, but dancers didn't have to listen (and didn't always listen). 

I would think that, regardless of changes in style and advances in technique, the dancer who created the role can convey intangibles - what did Balanchine say to his dancers while he was making the ballet? What points did he emphasize? What did he seem to want the role to be? What was he trying to get out of the dancer when they were working on the part? What kind of a day was he having?  Things that only the person who was in the room with him could share.  Not essential, perhaps, but potentially invaluable.

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On 10/19/2018 at 1:08 PM, FPF said:

I haven't watched the whole thing, but this is exactly what I noticed so far. She talks about what you do, he talks about what I did. 

Also, thank you for posting this BalanchineFan.

You're so much more concise.

I realize now that someone else posted the same rehearsal video upthread.

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John Clifford is at it again.

His complaint about ballerinas not throwing their heads back in the final moment of the MSND pas de deux is not really borne out by video. At 1:45 in this video Tiler Peck definitely does throw her neck and head backwards. Maybe not the degree that Allegra Kent has, but she does throw it back.

But Gelsey Kirkland in what I assume was the early 1970's does not throw her head back at 8:22:

 

Edited by canbelto
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1 hour ago, canbelto said:

John Clifford is at it again.

His complaint about ballerinas not throwing their heads back in the final moment of the MSND pas de deux is not really borne out by video. At 1:45 in this video Tiler Peck definitely does throw her neck and head backwards. Maybe not the degree that Allegra Kent has, but she does throw it back.

But Gelsey Kirkland in what I assume was the early 1970's does not throw her head back at 8:22:

 

I'm sure details have been lost or modified over the years, but so much of this could be personal artistic interpretation. Certainly Peck, more than most, carefully considers how she accents each step (but in a way that looks completely fresh and natural). To me, the Kirkland video reads as if she just keeps her head somewhat tipped back from the previous step, so she doesn't need to tip it back at 8:22. I think it's misguided for Clifford to think there is a definitive way to perform each step, and to assume Balanchine thought there was, too. Sure, when Paris Opera Ballet omitted the segmented ports de bras (or was it the segmented arabesque?) in the Emeralds walking PDD, that was a major and baffling distortion of the choreography.

But when it comes to details and accents, I think there can be room for various interpretations. For example, Sebastian Villarini-Velez, as the rumba sailor in Fancy Free, does an adorable thing at the end of his variation where he licks his fingers and slicks his eyebrows (at 01:58). I could be wrong, but I really don't remember this from other performances, and I think it might be a modern-day interpolation (Robbins aficionados, correct me if I'm wrong!):

Thanks for posting the Kirkland video, btw; it's one of my all-time favorite clips, and the magic of her dancing really comes through, even with the blurry video quality.

 

Edited by fondoffouettes
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4 minutes ago, fondoffouettes said:

I'm sure details have been lost or modified over the years, but so much of this could be personal artistic interpretation. Certainly Peck, more than most, carefully considers how she accents each step (but in a way that looks completely fresh and natural). To me, the Kirkland video reads as if she just keeps her head tipped somewhat back from the previous step, so she doesn't need to tip it back at 8:22. I think it's misguided for Clifford to think there is a definitive way to perform each step, and to assume Balanchine thought there was, too. Sure, when Paris Opera Ballet omitted the segmented ports de bras (or was it the segmented arabesque?) in the Emeralds walking PDD, that was a major and baffling distortion of the choreography. But when it comes to details and accents, I think there should be room for various interpretations.

Thanks for posting the Kirkland video, btw; it's one of my all-time favorite clips, and the magic of her dancing really comes through, even with the blurry video quality.

 

Well I think there's also the issue that Peck's body is simply different from Kent's. Tiler Peck for one doesn't have much of a neck. This is not a knock on her or a criticism. But she just doesn't have the traditional elongated neck of a ballerina. Nor does she have a particularly flexible back. What will look amazing on Allegra (who was renowned for her flexibility) would probably look awkward on Peck.

As for the clock arabesque in Emeralds, I think that the ballerina that night just struggled with the step because the ballerina the following night did it. And then this fall in a shocker I saw Megan LeCrone miss the clock arabesque in one performance and then she did it the following performance. 

And this brings me to another thing about Clifford: by his own admission he hasn't seen the company since 2011. Since then there's been a lot of turnover in all levels of the company -- principals, soloists, corps. Whoever they bring in I hope will observe many performances and many rehearsals to get a feel for the company. Riding in cowboy style and saying "Okay everything's gotta go" is generally not a wise way to start a term as AD. (Well I mean you can go the route of Angel Corella and fire the whole company but ...) 

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3 hours ago, canbelto said:

John Clifford is at it again.

His complaint about ballerinas not throwing their heads back in the final moment of the MSND pas de deux is not really borne out by video. At 1:45 in this video Tiler Peck definitely does throw her neck and head backwards. Maybe not the degree that Allegra Kent has, but she does throw it back. 

OK. I watched the video Clifford refers to in the comments to his IG post. And ... I absolutely loathe the way the extreme arch in Kent's back and neck make that particular moment look. In this video at least (and video is not always an honest or accurate record of what happened in the theater) Kent's aggressively arched torso makes makes Amboise's lifting her up from one backbend swoon, releasing her into gravity, rotating her, and lowering her into another swoon looks so effortful (and unmusical) it just kills the moment. It needs to read like one long, sweet sigh. How far back the ballerina arches her back and drops her head is just about the least important thing about this ravishing moment.

Again, it's only one video, but I wouldn't want it to become a model of how the Divertissement MUST be done. Peck and (especially) Hyltin happen to be dancing the role rather beautifully at the moment. While there's always room for improvement, any complaints about their current level of performance is pretty much nit-picking. 

Edited by Kathleen O'Connell
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8 minutes ago, Kathleen O'Connell said:

OK. I watched the video Clifford refers to in the comments to his IG post. And ... I absolutely loathe the way the extreme arch in Kent's back and neck make that particular moment look. In this video at least (and video is not always an honest or accurate record of what happened in the theater) Kent's aggressively arched torso makes makes Amboise's lifting her up from one backbend swoon, releasing her into gravity, rotating her, and lowering her into another swoon looks so effortful (and unmusical) it just kills the moment. It needs to read like one long, sweet sigh. How far back the ballerina arches her back and drops her head is just about the least important thing about this ravishing moment.

Again, it's only one video, but I wouldn't want it to become a model of how the Divertissement MUST be done. Peck and (especially) Hyltin happen to be dancing the role rather beautifully at the moment. While there's always room for improvement, any complaints about their current level of performance is pretty much nit-picking. 

Well I think one thing that's undoubtedly true is that the 1950s/60s NYCB ballerinas all had very distinct mannerisms that Balanchine worked into his ballets for them. It's part of what made them stars. However the thing about mannerisms is that they don't always work for everybody. In Kent's case her freakishly flexible body was worked into many of the roles she danced. On another dancer they might not look as good. 

Another thing: John Clifford was only in the company for seven years. Granted it was during a rather productive time in Balanchine's life but how things were done in those seven years might not reflect how Balanchine "really" wanted it done. 

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The chances of John Clifford getting the job are nil. He was in the company for only 7 years, he failed to direct any lasting companies since (and had very sketchy dealings with two LA companies he directed), he hasn't been to see NYCB perform in years, he's probably never met any of the interim directors....maybe Stafford? It's just ludicrous. Yes we all want the halcyon days of our youth. That doesn't mean we believe they can be magically achieved again. If he cared that much about NYCB, he would have stayed in the company and continued to work under Balanchine. He just didn't want to play second fiddle to Peter Martins. 

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One thing I noticed this fall season: Wendy Whelan was at almost every performance I went to. She was talking actively with many of the dancers in the theater promenade, and this was not the case when Peter Martins was AD. I have no idea if she simply feels more comfortable now with him gone or she is testing the waters to see how good of a fit she'd be managing the company.

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One thing that has concerned me right along is the idea that the Board would choose prematurely - how have the results been with the Gang of Four - led by Stafford?  "When ya got a good thing goin', don't mess with it," right? 

I've heard good things, for example, inviting originators of the Balanchine roles to come and coach and having those invitations accepted.  (Not always the case.)  And some of the dancers who were coached by originators in Nancy Reynolds' Balanchine Foundation's series have made their debuts, I understand. 

Still the Chicagoan I was when I saw hundreds of performances of Balanchine's NYCB from 1973 into 1986 (because I had to), I haven't seen these, nor have I seen much of Peter Martins's NYCB, because, ironically in the light of his expressed desires, the Balanchine repertory has looked more like a museum when I have seen it:  Better than most companies, but still, it has danced Balanchine's steps but not his ballets.  With Mr. B. there reviving and freshening his older repertory, it was a garden, never a museum. 

(A garden I had to see because if I didn't get a good dose of good dance once in a while, something was missing from my life.  Since 1986 or so the old rewards of watching NYCB have been absent, and so have I, mostly, finding them from Villella's MCB and TSFB - not to mention our fine "Balanchine-oriented" school, Ballet Chicago.)

I would like to think that that garden might wake up and come back to life, having emerged from its hundred-years' sleep.  But beware of formulas, even the idea that it has to be one person, one "Prince Desire'," to do that. 

Although I would embrace the formula that the artistic side and the fund-raising and administrative side might best be separated:  Early in this thread, there was some discussion of this under the guise of a discussion of job names; NYCB flourished with a General Director (Lincoln Kirstein) and three Ballet Masters, listed alphabetically in the program, which suited us Old Audience just fine: George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, John Taras.

("Ballet-Master-in-Chief"? Clunky.  No style.  For something which is all about style?  A bad sign.)

The AD - or the "AG" - the Artistic Gang - needs space and freedom to attend to the artistic side, and in the day, dear Lincoln's job, we heard, was to go to the skeptics among his stable of contributors, upset sometimes by Mr. B.'s ambitions, and tell them, "Let's keep the guy happy!"  Let's give him (them) resources, and freedom.

But I don't want to give the impression that I'm against new choreography!  Nothing could become classic if no one had done it the first time.

Meanwhile, if the current "AG" is tending the garden, if there are green shoots to be seen, leave 'em alone for a while.  After all, hasn't the company come through a period when it was directed by some one who thought he was a choreographer?  That's harsh, and I want to add right away, that Martins, troubled man, did keep the whole thing going, trying to do both jobs - AD and fund raiser.  Good for him!      

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2 hours ago, canbelto said:

One thing I noticed this fall season: Wendy Whelan was at almost every performance I went to. She was talking actively with many of the dancers in the theater promenade, and this was not the case when Peter Martins was AD. I have no idea if she simply feels more comfortable now with him gone or she is testing the waters to see how good of a fit she'd be managing the company.

I'm guessing Whelan already thinks she's a good fit to run the company, and this is, apart from any innocent socializing also going on, politicking. 

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I mean Wendy Whelan no disrespect,  but what experience or qualities does she have that automatically  put her in the running as AD of NYCB?  It's got to take more than being a well-regarded former principal,  who has the bonus of being female.  If the directorship of the company and school will be vested in one person,  the new AD should have significant experience running a largish ballet company,  be able to raise money and work with a board,  and be a Balanchine devotee,  having danced and staged his ballets.  The logical choice,  given Damian Woetzel's unavailability,  is Peter Boal,  but given his wife's role in bringing down the former director,  that's problematic.  Maybe the board will decide that,  optics be damned,  they're going with Boal anyway.  Or they'll offer it to Lourdes Lopez,  who also meets the criteria and ticks the woman and minority boxes as well.  Either one would be a better choice than Whelan,  who would have the additional burden of being the boss over dancers who were her peers in the recent past.  Maybe they'll decide that "if it ain't  broke don't  fix it",  and the leave the leadership as it is.

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1 hour ago, On Pointe said:

I mean Wendy Whelan no disrespect,  but what experience or qualities does she have that automatically  put her in the running as AD of NYCB?  It's got to take more than being a well-regarded former principal,  who has the bonus of being female.  If the directorship of the company and school will be vested in one person,  the new AD should have significant experience running a largish ballet company,  be able to raise money and work with a board,  and be a Balanchine devotee,  having danced and staged his ballets.  The logical choice,  given Damian Woetzel's unavailability,  is Peter Boal,  but given his wife's role in bringing down the former director,  that's problematic.  Maybe the board will decide that,  optics be damned,  they're going with Boal anyway.  Or they'll offer it to Lourdes Lopez,  who also meets the criteria and ticks the woman and minority boxes as well.  Either one would be a better choice than Whelan,  who would have the additional burden of being the boss over dancers who were her peers in the recent past.  Maybe they'll decide that "if it ain't  broke don't  fix it",  and the leave the leadership as it is.

I agree On Pointe. I just wonder if Boal or Lopez would want the job. Peter Boal seems quite involved in the Seattle community, and is working with dancers he hand picked. Lopez is just putting her stamp on Miami. They both have contracts that they would have to break. I also can't see Helgi Tomasson leaving SFB. 

Not many people have experience running a large, successful company. Ib Anderson is in Arizona, I don't know much about the company but he would be an interesting choice. Colleen Neary runs the LA ballet (I believe). It seems incredibly hard to get a company going there. Judy Fugate has run a small group for a number of years. There is Nikolai Hubbe in Denmark. Damien Woetzel has never run a company, but has developed a successful festival (quite a different thing). In any event he is just starting at Juilliard. 

We don't know who has applied for the job or who is being encouraged to, but in the meantime I hope "the team" continues to bring in dancers from the past to coach. Please bring Suzanne in!

One thing that makes this so difficult is that being a great dancer doesn't mean you'll be a great company director, any more than it means you'll be a great teacher. Maybe there is a former NYCB corps member out there serving as an assistant director somewhere, who'd do a fabulous job.

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Exactly. Whelan has no experience running a company at all, let alone one of the biggest companies in the world. I hope the Board uses common sense in this regard not  political correctness. I think the interim team is doing a good job so far and wouldn’t be upset if they remained the Artistic Team permanently. 

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