Yesterday, news broke via the New York Times and American Ballet Theater’s press department that Kevin McKenzie, ABT’s Artistic Director for the last 30 years, will be stepping down after the 2021-2022 season. This is no surprise, as McKenzie’s peer, Helgi Tommason, the Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet, recently announced he will step down at the end of next season, as well.
Our observations remain steadfast that an entire generation of AD’s needs to retire and be replaced in order for ballet to progress properly. McKenzie has done an extraordinary job leading ABT in the present time of ballet, but his time has definitely come to an end, and ABT now needs to look for a new leader to shape its future. Publications like The Times and Dance Magazine are deservedly celebrating and reflecting upon all of his many, many accomplishments. Who will be the next AD at ABT? Significant change within the domestic ballet industry is now thankfully at hand. Ultimately, it is up to the governing board of ABT to decide, but we can speculate, hope, and put our predictions in.
Various articles related to McKenzie’s retirement have applauded two full generations of ABT dancers, and focused on how eight of his dancers hold current AD jobs: Stella Abrera (Kaatsbaan), Angel Corella (Pennsylvania Ballet), David Hallberg (Australian Ballet), Paloma Herrera (Teatro Colon), Susan Jaffe (Pittsburgh Ballet), Julie Kent (Washington Ballet), Maria Riccetto (Uraguay), and Ethan Stiefel (American Repertory Ballet).
I personally think of the eight mentioned above; the only real candidate from the is Susan Jaffe. Currently, the AD of Pittsburgh Ballet, Susan Jaffe has made numerous strides in making her company more diverse, more inclusive, and letting dancers take their agency. She was America’s sweetheart baby ballerina, a published author, headed UNCSA, motivational speaker, and coach, has quickly taken control and implemented leadership at Pittsburgh. Wherever she goes, Jaffe’s trajectory is modern and purposeful.
The other seven former ABT members mentioned are likely not strong candidates. For example, since Juile Kent joined Washington Ballet as AD in 2016, she has gone through three executive directors and is still struggling with the debts since taking over. Ethan Stiefel has only enjoyed mild, less than desirable success as being an AD at the numerous companies he has tried to head.
Another candidate who will probably be considered would be Russian Alexei Ratmansky, who held the resident choreographer position at ABT, but let’s be real, we don’t need another white male in power.
Which brings us to around to more female candidates in addition to Jaffe amidst the #metoo movement. ABT is no stranger to female leadership, ABT was founded by a woman: Lucia Chase.
Misty Copeland: ABT’s biggest headliner amongst regular pop culture. It also helps that she is female, doesn’t have the “classical body”, and has been the voice of change in ballet across the globe.
But, if ABT pulls a New York City Ballet and looks for younger, more progressive leadership in addition to Copeland, then we could be looking at candidates like:
James Whiteside, ABT’s progressive social media powerhouse. Known for his risqué, sometimes overly sexually take on dance and self-expression, James Whiteside has put himself in strong spot as understanding the current global culture.
Calvin Royal III, ABT’s African American Prince. Featured on the September cover of Pointe Magazine, Calvin Royal has not only carved out a space in classical ballet for himself, but has also taken control of his own career, artistic freedoms inside the world of contemporary movement.
If we are going to go in-between popular/current and trained and brought up through the old guard, we would be looking at candidates like:
Carlos Lopez: ABT’s current repertory director, and most likely candidate for the job. Already covered by the New York Times, this former Latino ABT dancer has positioned himself quite well during the pandemic. Not to mention he is nice to look at.
Sasha Radetsky: ABT Studio Company’s Director who has done a brilliant job curating and securing some of the best talent in the world. While most of us millennials know him as “Charlie today’s talent know him as the way to get into ABT. With appearances at the PDL, and judging for YAGP, he has made himself very well known amongst the ballet youth, and many already look up to him.
Irena Drovenko and Maxim Beloserkovsky, former ABT principals, who have gained attention as coaches and teachers would also be strong candidates. Irena and Maxim have taught at numerous intensives as well as starting their own this year. Not to mention Irena has been coaching ABT ’s newest Principal, Skylar Brandt.
Again, these are just our predictions and speculations for who will be in the running for creating the next dynasty of ABT’s international roster and who will lead ABT into the future of the American ballet scene. Who do else do you think is going to be in the running?