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Wendy Whelan and Jonathan Stafford. Photo: Christopher Lane/Getty Images.
Wendy Whelan and Jonathan Stafford. Photo: Christopher Lane/Getty Images.

New York City Ballet, School of American Ballet Announce New Artistic Leadership

The New York City Ballet (NYCB) and its affiliate training academy, the School of American Ballet (SAB), announced today the appointment of former NYCB dancer Jonathan Stafford, who has served in interim leadership roles at the company since December 2017, as artistic director, effective immediately. During his tenure at NYCB, Stafford performed leading roles in works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, and Peter Martins, among others; helped advance diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts while teaching at SAB; and spearheaded a mentorship program for new apprentices.

Wendy Whelan, another former NYCB dancer, has been named associate artistic director. She will take up the role in March and will focus on conceiving, planning, and programming NYCB’s annual performance season; commissioning new work from choreographers, composers, and other artistic collaborators; and working closely with NYCB’s dancers in the rehearsal studio. During her thirty-year career with NYCB, Whelan performed roles in nearly all of the company’s heritage repertory of works by Balanchine and Robbins and originated new leading roles in works by choreographers such as Twyla Tharp and William Forsythe.

The changing of the guard comes amid a period of uncertainty for the company, which is the largest dance organization in America and has an annual operating budget of approximately $88 million. NYCB has been under scrutiny during the past year and a half over allegations that its former ballet master in chief Peter Martins, who made an abrupt exit in January 2018, was both physically and emotionally abusive; Martins has denied any wrongdoing. The company then lost three of its fourteen male principal dancers after they allegedly shared sexually explicit photos of the companies’ female dancers—one of the accused resigned, and the other two were fired. The difficulties faced by the company were recently chronicled by Joan Acocella in the New Yorker.

Stafford and Whelan discussed taking on the challenges of running the company at such a tumultuous time with Michael Cooper of the New York Times. In a joint interview, Stafford said: “We both will really be working on the cultural elements of the company. We agree on dancer development, dancer enrichment, making sure we are providing a safe space for them to really thrive as artists and as people, not just in the theater but in their personal lives as well.”

Commenting on the appointments, Charles W. Scharf, chair of NYCB’s board of directors, said: “New York City Ballet is proud to usher in this next generation of leadership with two of our own brightest luminaries at the artistic helm. Jonathan Stafford, whose twenty-year career with the company includes remarkable work as both an exemplary principal dancer and indispensable ballet master, has done an extraordinary job as our interim artistic leader over the past year. Wendy Whelan is one of the most important and beloved dancers in our company’s history who went on to a build a dynamic post-NYCB career as an innovative and collaborative artist.”

Under the new leadership, resident choreographer Justin Peck, who has created more than thirty-five works for ballet companies around the world, will serve as artistic adviser. Peck will work closely with both Stafford and Whelan on ideas for programming and new commissions. Following the 2019 spring season, Peck will transition from NYCB’s dancer roster, where he is currently a soloist.