Changing of the guard: five prima ballerinas contemplate retirement

This is an extraordinary time in the dance world, when five of the greatest ballerinas of our time have all announced their retirement within months of each other. Ballet to the People caught up with Wendy Whelan, Carla Körbes, Paloma Herrera, Xiomara Reyes, and Julie Kent to ask:

What in your view has been the most significant change in the dance world since you started out as a young dancer? How would you counsel a young dancer who is just starting out?

 

Wendy Whelan (Photo: Nisian Hughes)

Wendy Whelan (Photo: Nisian Hughes)

Paloma Herrera (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

Paloma Herrera (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

Carla Körbes (Photo: Angela Sterling)

Carla Körbes (Photo: Angela Sterling)

Julie Kent (Photo: Roy Round)

Julie Kent (Photo: Roy Round)

Xiomara Reyes (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

Xiomara Reyes (Photo: Gene Schiavone)

 

Collectively, these five ballerinas have redefined virtuosity and grace for the art form in the 21st century, their natural gifts honed by prodigious artistic intelligence, perseverance, and gutsiness. Yet ballerinas are, as a rule, seen and not heard – apart from the tiny handful who have built vast social media platforms. Our conversations with these five, documented in the Huffington Post (click here for the interviews and more fabulous photos), reveal a rare side to them.

Will one of them eventually take a leadership role in the ballet world? None of the five appear to have sought it out.

One striking thing that has not changed over the span of these ballerinas’ careers is the shortage of women at the helm of ballet companies. Karen Kain is now the longest-running incumbent artistic director of a major company, having run the National Ballet of Canada for ten years. Tamara Rojo took over English National Ballet two years ago. When Brigitte Lefèvre retired after a remarkable 19 years of steering Paris Opera Ballet in a bold, new direction, she was succeeded by Benjamin Millepied. In Britain, Monica Mason called the shots at the Royal Ballet for ten years, replaced by Kevin O’Hare in 2012. In America, Lourdes Lopez has been at the head of Miami City Ballet for just two years.

As audiences for live theatre and dance continue to shrink, along with the public and private funding so critical to keeping these companies afloat, can new artistic leadership make a difference? Is it time for a reigning ballerina to be handed the reins?

Our interviews and photos in the Huffington Post. –

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