Ballet’s finest execs discuss challenges to female leadership in art form


The moderator convened this on-line discussion during “a pivotal moment in our history and so much challenge for ballet.” That’s according to Kathryn Roszak, Artistic Director of Danse Lumière and a former artist with San Francisco Opera and San Francisco Ballet, in leading a pithy discussion that illuminates a trend we have lived through in real time. We refer to the trajectory of the past thirty years, in which men have come to hold prominent power positions in classical dance to the oversight of equally qualified women. This conversation between two artistic directors, respectively, of Cincinnati Ballet and New York City Ballet, comes at an excruciating moment when the very survival of classical ballet companies and their theaters feels in jeopardy.

Wendy Whelan, from “Restless Creature” documentary

A fascinating, short (thank you!), and succinct conversation with Victoria Morgan, a former San Francisco Ballet who is artistic director and CEO of Cincinnati Ballet and Wendy Whelan, for thirty years principal ballerina with New York City Ballet and now the company’s co-associate artistic director, is worthy of watching.

Whelan, the eternal principal dancer whose plight in transitioning from performance into retirement is captured in the Netflix documentary, “Restless Creature,” describes the dearth of options that she faced upon retirement, rather, in the course of avoiding retirement. She expresses her belief that things are changing for young women in New York City Ballet, some of whom, she says proudly are, “getting master’s degrees and also having children.” Whelan insists, “You can do it all!”

When I left the company, I hadn’t prepared for what was next. And I didn’t trust that I had other gifts than being a dancer. I was part of a documentary that was about the end of my career. I [did it] to be helpful to the next generation. So they could plan earlier and not land in the position I was in. I want to be supportive to the females who are leaving the company. Because I do see the imbalance of the men getting taken for leadership roles, or ballet master roles. I see it and I want to step in and support women to see more aspects of themselves than they see for themselves.

Wendy Whelan, July 2020

Morgan, was a principal dancer for the San Francisco Ballet and Ballet West, and resident choreographer for the San Francisco Opera, before joining the Cincinnati Ballet in 1997 as Artistic Director. She also comes from the perspective of a former dancer moving into an executive role, and gives a very succinct analysis.

Women have a slight disadvantage. Before you are a soloist, all women go through the corps de ballet, where the expectation that you’ll all be the same. But the dynamics of leadership and choreography is you have to disagree — and you have to believe you are worthy of disagreeing. You have to believe in your point of view. You have to take on leadership traits, which is to be a listener but to think creatively.”

Victoria Morgan, July 2020
Wendy Whelan, Jonathan Stafford leaders of NYCB
photo by Christopher Lane for PLAYBILL

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