Royal New Zealand Ballet appoints new artistic director

Patricia Barker: Photo courtesy of RNZB
Patricia Barker: Photo courtesy of RNZB

Patricia Barker, former prima ballerina and current artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB) in Michigan, US, has been appointed artistic director at Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB). When Barker takes up the post later this month she will become only the second woman to hold rank as artistic director in the company’s 64-year history; Una Kai being the company’s forerunner from 1973 to 1975

The incoming artistic director will join RNZB in time for rehearsals of a new production of Romeo and Juliet for The Ryman Healthcare Season, guest choreographed by outgoing artistic director, Francesco Ventriglia. Opening on 16 August in Wellington, Romeo and Juliet will tour to Christchurch, Auckland, Rotorua, Dunedin, Invercargill and Palmerston North before closing in Napier on 24 September.

RNZB board chair, Steven Fyfe, said: “We are fortunate that Francesco and Patricia have the opportunity to work together over the next two months and this will make for a seamless transition. Francesco has made a significant contribution to the RNZB and has brought works by some of the world’s most exciting choreographers to New Zealand for the first time. Francesco has already programmed the company’s three national tours for 2018 and Patricia will bring these to the stage.”

Executive director Frances Turner added: “I’m looking forward to working with Patricia and enabling her artistic vision. As the RNZB heads towards our 65th season I know that we will continue to inspire New Zealanders with great art. It’s also exciting to be leading the company in partnership with another woman; I suspect there are very few national companies worldwide that can say this!”

Barker will have some big shoes to fill: during his tenure, Ventriglia enjoyed international success with the world premiere of Liam Scarlett’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and New Zealand premieres of works by Roland Petit, William Forsythe, Alexander Ekman and Andonis Foniadakis. Ventriglia also brought back the popular regional tour programme Tutus on Tour, while his own production of The Wizard of Oz was RNZB’s biggest tour of 2016.

Investing in home-grown talent has been a major part of the RNZB oeuvre: during his time at the company Ventriglia invested in supporting choreographers from within the company, with works by Cameron Macmillan, Andrew Simmons, Brendan Bradshaw, Catherine Eddy and Loughlan Prior making it onto the stage in recent years.

In 2016 he established The Harry Haythorne Choreographic Award, in memory of the RNZB’s longest serving artistic director, Harry Haythorne MBE (1926 – 2014). Launched with support from the Ballet Foundation of New Zealand, the award provides opportunities for emerging choreographers to take ‘first steps’, creating a short work for studio performance by the company’s dancers. Details of the 2017 Harry Haythorne Choreographic Award, including entry criteria and performance dates, will be announced in mid-2017.

Barker should provide an easy transition as she has a track record of staging both classic, contemporary and community work: from 2006 to 2010 she served as co-artistic advisor to the Slovak National Ballet with Jiří Kylián and has staged works for the Balanchine Trust with companies including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Slovak National Ballet and Hungarian National Ballet. For the last decade she has served as a judge for the Youth America Grand Prix.

Said Barker: “I am honoured and delighted to provide the artistic leadership to a company full of opportunity, achievement and with a unique creative voice and spirit. I will preserve the rich tradition of the Royal New Zealand Ballet, while building on the company’s impressive repertoire by curating works to build on a distinctive New Zealand personality to enrich the lives of New Zealanders and showcase our dancers’ versatility to the world.

“I look forward to working with the board of directors, Frances Turner and the staff to present a broad spectrum of accessible, stimulating, and entertaining programming to a diverse national audience and to present the RNZB as a cultural ambassador of New Zealand.”