Who is leaving and who is joining The Royal New Zealand Ballet, announced at last

After a string of news stories by New Zealand reporters, posts by Australian dance bloggers, and the intervention of the NZ Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, The Royal New Zealand Ballet has finally announced the names of the dancers leaving and joining the company.

Nine dancers have joined the company and 10 have left.

Two of the newcomers are from the United States, three from Australia, three from New Zealand and one from China.

Much of the chatter has focussed on the lack of New Zealand dancers in the company.

Before the reshuffle there were eight NZ dancers and there are now seven.

Of the six NZ dancers who have left, three have retired and three are “pursuing new opportunities overseas” (in the words of the company).

As the company’s website is not up to date, the newcomers’ names and photos aren’t shown but the names and photos of those who have left have been removed.

When the new dancers are added the total number of dancers in the company should be 31.

The new dancers are:

From New Zealand:
Rhiannon Fairless, previously with the National Ballet of Canada, who trained at the Australian Ballet School (and also in Auckland) and Luke Cooper and Olivia Moore, who both trained at the New Zealand School of Dance.

These three New Zealanders will join the five others who were born in NZ and remain with the RNZB – Abigail Boyle, Kathleen Skelton, Joseph Skelton, Paul Mathews and Sir Jon Trimmer.

From the US:
Caroline Wiley from the Grand Rapids Ballet, Michigan, who trained at both that company and the Young People’s Ballet Theatre in Michigan. *

Kate Kadow, previously from the Barak Ballet, Los Angeles, State Street Ballet, Santa Barbara and Cuban Classical Ballet, Miami. She trained at the Kirov Academy in Washington DC.

From Australia:
Alyssa Kelty, previously in the Queensland Ballet’s pre-professional program and who trained at the National College of Dance in Newcastle, New South Wales; Nathan Mennis, who trained at the Queensland National Ballet School, the Australian Ballet School and Houston Ballet II, and Tristan Gross, previously a member of the West Australian Ballet’s Young Artists program who trained at the National Ballet Theatre School.

From China:
Wan Bin Yuan who trained at the Beijing Dance Academy, Liaioning Ballet School and Tianjin Ballet Theatre.

The leavers:

Alayna Ng, Harry Skinner and Katie Hurst-Saxton, all New Zealanders. The three have retired.

Tonia Looker, Kohei Iwamoto and Isabella Swietlicki who have joined the Queensland Ballet.

Jacob Chown, Laura Saxon Jones, Shih-Huai Liang and Sophie Arbuckle are “pursuing new opportunities overseas”.

Chown, Saxton-Jones and Sophie Arbuckle are New Zealanders.

In the last few weeks there’s been some concern about the RNZB, partly due to the relatively rapid changeover of artistic directors and more importantly perhaps, the nationality of both the artistic directors as well as the dancers.

The statistics might be a bit confusing but the question remains:

Why have only two New Zealanders led the company as artistic director in its 65 year history (Russell Kerr, 1962-68, and Bryan Ashbridge, 1971) and why, in recent years, have two directors, one from the United States) and one from Italy, stayed for a brief period of time?

Ethan Stiefel stayed three years and Francesco Ventriglia less than three years. During his term several dancers made complaints to the union about Ventriglia.

The RNZB needs to acknowledge its place in the world, and, through its repertoire, choreographers, composers and designers, the nation itself.

Next month’s premiere of The Piano:the Ballet, inspired by the movie, is a good start as is Strength & Grace, scheduled for a brief season in August.

Strength & Grace, to be choreographed by women, marks the 125th anniversary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand.

* The Michigan connection.

Patricia Barker is the artistic director of both the RNZB and the Grand Rapids Ballet, Michigan.

She will end her directorship in Michigan when James Sofranko becomes the artistic director in July.

Nick Schultz and Laura McQueen Schultz, both from the Grand Rapids Ballet, are now ballet master/mistress at the RNZB.

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Kate Kadow

Caroline Wiley

Laura McQueen Schultz and Nicholas Schultz, photographer unknown

Rhiannon Fairless as a corps de ballet artist at the National Ballet of Canada

Patricia Barker, photo © Stephen A-Court