After a tumultuous year and a half, New York City Ballet announced Thursday that it has named Jonathan Stafford as artistic director and Wendy Whelan as associate artistic director. The new leadership will also include Justin Peck in the role of artistic advisor.
Stafford, who has been leading NYCB’s four-person artistic leadership team since Peter Martins’s retirement in January 2018, will oversee the company’s training program, School of American Ballet, in addition to his duties with NYCB. The former NYCB dancer joined the company in 1998 as an apprentice and became a principal in 2007. Upon his retirement in 2014, the company named Stafford a ballet master. Whelan began as an apprentice with the company in 1984 and was named a principal in 1991. As artistic director, Stafford will supervise artistic functions of the company, in addition to teaching company class and rehearsing ballets.
“For me there are no more treasured institutions than New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet,” said Stafford in a statement. “My time with the School and Company began in 1996, and each year that I have spent here, I have grown as a person and artist. I have developed a deep appreciation for the organizations, their commitments to Balanchine, Kirstein, and Robbins, and all of the people — past and present — who comprise NYCB and SAB.”
Over the course of her 30-year career, Whelan extensively performed the NYCB heritage pieces, including works from George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. She remains the dancer on which the most new works were choreographed, placing her at the center of some of the company’s most critically acclaimed works from such choreographers as Christopher Wheeldon, Alexei Ratmansky, Twyla Tharp, William Forsythe and Robbins. In her new position, Whelan will play a critical role in planning and executing NYCB’s performance season, commissioning new work and working closely with company dancers as both an instructor and coach.
“This appointment represents a homecoming for me, and I could not be more thrilled to return to New York City Ballet,” said Whelan, who retired from NYCB in 2014, in the company’s statement. “I feel a strong, personal need to be here and to share all that I have to offer to instill positive growth and change for the Company. Having served as a role model during my career as a dancer, I am excited to now have the opportunity to contribute in a leadership capacity. The magnitude of what my appointment represents for female dancers, and all women, is of critical importance to me. The moment for change at New York City Ballet is now, and I am excited to help welcome it with Jonathan Stafford.”
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Peck, who is currently a soloist and resident choreographer with NYCB, will transition off the company’s dance roster following the 2019 spring season to focus on commissioning new work. Along with ballet masters Craig Hall and Rebecca Krohn, Peck has been serving as part of the interim artistic team during the company’s search for a new artistic director. During this time, he helped to commission “The Runaway,” the widely praised piece from Kyle Abraham.
The appointments of Stafford and Whelan mark a pivotal shift in the company’s previous approach to management, with Martins standing solo at the helm for 27 years. “The new artistic leadership structure at NYCB — with both an Artistic Director and Associate Artistic Director — acknowledges the growing and evolving demands of an arts organization of its size and stature,” reads the announcement from NYCB, which also notes that the company comprises more than 90 dancers and a 62-piece orchestra.
“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,” said Charles W. Scharf, chairman of New York City Ballet’s board of directors, in the statement.
Top Image: Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan. Photo: Christopher Lane/Getty Images