Saint Louis Ballet's Gen Horiuchi is the Do-It-All Director

Gen Horiuchi with dancers Lauren Lane and Elliott Geolat. Photo by Sabrine Rhodes.

When Gen Horiuchi became the executive and artistic director of Saint Louis Ballet, his mentor Peter Martins offered the same wisdom that George Balanchine had given him: Running a company isn't just about ballet—you have to do and oversee everything. That leadership philosophy is what Horiuchi, now 53, has adopted at Saint Louis Ballet.

The Tokyo native and former New York City Ballet principal took over the financially troubled company from longtime artistic directors Ludmila Dokoudovsky and Antoni Zalewski in 2000. Within two years Horiuchi stabilized the organization's finances and restructured and revitalized the Saint Louis Ballet School. In 2010, he moved the organization into a new 7,500-square-foot facility with four studios.

Now in his 18th season with SLB, Horiuchi has increased the company's annual operating budget from $200,000 in 2000 to $2 million currently, grown the number of dancers from 13 to 25, and added more productions (when he arrived they were only perform- ing Nutcracker). He's also increased ticket sales and bolstered the school's enrollment from 50 to 350 students.

A former Mistoffelees in CATS on Broadway and London's West End, Horiuchi says his experiences in musical theater have taught him that you don't need a large cast to produce quality full-length productions like Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake. "Even though we only have 25 dancers we can produce good story ballets," he says. SLB's repertoire also includes well-known works by Balanchine and contemporary works by dancemakers such as Amy Seiwert, Emery LeCrone, Francis Patrelle, Tom Gold and himself.

Gen Horiuchi with Saint Louis Ballet in his piece "Passage." Photo by Pratt Kreidich.

"I do like the athleticism of dance movement," says Horiuchi. In choosing choreographers to create on the company, he says he looksfor that athleticism à la Balanchine in their prior work and decides whether or not he feels they can create something that will challenge his dancers.

On top of his artistic and administrative duties, Horiuchi choreographs a couple of ballets per season. Elliott Geolat, a 32-year-old Saint Louis native who's SLB's longest-tenured dancer, says Horiuchi favors a neoclassical, sometimes jazzy style in his original works. In Horiuchi's restaging of classical story ballets, such as Cinderella, Don Quixote and Romeo and Juliet, Geolat says he has the keen ability to clarify a ballet's storyline and make it accessible to a broader audience.

When it comes to working with his dancers, Horiuchi says he finds leading by example to be most effective. "I'm in the studio every minute of every day," he says. While he oversees all aspects of SLB, his artistic and administrative staffs help make this possible. And when he is not teaching company class, he takes it with the dancers.

Geolat describes Horiuchi's leadership style as firm but approachable. "He sets an example for us by taking his work very seriously," says Geolat. "He tries to maintain the highest standards and is good about motivating the dancers and keeping them from plateauing."

Horiuchi even shares the stage with his company when he choreographs new contemporary works. Though unorthodox, Horiuchi has his reasons for these annual cameos. "It's important for me to dance with them. Of course I cannot jump and turn as I used to, but I know how to present myself onstage, and sharing those [teachable] moments with the dancers connects with them more than me just telling them what to do."

In an effort to take some of the pressure off dancers when it comes to planning their careers, Horiuchi says it is widely under- stood that their contracts will be renewed each season. Barring any dismissible offenses, his dancers can choose to stay as long as they wish instead of annually worrying about their job security. As such, the non-ranked company has a low turnover rate, with dancers stay- ing on average six-plus years.

Gen Horiuchi with Saint Louis Ballet in his piece "Passage." Photo by Pratt Kreidich.

In the short term, Horiuchi would like to expand the company's main-stage productions to two weekends each instead of one. SLB's 2017–18 season features six programs, including two additions: Its new GO! Series will feature works created for smaller casts in more intimate venues. Horiuchi's long-term goals include increasing the dancer ranks to 30–32 and paying his artists more.

Though some might see his do-it-all philosophy as untenable, Horiuchi welcomes the challenge. "It's hard and I sleep less, but I enjoy every minute of it."

Audition Advice

"The minute you walk into the studio you are being evaluated," says Horiuchi. "I look for individuals who are technically and artistically well-rounded. I also look at how they engage with my dancers. Presence and personality are important." Annual auditions take place during company classes by invitation only February 28–April 1, with a March 10 application deadline. Horiuchi and his artistic team conduct personal interviews and assess dancers in specific areas, such as footwork, jumping, turning and musicality.

Saint Louis Ballet At a Glance

Number of dancers: 25

Length of contract: 28 weeks

Starting salary: $300 per week

Performances per year: 25


Show Comments ()
Photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

If you are a dance lover in South Korea, EunWon Lee is a household name. The delicate ballerina and former principal at the Korean National Ballet danced every major classical role to critical acclaim, including Odette/Odile, Giselle, Kitri, Nikiya and Gamzatti. Then, at the peak of her career, Lee left it all behind.

In 2016, she moved to Washington, DC, to join The Washington Ballet. The company of 26 is unranked, making Lee simply a dancer—not a soloist, not a principal and not a star, like she was back home.

"I try to challenge myself, and always I had the urge to widen my experience and continue to improve," she says one blustery winter day after company class, still glowing from the exertion of honing, stretching and strengthening. "When I had a chance to work with Julie Kent, I didn't hesitate."

Lee with Brooklyn Mack in the "Le Corsaire" pas de deux. Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy TWB.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Matthew Murphy

We do a lot of fast frappé combinations at barre, but my footwork is still a mess. Do you have any tips? —Anna

Keep reading... Show less
Audition Advice
Photo by Jim Lafferty for Pointe.

Have you ever attended an audition and wished that you knew what the director was looking for? We've rounded up some of our favorite quotes from our Director's Notes column over the past few years to give you a deeper glimpse into the minds of 10 artistic directors.

Ashley Wheater, Joffrey Ballet

"I want to develop and nurture artists," says Wheater, seeking "people who are not afraid to be expressive, and understand all the layers that go into making a work above and beyond the steps."

Ingrid Lorentzen, Norwegian National Ballet

"I like athletic classical dancers, with very strong footwork and articulation," Lorentzen says. "But it's also about the feeling I get from them, who I think can adapt to the Norwegian way."

Keep reading... Show less
Photo via Instagram.

When you spend as much time on the road as The Royal Ballet's Steven McRae, getting access to a proper gym can be a hassle. To stay fit, the Australian-born principal turns to calisthenics—the old-school art of developing aerobic ability and strength with little to no equipment.

"It's basically just using your own body weight," McRae explains. "In terms of partnering, I'm not going to dance with a ballerina who is bigger than me, so if I can sustain my own body weight, then in my head I should be fine."

Today, McRae shares videos of his workouts on social media (where he has approximately 150,000 Instagram followers). They are often shot in his dressing room, with a chair as the only prop while he does développés from an arched handstand, for instance—a feat of upper-body strength and flexibility.

"I think people are genuinely intrigued and interested in what we do: I get lovely comments offering suggestions to alter the exercise."

Keep reading at

Ballet Stars
Photo via @abtofficial on Instagram.

Though according to our calendars today is the first day of spring, it feels like anything but. That's why we've been extra jealous watching American Ballet Theatre dancers' Instagram posts from their tour to Singapore. From swimming in rooftop pools to hiking with monkeys to jet-lag influenced shenanigans (oh, and dancing Swan Lake), their photos are making us believe that warm weather really is on its way. We rounded up some of our favorite shots from the first half of ABT's Asian tour; they'll spend this week in Hong Kong dancing Alexei Ratmansky's Whipped Cream. Keep the photos coming, ABT!

Rather than cling onto the railing in fear (like we would have), Isabella Boylston stepped gracefully into the highest pool in the world with a low arabesque.

Keep reading... Show less
Richmond Ballet dancers in "An Open Later..." by Matthew Frain. Photo by Sarah Ferguson, Courtesy Richmond Ballet.

What's going on in ballet this week? We've pulled together some highlights.

The Bolshoi Premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina

Last July Hamburg Ballet presented the world premiere of John Neumeier's Anna Karenina, a modern adaptation on Leo Tolstoy's famous novel. Hamburg Ballet coproduced the full-length ballet with the National Ballet of Canada and the Bolshoi, the latter of which will premiere the work March 23 (NBoC will have its premiere in November). The production will feature Bolshoi star Svetlana Zakharova in the title role. This is especially fitting as Neumeier's initial inspiration for the ballet came from Zakharova while they were working together on his Lady of the Camellias. The following video delves into what makes this production stand out.

Keep reading... Show less
Ballet Careers
Beijing Dance Academy students Pei Yu Meng and Wang Yuzhiwan in rehearsal. Photo Courtesy BDA.

In one of 60 spacious dance studios at the Beijing Dance Academy, Pei Yu Meng practices a tricky step from Jorma Elo's Over Glow. She's standing among other students, but they all work alone, with the help of teachers calling out corrections from the front of the room. On top of her strong classical foundation and clean balletic lines, Pei Yu's slithery coordination and laser-sharp focus give her dancing a polished gleam. Once she's mastered the pirouette she's been struggling with, she repeats the step over and over until the clock reaches 12 pm for lunch. Here, every moment is a chance to approach perfection.

Pei Yu came to the school at age 10 from Hebei, a province near Beijing. Now 20, and in her third year of BDA's professional program, she is an example of a new kind of Chinese ballet student. Founded in 1954 by the country's communist government, BDA is a fully state-funded professional training school with close to 3,000 students and 275 full-time teachers over four departments (ballet, classical Chinese dance, social dance and musical theater). It offers degrees in performance, choreography and more. BDA's ballet program has long been known for fostering pristine Russian-style talent. But since 2011, the school has made major efforts to broaden ballet students' knowledge of Chinese dance traditions and the works of Western contemporary ballet choreographers. Pointe went inside this prestigious academy to see how BDA trains its dancers.

Keep reading... Show less





Get Pointe Magazine in your inbox


Win It!