From left: Jonathan Stafford; Photo by Paul Kolnik; Wendy Whelan, Photo by Lindsey Thomas

Jonathan Stafford and Wendy Whelan Will Lead New York City Ballet

Well over a year after the retirement of Peter Martins, New York City Ballet has announced that former principal dancer Jonathan Stafford will lead the company and its affiliated School of American Ballet as artistic director. Fellow former principal Wendy Whelan will serve as associate artistic director.


Since last January, Stafford has helmed the interim leadership team, including Justin Peck, Craig Hall and Rebecca Krohn. And while he has led the company through a challenging year, he's still somewhat of an unconventional choice. Although he was a compelling, understated principal dancer, he wasn't a bonafide star, as directors of major companies typically are. Stafford is not a choreographer, either, though the company did state during the search that they weren't necessarily looking for someone who would be making work.


Photo by Christopher Duggan, Courtesy Whelan

Whelan certainly has star power. But it would be a misrepresentation of Whelan's abilities and qualifications to say that she's been hired for this purpose alone. In fact, many were hoping that Whelan would be named director herself—a petition to hire her received over 15,000 signatures. This may not be the glass ceiling-smashing that many were hoping for, but The New York Times reports that Stafford and Whelan will work as partners, with Stafford overseeing the day-to-day operations of the company and Whelan having a bigger hand in programming. Each independently told the search committee that they would be interested in working together.

If the two leaders will truly be "partners," why are they not co-artistic directors, considering NYCB's recent scandals—and the troubling historical gender dynamics of the company? NYCB told The Times that they felt like having a clear leader was important after the rocky experience of having Martins and Jerome Robbins as co-leaders.

But having Whelan at the helm of programming is sure to bring exciting changes. She told The Times that she's interested in "more women choreographing, more diversity on stage, bigger ideas, more open ideas, more daring ideas." Since retiring from NYCB, she's worked with a wide range of choreographers—from Kyle Abraham to Lucinda Childs to Arthur Pita. If that's any indication of what her seasons will look like, we're in for some dynamic evenings at the ballet.

Both leaders said that improving the company's culture is a top priority. The company's board chairman Charles W. Scharf praised Stafford for the progress he's already made in this area, having opened up communication between dancers and leadership and organizing the company's first-ever performance reviews.

The news broke at a meeting with dancers this morning, where it was also announced that Peck would stop dancing for the company after the spring season, and will take the title of artistic advisor.

Stafford will begin his new position effective immediately, and Whelan will begin mid-March.

Latest Posts


Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Fancy Free" (1981)

In Jerome Robbins's 1944 ballet Fancy Free, three sailors on leave spend the day at a bar, attempting to woo two young women by out-dancing and out-charming one another. In this clip from 1981, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was then both the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre and a leading performer with the company, pulls out all the stops to win the ladies' affections.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Bethany Kirby, Courtesy Tulsa Ballet

An Infectious-Disease Physician on What Vaccines Mean for Ballet

As the coronavirus pandemic grinds into its second year, the toll on ballet companies—and dancers—has been steep. How long before dancers can rehearse and perform as they once did?

Like most things, the return to normal for ballet seems to hinge on vaccinations. Just over 22 percent of people in the U.S. are now vaccinated, a way from the estimated 70 to 85 percent experts believe can bring back something similar to pre-pandemic life.

But what would it mean for 100 percent of a ballet company to be vaccinated? Tulsa Ballet artistic director Marcello Angelini is about to find out—and hopes it brings the return of big ballets on the big stage.

"I don't think companies like ours can survive doing work for eight dancers in masks," Angelini says. "If we want to work, dance, and be in front of an audience consistently and with the large works that pay the bills, immunization is the only road that leads there."

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks