Kevin McKenzie. Fabrizio Ferri, Courtesy ABT

Kevin McKenzie to Retire from American Ballet Theatre in 2022

Kevin McKenzie, American Ballet Theatre's longtime artistic director, announced yesterday that he will retire at the end of 2022, after three decades at the helm. He will continue to oversee the company's 2021–22 season while a search for his successor begins this summer.


In an interview with The New York Times' Rosalyn Sulcas, McKenzie noted that he began seriously considering retiring a few years ago, seeing his upcoming 30th anniversary as a good time to step away. He was also somewhat influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that the company could benefit from new leadership as ballet enters a more digital age. "We are dealing with a medium I don't really like, but which we are going to have to rely on a lot in the future," he told Sulcas about the recent shift to online performances. "It needs someone who likes the medium and believes in its value."

McKenzie, 68, became ABT's artistic director in 1992, but he has been associated with the company since 1979, when he joined as a soloist after careers with the National Ballet of Washington and The Joffrey Ballet. He rose to principal dancer in less than a year and performed with the company until 1991. McKenzie briefly served as associate artistic director at The Washington Ballet before taking ABT's top role.

In a statement, ABT executive director Kara Medoff Barnett described McKenzie's hands-on working style. "He doesn't believe in multi-tasking, and he is fully present in the moment, in every rehearsal, every conversation." She adds: "Above all else, Kevin is a coach, and he has helped generations of dancers and colleagues discover and unleash their superpowers."

Luciana Paris, in a black leotard and short patterned skirt, stands in a low arabesque on pointe on her right leg and wraps her arm around Kevin McKenzie's left shoulder. McKenzie, in a blue shirt and black pants, holds her waist and does a small lunge to the right with his right arm extended out. Behind them in the studio, several male and female dancers look on.

McKenzie with soloist Luciana Paris in rehearsal

Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy ABT

Indeed, those who McKenzie has hired and guided throughout his tenure are some of the biggest names in ballet, from Angel Corella, Paloma Herrera and Ethan Stiefel to Gillian Murphy, Stella Abrera, Misty Copeland, David Hallberg and Herman Cornejo. While the company went through a lengthy period of bringing in international guests artists, McKenzie shifted gears several years ago to develop more dancers from within. This summer he elevated a new crop of principals with the promotions of Skylar Brandt, Cassandra Trenary, Aran Bell, Joo Won Ahn, Calvin Royal III and Thomas Forster.

McKenzie also made the critical move of appointing Alexei Ratmansky as the company's artist in residence in 2009, adding a wealth of original works and reconstructed classics to the repertoire. In 2004, after years without an official academy, McKenzie established ABT's Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, and later oversaw the creation of its National Training Curriculum. There are now more than 1,600 ABT certified teachers throughout the world.

McKenzie is the second artistic director of a major American company to announce his retirement in recent months, following San Francisco Ballet's Helgi Tomasson in January. As ballet fans begin the fun game of speculating on their successors, one thing is clear: Between the changes that the pandemic and various social justice movements have brought to our art form, and the departures of longtime leaders, ballet in this country is going through a major shift.

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