In a surprise announcement last February, former American Ballet Theatre principal Paloma Herrera was named director of the Ballet Estable del Teatro Colón, Argentina's most prominent ballet company. After her farewell in New York City in May 2015, Herrera had returned to her native city, Buenos Aires, and was enjoying her new life there: "teaching, coaching, traveling." Just as she was putting the final touches on her memoir, Mi Intensa Vida, she was contacted by the general director of the Teatro Colón, which was about to undergo an administrative shake-up. Both the artistic director of the theater (Darío Lopérfido) and the head of the ballet (Maximiliano Guerra) were about to be replaced. Would she be interested in the latter job?
Herrera, who throughout her career returned to perform in Argentina and has a huge following there, had to be persuaded. "I was very happy with my life," she said recently by phone from Buenos Aires. "This wasn't something I needed or wanted." But the prospect of leading the company of around 100 dancers toward a period of greater stability and artistic excellence finally won her over. In recent years the number of performances by the ballet, which shares the theater with the opera and the symphony, had dwindled, its reputation tarnished by last-minute repertory changes and reports of conflict between the dancers and management.
Herrera agreed to take the position, after receiving a series of assurances: adequate funding for coaching, an increase in performances, more touring, and influence over the repertoire. (The company performs mostly evening-length story ballets, often with guest stars, and gala evenings.) A problem that looms on the horizon is the dancers' retirement age of 65—they're considered municipal employees. Younger dancers often have to wait until someone retires before a higher position, such as soloist or principal, becomes available. "It can't be resolved overnight," she says, "but I'm determined that it will change."
Herrera spends most of her days in the rehearsal studio, attending to her administrative duties during breaks and staying late in order to finish correspondence and prepare for the next day. Eventually, she plans to become more involved in the training program at the affiliated school, the Instituto Superior de Arte, which she herself attended in addition to receiving private instruction with Olga Ferri. Herrera hopes to inspire young dancers to remain in Argentina rather than seek employment abroad. "I want them to want to stay and become part of the Colón."