News
Ross Brown, Courtesy RNZB

It's been several years since former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Patricia Barker took over leadership of the Royal New Zealand Ballet. In that time Barker and her husband, former PNB dancer Michael Auer, have had to acclimate themselves to a new country, a new hemisphere and a new culture.

She also noticed that RNZB had a different way of working when she took the helm in 2017. The company was then grappling with acccusations of abusive behavior and other workplace grievances by its former director, along with a few vocal New Zealanders with nationalistic agendas stirring up controversy. "The company was trying to lay low and let things blow over," she says. "You can never lay low; you just have to face your troubles head on."

Even though Barker says the turmoil had nothing to do with her, she took it on and moved the company forward by turning attention back on the art form, which she says is what matters most to audiences. And what matters to Barker with regard to that art form is creating more opportunities for female choreographers. So much so that the company's entire 2020 season will feature works choreographed by women.

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Ballet Careers
Royal New Zealand Ballet dancers Kate Kadow, Katherine Minor and Katherine Precourt rehearse Balanchine's Serenade. Photo by Stephen A'Court, Courtesy RNZB.

Though the Royal New Zealand Ballet has seen a lot of upheaval in recent years, it's now attracting dancers from the U.S. again. Six American women are currently working for the Wellington-based company: Two of them, soloist Katherine Minor and dancer Leonora Voigtlander, joined in 2014, shortly before the end of Ethan Stiefel's tenure as artistic director, while the others were drawn to the vision of current director Patricia Barker. In 2018, the former Pacific Northwest Ballet star and director of Grand Rapids Ballet hired principal Katharine Precourt (previously a first soloist with Houston Ballet), soloist Kate Kadow, and dancers Caroline Wiley and Clare Schellenberg. (Two other American dancers—former Miami City Ballet principal Simone Messmer and 17-year-old Nicole Denney, are currently there through September as guest artists.) We sat down with all six of them to find out what it was like moving across the world and adjusting to life in Kiwi land.

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News
James Sofranko in Paul Taylor's Company B with San Francisco Ballet. Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy SFB.

James Sofranko, longtime San Francisco Ballet soloist, will succeed Patricia Barker as Grand Rapids Ballet's new artistic director, effective July 1. Sofranko topped a list of 40 applicants from around the world to become only the fifth artistic director in GRB's 47-year history. The 38-year-old will continue his work with SFDanceworks, the Bay Area contemporary ballet company that he founded in 2014. Pointe spoke with Sofranko about his transition.

Had you been actively seeking an artistic directorship?

In a way. I had applied to two other places before to sort of test the waters. With my career at SFB nearing the end, I began thinking about it more and got excited about what I could potentially bring to a company such as Grand Rapids Ballet.

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News
Sofranko in William Forsythe's "Pas/Parts." Photo by Erik Tomasson, Courtesy Sofranko.

Today Grand Rapids Ballet announced that longtime San Francisco Ballet soloist James Sofranko will succeed Patricia Barker as its new artistic director, effective July 1, 2018.

The 38-year-old, now in his 18th season with SFB, topped a list of 40 applicants from around the world to become only the fifth artistic director in GRB's 46-year history.

Born in Marion, Indiana, Sofranko grew up in Cincinnati and trained at The Harid Conservatory and New York's Juilliard School. He joined SFB in 2000 and was promoted to soloist in 2007. From 2005­–2006 he performed the lead role of Eddie in the national tour of Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel's Broadway musical Movin' Out. He also has directing experience: In 2014 he founded his own contemporary ballet repertory company, SFDanceworks, which performs during the summer.

Photo by Andrew Weeks, Courtesy Sofranko.

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News

The past few months have brought on a media storm surrounding accusations about the culture and employment practices at the Royal New Zealand Ballet. But it turns out, much of the reported information doesn't tell the whole story.

Caught up in the rumors has been newly hired artistic director Patricia Barker. The former Pacific Northwest Ballet star and concurrent director of Grand Rapids Ballet took over RNZB last June, and although the most troubling aspects of what has been reported, such as accusations of abusive behavior and other workplace grievances, pre-date her appointment, some complaints have been directed at her.

The board of RNZB said in a press release last month: "Recent speculation about the culture and employment practices of the RNZB are troubling and unfair." To further address such allegations, the board has arranged for an independent review of RNZB's employment processes.

To keep reading, go to dancemagazine.com.

Everything Nutcracker

December is here and the holiday season—better known to ballet dancers as Nutcracker season—is in full swing. To celebrate, we're throwing it back to Patricia Barker and Wade Walthall as Clara and the prince in Pacific Northwest Ballet's 1986 Nutcracker: The Motion Picture.

In this reimagining of the ballet by PNB founding artistic director Kent Stowell and famed writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak, young Clara (played by Vanessa Sharp) defeats the multi-headed mouse king all on her own with a well-aimed, enchanted pointe shoe. She then follows her Nutcracker inside the shell of the mouse king's armor and ventures into an icy cavern. There she is transformed into an older version of herself, played by Patricia Barker. Clara emerges from the cavern to find that her Nutcracker has transformed as well, from a toy caricature into a handsome, mustachioed prince.

Cautiously, Clara takes the prince's hand. That is when the real enchantment begins. At 2:20 Barker dives into a penché arabesque that is far more dazzling than any cinematic effect. Long-limbed and fresh-faced, Barker captures Clara's innocence even as an adult. She soars across the stage in Walthall's arms, her nightgown billowing in the cold night air. An endless swirl of movement, this pas de deux blurs the distinction between reality and fantasy for the audience. Although Stowell and Sendak's Nutcracker retired from PNB's repertory in 2014, this film ensures that their unique version of the classic can still be enjoyed year after year. Happy #ThrowbackThursday!
Ballet Stars
Barker teaching class at RNZB. Photo by Stephen A'Court, Courtesy RNZB.

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Patricia Barker has taken over as artistic director of Royal New Zealand Ballet. Barker, 54, was named to her new role in June, becoming only the second woman director in RNZB's 64-year history and the second high-profile American to take the helm in recent years (the other being former American Ballet Theatre star Ethan Stiefel).


Patricia Barker. Photo Courtesy RNZB.

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Patricia Barker in the studio with Grand rapids Ballet dancers. Michael Auer, Courtesy GRB.

Underneath Grand Rapids Ballet artistic director Patricia Barker's million-watt smile lies an unyielding determination to realize her artistic visions. So when friend Maurice Sendak, author of Where the Wild Things Are, unexpectedly died before he could introduce her to fellow author Chris Van Allsburg (The Polar Express and Jumanji), Barker took it upon herself to visit Van Allsburg's Massachusetts home to convince the Grand Rapids native to help design GRB's newNutcracker production. When Van Allsburg was reluctant to venture down that well-traveled road, Barker convinced him otherwise. The resulting 2014 premiere proved a seminal moment in the company's history.

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Official sketch of Drosselmeyer by Chris Van Allsburg. Courtesy of the artist.

Grand Rapids Ballet, under artistic director and former Pacific Northwest Ballet principal Patricia Barker, debuts a new Nutcracker on December 12.

Drawing inspiration from PNB's beloved Nutcracker collaboration with picture book artist Maurice Sendak, Barker commissioned Chris Van Allsburg (of The Polar Express and Jumanji fame) to work on the set and production of the new ballet, along with Broadway design veteran Eugene Lee. "Chris was the first person we thought of for the new production," says Barker. "Maurice actually recommended him."

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If you're like me, you had at least one photo of Patricia Barker on your wall growing up. The longtime Pacific Northwest Ballet principal was a fearless, eloquent interpreter of Balanchine works, in particular, and ballet fans around the world could write sonnets about her beautiful feet. Today, she's artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet in Michigan.

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