March 25, 2021
Kevin McKenzie to Retire as Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre at the Conclusion of 2022 Season
Kevin McKenzie today announced his retirement as Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre at the end of 2022, following three decades of leadership. He will oversee ABT’s creation of new works and performances throughout 2021 and 2022, ensuring ABT’s vitality and artistic integrity, while working with the Board of Governing Trustees to provide a seamless transition to the Company’s next Artistic Director.
A search for McKenzie’s successor will begin this summer.
“As we enter a time of renewal, I find this is the moment to plan thoroughly for it. ABT has given me my artistic identity and taught me the lessons of aspiration, guidance, and responsibility from the age of 15 through nearly 30 years as its Artistic Director,” said McKenzie. “ABT defined my aspirations as a student watching the greats from the 60’s and early 70’s. These examples guided me through a performing career and informed my sense of responsibility as a director, as I guided future generations and inspired them to consistently deliver excellence. I am proud of the programs I helped pioneer for the Company, the generations of dancers I helped develop into leaders in the field, and the incredible range of work that Alexei Ratmansky has contributed to ABT’s repertoire. And now, it is time to pass the torch – to new leadership and to the next great leaps in ABT’s history. I look forward to guiding the Company through 2021 and 2022, re-entering the exciting world of live performances, reinvigorated and ready for the challenge. I’m eager to apply the lessons over the past year, to relish in our newfound agility to create new works in dedicated residencies, to pick up the planning of long-anticipated commissions still waiting in the wings, and, once a transition is made to new leadership, swell with pride for having led one of our nation’s artistic institutions. I am ever grateful for the trust instilled in me by trustees, colleagues, and artists.”
“Kevin’s commitment to ABT as our Artistic Director for three decades has allowed us to thrive,” said Andrew Barth, Chairman of Ballet Theatre’s Board of Governing Trustees. “He has an uncanny ability to find optimism, joy, and renewal in each season and with every generation of dancers. Because of his unwavering commitment to excellence, ABT has repeatedly been asked to represent the USA on the world’s greatest stages. On a personal note, I will greatly miss Kevin. He is intelligent, perceptive, and caring, and he has been a source of stability and calm for all of us, trustees, staff, and dancers, through the immense challenges of this pandemic. I speak for all my fellow trustees in expressing our gratitude and appreciation for his devotion, loyalty, and service.”
A leading classical dancer of his generation, McKenzie was hired by ABT’s co-founder and director Lucia Chase. He performed with many of the greatest artists of ballet’s boom era of the 1970’s and 1980’s and was appointed Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre in October 1992, succeeding co-directors Jane Hermann and Oliver Smith. McKenzie’s leadership tenure represents more than a third of the Company’s history. As an artist and director, his knowledge of both the contemporary and classical repertoire led to an expansion of ABT’s repertory. McKenzie has emphasized the theatrical and American qualities of versatility, diversity, and dynamism, that distinguish ABT from the other great classical ballet companies of the world.
Under McKenzie’s leadership, the Company has experienced unprecedented growth. Guiding the troupe into the 21st century, he identified new talent and extraordinary choreographers. He commissioned and presented new works by wide-ranging choreographers including Gemma Bond, William Forsythe, Jessica Lang, Lauren Lovette, Lar Lubovitch, Cathy Marston, Wayne McGregor, Benjamin Millepied, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Mark Morris, Helen Pickett, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Rudd, Pam Tanowitz, Sonya Tayeh, Twyla Tharp, Christopher Wheeldon, and James Whiteside, among others. He has curated traditional choreography of the classics, lovingly revived ABT heritage works, and further extended the Company’s repertoire with acclaimed works by Frederick Ashton, John Cranko, Kurt Joos, Jiří Kylián, Kenneth MacMillan, John Neumeier, and Jerome Robbins.
McKenzie’s choreography for American Ballet Theatre includes the full-length classics The Nutcracker (1993), Don Quixote (1995, in collaboration with Susan Jones), and a new production of Swan Lake (2000). Additionally, he spearheaded the ABT Women’s Movement, increasing the number of female choreographers working at ABT. Since its inception in 2017, a total of 27 new works by female choreographers have been premiered by the main Company and ABT Studio Company.
Since becoming Artistic Director, McKenzie has championed American Ballet Theatre’s education and training efforts, initiating the formation of the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2004. The ABT JKO School has grown to an enrollment of over 400 students pre-pandemic, and ABT’s National Training Curriculum has over 1,600 certified teachers in 44 countries worldwide.
In 2009, McKenzie appointed Alexei Ratmansky as American Ballet Theatre’s first Artist in Residence, ushering in a new era of artistic innovation. To date, Ratmansky has created 18 new works for the company, furthering ABT’s mission “to create, preserve and extend the great repertoire of classical dancing.”
In addition to leading the Company on numerous international tours, including historic returns to Moscow and Havana, and first-ever engagements in Abu Dhabi, Australia, and Oman, McKenzie has overseen production for five broadcast films for PBS’s Dance In America series and the documentary ABT: A History by filmmaker Ric Burns.
In his 30 years as Artistic Director, Kevin has guided the careers of two generations of ABT dancers. Eight former ABT dancers currently hold Artistic Director positions around the world including Stella Abrera, Angel Corella, David Hallberg, Paloma Herrera, Susan Jaffe, Julie Kent, Maria Riccetto, and Ethan Stiefel.
Over the past twelve months, with ABT’s tours and New York seasons cancelled due to the pandemic, the Company has continued to evolve artistically. During this time, under McKenzie’s direction, 17 new works have been created and filmed for digital distribution. In addition, ABT strengthened its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion by launching ABT RISE, Representation and Inclusion Sustain Excellence. Building on the success of Project Plié, ABT is actively fostering inclusion and diversity on its stages, in the studios and classrooms where ABT rehearses and trains, behind the scenes in ABT’s administrative staff and creative teams, as well as in the audiences and communities ABT serves in New York City and around the world.
Kara Medoff Barnett, ABT Executive Director for five years, said: “Kevin has extraordinary knowledge and keen insights, and he shares both, generously and patiently. I am deeply grateful for his collaborative spirit and have learned so much from observing his unflappable leadership. He has devoted three decades to renewing and strengthening America’s National Ballet Company®, and he has done so guided by an unwavering commitment to excellence. He doesn’t believe in multi-tasking, and he is fully present in the moment, in every rehearsal, every conversation. Kevin is fond of saying that ‘energy begets energy,’ and his energy has fueled ABT’s evolution, resilience, and growth for three decades.
Above all else, Kevin is a coach, and he has helped generations of dancers and colleagues discover and unleash their superpowers. Ultimately, he believes in the power of ballet to illuminate truth and the power of theater to connect us with our shared humanity.”
A native of Vermont, McKenzie received his ballet training at the Washington School of Ballet. In 1972, he was awarded a Silver medal at the Sixth International Competition in Varna, Bulgaria. He was a leading dancer with both the National Ballet of Washington and The Joffrey Ballet before joining ABT as a Soloist in March 1979. McKenzie was appointed a Principal Dancer the following December and danced with the Company until 1991. In September 1989, McKenzie was appointed a permanent guest artist with The Washington Ballet, and in 1991, he was named Artistic Associate of that company. He also served as Associate Artistic Director and a choreographer for Martine van Hamel’s New Amsterdam Ballet.
As a Principal Dancer with American Ballet Theatre, McKenzie performed leading roles in all the major full-length classics and was acclaimed for his partnering and grounded interpretations of such roles as Solor in La Bayadère, the Prince in Mikhail Baryshnikov’s production of the full-length Cinderella, Franz in Coppélia, Basilio in Don Quixote (Kitri’s Wedding), Albrecht in Giselle, Romeo in Romeo and Juliet, Prince Désiré in The Sleeping Beauty, Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake, and James in La Sylphide.
His numerous contemporary roles included the Gentleman With Her in Dim Lustre, Her Lover in Jardin aux Lilas, the Friend in Pillar of Fire, and the Champion Roper in Rodeo. McKenzie was also noted for his interpretations of leading roles in The Garden of Villandry, The Leaves Are Fading, Other Dances, Paquita, Les Sylphides, Nine Sinatra Songs, and Theme and Variations. He created the role of Amnon in van Hamel’s Amnon V’Tamar and a leading role in Clark Tippet’s S.P.E.B.S.Q.S.A.
During his performing career, McKenzie performed as a guest artist in cities throughout the world, including Spoleto, Paris, London, Tokyo, Havana, Moscow, Vienna and Seoul, dancing with, among others, the London Festival Ballet, the Bolshoi Ballet, the National Ballet of Cuba, and the Universal Ballet in Seoul. His choreographic credits include Groupo Zamboria (1984) and Liszt Études, now called Transcendental Études, (1991), both for van Hamel’s New Amsterdam Ballet, and Lucy and the Count (1992) for The Washington Ballet,
Kevin McKenzie, American Ballet Theatre Artistic Director, Hamilton E. James Chair, holds honorary degrees of Doctor of Arts from Saint Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont (1993) and Doctor of Fine Arts from Adelphi University (2019) and was awarded the Dance Magazine Award (1999). He is co-founder and Chair of Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli, New York.