By Steve Sucato
Former Pacific Northwest Ballet star and current artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet, Patricia Barker will become the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s twelfth artistic director and only the second female director in its 64-year history. She takes over from current RNZB artistic director Francesco Ventriglia on June 19, 2017. Ventriglia will stay on as a choreographer for the company.
Barker says the application process involved her submitting a strategic overview with a sample production plan. She met with RNZB’s search committee via video conference calls and spent three days at the company’s home in Wellington where, in addition to meeting and talking with the organization’s board and staff ─ including fellow American executive director Frances Turner ─ she had a question and answer session with RNZB’s dancers.
“It’s exciting, they have an excellent reputation, wonderful reviews and a great spirit and energy in the studio,” says Barker.
According to Barker, RNZB was looking for a unique identity for their 36-member company and she feels she can create that for them. “All the works I did at Grand Rapids Ballet definitely gave us a unique identity. I look at each transition as an exciting change, building on an organization’s successes that came before while looking toward the future. We did that in Grand Rapids and I think I can do that here.”
With a 13-million dollar budget and a history of international touring, Barker says she is ready to apply what she has learned in her career at Pacific Northwest Ballet, as a dancewear entrepreneur and at Grand Rapids Ballet to moving RNZB forward.
Patricia Barker in the studio with Grand Rapids Ballet dancers. Photo by Michael Auer.
With their 2018 season already set, Barker says she will be initially working on programming for 2019 as well as getting to know the dancers and the organization. With that advanced planning in place along with seasonal differences in when RNZB performs, it will allow Barker to also stay on as artistic director at Grand Rapids Ballet during the coming 2017-18 season.
“It’s nice because their [New Zealand’s] summer is our winter and there will be opposite weeks of work,” says Barker. “I can do a lot remotely and be in Grand Rapids for the opening of productions.” She also says she still plans on staging a few ballets on the company.
GRB’s 2017-18 season, which includes a program of highlights from Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle, Esmeralda and Don Quixote; their annual The Nutcracker production re-imagined by Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg; two repertory programs celebrating diversity with world-premiere works by some of today’s most influential choreographers; and the world-premiere of choreographer Penny Saunders’ Oscar Wilde inspired ballet The Happy Prince and other Wilde Tales, will now act as a farewell celebration of Barker’s 7-years with the GRB, taking it from a relatively unknown regional troupe to one with a national presence.
On moving to the other side of the world the 54-year-old Barker says: “I am an adventurous individual with one more adventure in me. I am so proud of what we created at Grand Rapids Ballet, the platform for choreographers, especially women choreographers and the prolific amount of works we have done has been incredible. Also, the development of talent, including local talent, has been wonderful to be a part of. The fun thing about going somewhere else is bringing all that I have learned and experienced here and applying it there.”
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.