Tag Archives: Pacific Northwest Ballet

ARTS AIR EXCLUSIVE: Patricia Barker Named Artistic Director of Royal New Zealand Ballet

Barker 2014 (2)

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.

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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.


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Attracting a Crowd: Wallace Foundation Study Offers Up More Analytics on Audience-Building


By Steve Sucato

The prevailing mantra in the business world is that in order to succeed, grow, and stay in business, you constantly need new customers. For arts organizations that holds true with audience members. Customers will come and go, so, too, audience members. The key is retaining as many of the ones you have while consistently gaining new ones. How to accomplish that is an age-old riddle that seems to have a million different solutions depending on your organization’s situation. Some may move your organization toward achieving its goals, while others may lead it down dead-end roads or toward eventual ruin.

The October 2014 study published by The Wallace Foundation, entitled The Road To Results: Effective Practices For Building Arts Audiences, seeks to take some of the guesswork out of choosing the right answers to your organization’s particular audience-building riddles by examining the examples of ten arts organizations. These large and small arts non-profits, which rose to the top from a pool of 54 organizations in six cities (Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle), were invited to apply for and received The Wallace Excellence Awards. The awards financially supported audience-building efforts of each organization’s own design between 2006 and 2012.

The ten groups highlighted in the 91-page Road To Results were Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Boston Lyric Opera; Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company; Philadelphia’s The Clay Studio and Fleisher Art Memorial; San Francisco’s The Contemporary Jewish Museum and San Francisco Girls Chorus; Minnesota Opera; and Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet and Seattle Opera.

The Road To Results follows a string of prior research projects that began with the RAND Corporation audience-building study A New Framework for Building Participation in the Arts, published in 2001. That led to The Wallace Excellence Awards, which sought to answer what was learned from the RAND study and put into practice, if anything, and how could organizations implement it? Road To Results author Bob Harlow of Bob Harlow Research and Consulting, LLC, in New York, N.Y., and his team of researchers and writers were then assigned by the Wallace Foundation to examine ten of those Excellence awardees chosen for their ability to move the needle on their audience-building efforts, cohesiveness in their strategies, and diversity to find out what works. That yielded ten individual case studies, which pointed to nine common practices that contributed to the success of WEA’s audience-building efforts.

“Even though these organizations are completely diverse — you have this tiny community-based arts school in Philadelphia and then you’ve got these $20-million dance and opera organizations in Seattle — there were common threads we found,” says Harlow. “Wallace said we should write up these common threads, which led to The Road To Results.”

Click here to read more at FROM THE GREEN ROOM: Dance/USA’s e-Journal

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Grand Rapids Ballet Renaissance

Patricia Barker in-studio with Grand Rapids Ballet dancers. Photo by Michael Auer.

Patricia Barker in-studio with Grand Rapids Ballet dancers. Photo by Michael Auer.

By Steve Sucato

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 new Nutcracker 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.

It was with that same determination that the first-time artistic director vaulted GRB from a largely unknown regional company in Michigan to one in the national spotlight in less than four years. Born in Richland, Washington, Barker studied at the Boston Ballet School and at Pacific Northwest Ballet School before joining PNB in 1981. She became a principal in 1986, starring with the company until her retirement in 2007.

Prior to her taking the reins at GRB in 2010, Barker honed her business and leadership skills as designer/owner of dancewear line BKWear, as a spokesmodel and designer for Bloch Inc. and as an artistic advisor to Slovak National Theatre Ballet. Former PNB founding artistic director Francia Russell had sparked Barker’s desire to direct years earlier, so when GRB’s executive director came calling, she jumped at the opportunity.

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