Former American Ballet Theatre Principal Dancer Susan Jaffe has been named the company’s next Artistic Director. Jaffe’s appointment is effective from December 2022. She will succeed Kevin McKenzie who last spring announced his intent to retire after the 2022 season, following three decades of leadership.
What a profound honor it is for me to come back home to lead the artistic helm of American Ballet Theatre. I have experienced so many iterations of my career at ABT. I was a student, second company member, main Company member, teacher in the school, Advisor to the Chairman, and Director of Repertoire for the Company. The role of Artistic Director will be my seventh at this wonderful institution. To come back home is truly a dream come true! I am grateful to Kevin McKenzie for his passion, dedication, and stewardship of the Company over the last 30 years, and I look forward to working with everyone to bring ABT into its future.
Jaffe was appointed Artistic Director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT) in July 2020 and has since led the company in new artistic achievements, including choreographing a new Swan Lake (2022) and stewarding PBT’s presence during the Covid-19 pandemic and successful return to the stage. In addition, Jaffe joined PBT’s administration in the company’s renewed commitment to racial justice and equity with PBT’s Equity Transformation Team, prioritizing inclusivity on its stages, in its hiring practices, and in training programs.
I would also like to take this opportunity to say how much I enjoyed working with everyone at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre – she added – PBT is an outstanding organization, and the happy memories of working with the dancers, staff, and board will stay with me forever.
Declared by The New York Times as “America’s Quintessential American Ballerina,” Jaffe enjoyed a career as a Principal Dancer at American Ballet Theatre for 22 years. She performed on the international stage with the Royal Ballet, the Kirov Ballet, the Stuttgart Ballet, La Scala Ballet, Vienna State Opera Ballet, Royal Danish Ballet, Royal Swedish Ballet, and the English National Ballet. Her versatility as a dancer brought acclaimed interpretations to ballet classics, such as Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty, and dramatic works by Agnes de Mille, Antony Tudor, John Cranko, Ronald Hynd, and Kenneth MacMillan. She also worked with many prominent contemporary choreographers of her time, such as Twyla Tharp, Jerome Robbins, Merce Cunningham, Nacho Duato, Mark Morris, Ulysses Dove, and Jiří Kylián.
After retiring from the stage in 2002, Jaffe taught in the ABT Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and served as an advisor to the chairman of the board of ABT until 2007. In 2010 she became a Director of Repertoire at ABT. Two years later, she was appointed Dean of Dance at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) in Winston-Salem, NC, a position she held for eight years. During her tenure at UNCSA, Jaffe and her faculty implemented a syllabus based on the ABT National Training Curriculum and established the Choreographic Institute of UNCSA. Additionally, she raised $3.5 million in endowed scholarships and other scholarships.
In 2020 Jaffe was appointed the Artistic Director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. She helped to lead the company through the pandemic with digital programs, outdoor performances, and performances in museums. As audiences began returning to theaters, Jaffe curated programs that included classic ballets and diverse, innovative voices of today.
A choreographer herself, Jaffe has created works for American Ballet Theatre, ABT Studio Company, Grand Rapid Ballet’s Move Media, Company C Contemporary Ballet, Configurations Dance Theatre, and Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, among others.
Andrew Barth, Chairman of ABT’s Board of Governing Trustees, said,
We are thrilled that we can extend an almost lifelong connection between ABT and Susan Jaffe with this announcement. We thank ABT Trustee Susan Fales-Hill for leading our search committee through an extensive and comprehensive process. Susan Jaffe brings an amazing array of talents – prima ballerina, advisor, coach, mentor, teacher, and artistic director – to her new position at ABT. We suspect she will use them all to respect the history and legacy of ABT while moving us artistically into the future.
Kevin McKenzie, current Artistic Director at ABT, added,
I am so pleased that ABT will come under Susan’s care. She’s a colleague I admire who always maintained a sense of joy and fun. She is a wonderful teacher and coach, bringing the experience of an extensive and acclaimed performing career, working under three directors while at ABT. With her experience at UNCSA and PBT, Susan comes equipped with her own expertise and the ability to get the best out of those around her.
For more information, please visit www.abt.org.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.