On Monday Royal New Zealand Ballet’s Board of Trustees chair Steven Fyfe put out a statement addressing concerns raised over the past two weeks about the company. In a lengthy official response (see below), the Board backs new artistic director Patricia Barker, stresses the company’s support for New Zealand talent and says it will seek input from supporters and stakeholders via a forum to be held early next year.
It’s a welcome but somewhat belated response to the serious issues raised about dancer turnover, the number of New Zealanders to be engaged and Barker’s intentions for the company. The delay in detailed public comment from Mr Fyfe allowed many allegations to bloom.
As late as Sunday you could read in Fairfax’s Sunday Star-Times that “up to 20 of the Company’s 36 dancers” would not be returning in 2018. That number seems to be slightly exaggerated but not by much, and by very little if you count murmurs of a couple of contracts that will last only a few months into 2018. Mr Fyfe’s statement specifically refers to the company’s longest-serving dancer, Abigail Boyle, following Sunday’s Star-Times report of “fears” she is to leave the company after its first production in 2018.
I’ve taken a close look at RNZB programs from the past five years and know there’s been a huge amount of churn for at least five years around a core group of stayers. I can identify only 12 dancers currently on the books – one of them is Boyle, who joined RNZB in 2005 – who were with the company in late 2012.
For that reason I don’t think the crisis is entirely about what’s happening right now but one thing is sure. The RNZB board has plenty of work to do to restore confidence.
STATEMENT FROM RNZB BOARD CHAIR STEVEN FYFE
I wanted to take this opportunity to write to you following recent media articles and statements.
As you may be aware we have a new Artistic Director with proven experience as a prima ballerina and as an Artistic Director. As the Artistic Director of Grand Rapids Ballet, Patricia Barker strengthened both the artistic output of the company and established the ballet school and apprentice programme. This enabled Grand Rapids Ballet to nurture and develop talented artists.
It is these strengths which came through when we met Patricia; a balance of artistic excellence, commercial acumen and a focus on developing and nurturing talent. One of Patricia’s first recommendations was that the Royal New Zealand Ballet could do more to create pathways and opportunities to bring New Zealand talent into the Company.
In addition to her artistic abilities and vision, Patricia brings a strong commitment to the RNZB, our national ballet company.
Your ballet company has always been committed to:
- Bringing world-class ballet performances to audiences throughout New Zealand
- Providing opportunities for New Zealand dancers and creative artists and nurturing their talent
- Bringing dance and dance education to communities beyond ballet audiences
We want to hear from you
We recognise that some of our supporters have raised concerns about aspects of the RNZB’s direction. We have also received many messages of support.
We do welcome the feedback.
The RNZB holds fast to our three core purposes and we are committed to improving ways to engage with our community. As part of this we will be calling for input from our supporters and stakeholders, and we will convene a forum early in 2018 where the Board and the Company will meet with groups from amongst that diverse range of supporters and stakeholders to share ideas. We will provide details shortly.
We are committed to nurturing New Zealand talent
Doubt has been expressed by some about our commitment to providing opportunities for New Zealanders. The RNZB has always been a blend of ballet talent from New Zealand and the rest of the world. This is the model evident throughout all ballet companies. We are as committed as ever to nurturing New Zealand’s creative talent.
Our 2018 programmes features works by three young New Zealand choreographers. This investment in New Zealand talent has been curated and overseen by Patricia Barker, and is a core focus of her artistic vision for the company. This story in yesterday’s Herald on Sunday tells you more about just one of these exciting works.
Since Patricia Barker joined us as Artistic Director, ten dancers will leave the RNZB. Three are retiring, three are joining Queensland Ballet and four contracts were not renewed. We are delighted that the dancers joining Queensland Ballet will have the opportunity to share their artistry with a new and wider audience, and we wish all of our departing dancers the very best in the future. Equally, Patricia is committed to seeking New Zealand talent to join the RNZB.
Abigail Boyle and Sir Jon Trimmer will be with the RNZB in 2018, and we look forward to sharing stories with you about the roles that they will take on in the new year.
The Company offered three 2018 contracts to students from the New Zealand School of Dance (two from 2017 and one from 2016). While two went onto join overseas companies, we are delighted that Luke Cooper will be joining RNZB as the 2018 Todd Scholar.
We are ending 2017 in good heart, looking back on a year in which we have achieved notable artistic milestones, having delivered world-class performances, nurtured New Zealand creative talent and continued to build the strength of our dancers and our artistic team. Participation in the arts changes lives and so we are equally proud of the many ‘firsts’ we have delivered through our community and education programme, including removing barriers to participation for children in low decile schools and our work at Arohata Women’s Prison.
We are preparing well to meet the challenges of relocation during the St James strengthening project. And we are looking forward to reaching even more New Zealanders with our exciting, innovative and celebratory artistic programme, which includes six world premieres, an iconic New Zealand story, a ballet classic, new works by New Zealanders and the expanded delivery of our community and education programme. We have an exceptional family of sponsors and supporters and are proud and grateful to be associated with you all.
We thank you for your support. I welcome your feedback and comments.
With warmest good wishes for Christmas and the New Year,
Chair, Royal New Zealand Ballet Board of Trustees