Oldest Ballet Company Has New Director

Article excerpt

Under new artistic director John McFall, the Atlanta Ballet has begun to prepare for its 1996 season, when the Olympic Games descend on the city.

In the average business organization, searching for new personnel is routine. For an artistic entity, it can be cataclysmic -- especially if, like the Atlanta Ballet, it has had only two artistic directors in its 66-year history.

Last fall, America's oldest ballet company chose John McFall as its new director. A vigorous 48-year-old, McFall spent nearly two decades as a student, dancer and choreographer with the San Francisco Ballet before serving as artistic director of BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio. Although he favors a "something old, something new, something borrowed" program similar to most American companies -- that is, a varied program of shorter works, as opposed to full-length ballets -- McFall promises to be an intense, energetic, emphatic leader with definite repertoire ideas.

Not long ago, artistic directors were engaged to create ballets, a coach the dancers and plan repertoire. But in the early eighties, when federal arts funding began to shrink, artistic directors, like college presidents, became fund-raisers. "Now the artistic directors are CEO types, strong leaders" says Beth Holder, chairwoman of the search committee for the Atlanta Ballet.

During the years since the Atlanta Ballet's founding in 1929 by Dorothy Alexander, America's 60-odd professional ballet companies also have evolved -- mostly along two paths. Some, like the Atlanta, Boston and Dayton, Ohio, companies, were started by pioneers who trained their own dancers, invented their own choreography and formed their own boards; others, like the Houston, San Francisco and Pacific Northwest companies, were formed by boards who then chose the artistic directors. The first method seems to have produced a more consistent artistic identity.

McFall created eight original works for BalletMet, but his initial seasons with the Atlanta Ballet probably will not include new choreography. He hopes to stage full-length 19-century works -- "the classics" -- but first he plans to do what he calls "signature pieces" by well-known choreographers: ballets such as Antony Tudor's Lilac Garden, Agnes de Mille's Rodeo and Jerome Robbins' Fancy Free. He also plans to include world premieres by new choreographers. …

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