Part of a Seismic Shift in Ballet, Hope Muir Takes on a Major Role
In early July, an article in the Toronto Star speculated on the delayed, but at this point imminent, announcement of a successor to Karen Kain, the precious former ballerina who had just stepped down as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada after 16 years. .
In the article, Tamara Rojo, Guillaume Coté and Crystal Pite, among others, were suggested as potential replacements. Hope Muir, whose appointment was announced on July 7, was not.
“The fact that they hired me and you had to use Google is telling,” said Muir, 50, the current artistic director of Charlotte Ballet in North Carolina. “I feel like more people like me, who weren’t necessarily big stars, are going to end up in these roles, with maybe a somewhat different take on what ballet can be: more diverse. , with more access and transparency about what you’re doing. “
Muir’s appointment – she enters the role on January 1, 2022 – is part of a seismic shift in the ballet world. Over the next two years, Helgi Tomasson of the San Francisco Ballet and Kevin McKenzie of the American Ballet Theater will both retire; Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui will leave a vacant post at the Royal Ballet of Flanders when he takes charge of the Grand Théâtre de Genève; Christian Spuck will be replaced by Cathy Marston at the Zurich Ballet when he takes over the Staatsballett Berlin.
“There is a new generation of artists,” Muir said in a Zoom interview with Charlotte. “You need people who want to have conversations with them, listen to them and have empathy for their experience and what they want.”
Muir was born in Toronto, where she began studying ballet, but only decided to dance professionally after moving to England with her mother at the age of 15. She joined the newly formed English National Ballet School, then danced with the English National Ballet, Rambert and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago before becoming a freelance director and ballet mistress. After a stint as associate artistic director at the Scottish Ballet, she succeeded Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux at the Charlotte Ballet in 2017.
“I think Hope knew she wanted to be a director when she was 5,” said choreographer Helen Pickett, who worked regularly with Muir at the Charlotte Ballet. “She is a connector and a unifier. She sincerely loves the community and has a long-term vision. She knows that ballet can evolve and she has a fine and fine understanding of classical and contemporary work.
In a high-profile conversation, Muir opened up about her early self-doubt, her ideas for the National Ballet of Canada, and whether the ballet world is doing enough to promote diversity and change. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
You once said that you didn’t want to run a big ballet company. What made you change your mind?
I don’t think I was confident in my own experience at that time. I had mostly staged work for small companies, and when I first applied for an artistic director position, I didn’t even have an interview. After I became Assistant Artistic Director at Scottish Ballet, I thought to myself, “Wait, I danced in a ballet company, I work in a ballet company and I shouldn’t narrow my options. After I arrived in Charlotte, I was 100% invested in the potential of this business and turned down a few offers.
But when the National Ballet of Canada approached, I paused. I was very aware that a job like this doesn’t show up that often. I sat with him for a while, then I thought, why couldn’t I do that? Something I kept thinking about, “You weren’t a star, weren’t you a ballet dancer?” Will they want a big name? I thought, “Well, why wouldn’t I find out? “
I think women often worry about their qualifications for a job while men will try their luck.
One hundred percent this has happened to us as women. Men will apply for things they have not experienced; women will do the checklist: do I meet the criteria?
What artistic vision did you present to the research committee?
There was no vision statement as such. They gave the contestants a three-year programming exercise that included various anchor ballets that you had to incorporate, as well as making sure there was representation from female choreographers, Canadian choreographers, and black, native choreographers. and color in every season. It was a fascinating and very satisfying exercise because when you look at the ballet repertoire, you realize that most of the ballets are choreographed by white men.
There were a lot of other elements in my presentation, but working with young choreographers is very important to me. My nature is to feed. I take the greatest satisfaction in the thoughtful development of artists and in advancing the art form. A ballet company today must lead with stories that connect and keep people interested in the classical tradition.
What will be your balance between classical and contemporary at the National Ballet of Canada?
I think the current balance between classic and contemporary is good. There are complete ballets that we will keep and relationships with contemporary choreographers like Crystal Pite, which I would love to continue. I would love to work with many people who have come to the Charlotte Ballet – Christian Spuck, Helen Pickett, David Dawson, Alonzo King. And I need to immerse myself in the Canadian dance scene.
There is a lot of talk about the need for more diversity, more inclusion, more female voices in ballet. Is change happening fast enough?
The conversation has started, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Changes need to be thoughtful, measured and permanent.
You have to give people opportunities without symbolism, and at the right time in their careers. I am thinking of commissioning smaller works first and asking people to come spend time while other work is in progress, as the culture and practices of a large ballet company can be intimidating. Then there are amazing people like Alonzo King who should be recognized as a trailblazer.
More work could be done in training to encourage girls to develop their individual voice. I started a choreographic lab here in Charlotte that operates year round, and I want to do the same in Toronto. If one opportunity per year arises, women are often too exhausted because they dance more. That way they can get in and out.
I am excited for all these ideas, and for my colleagues and friends who are also taking on managerial positions. Sometimes we get together and say, “Is somebody going to come and tell us that this isn’t real?” “
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