Part of the Seismic Shift in Ballet, Hope Muir Plays a Big Role

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In early July, an article Toronto Star There has been speculation about the announcement of the successor to the esteemed former ballerina Karen Kain, who was delayed by the pandemic but imminent at this point, resigning as artistic director of the National Ballet of Canada 16 years later.

In the article, Tamara Rojo, Guillaume Coté and Crystal Pite were suggested as potential substitutes, among others. Hope Muir, whose appointment was announced on July 7, was not appointed.

“The fact that they hired me and you have to Google it speaks volumes,” said Muir, 50, the current artistic director of the Charlotte Ballet in North Carolina. “I feel like more people, like me, who don’t have to be big stars are going to be in these roles, perhaps with a slightly different approach to what ballet can be: with more variety, more reach, and more transparency about what you are. doing.”

Muir’s appointment – stepping into the role on January 1, 2022 – is part of a seismic shift in the ballet world. Helgi Tomasson of San Francisco Ballet and Kevin McKenzie of American Ballet Theater will step down in the next two years; Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui will leave a vacancy in the Royal Ballet of Flanders when he moves to manage the Grand Théâtre de Genève; When Staatsballett takes over Berlin, Christian Spuck will be replaced by Cathy Marston with the Zurich Ballet.

“There is a new generation of artists,” Muir said in a Zoom interview from Charlotte. “You need people who are willing to chat with them, listen to them, and empathize with their experience and what they want.”

Muir was born in Toronto, where she began studying ballet, but decided to dance professionally only after she moved to England with her mother at the age of 15. She attended the newly formed English National Ballet School and then danced with the English National Ballet, Rambert and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago before becoming a freelance stage performer and ballet mistress. After serving as assistant artistic director with the Scottish Ballet, she took over from Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux with the Charlotte Ballet in 2017.

“I think Hope knew when she was 5 years old that she wanted to be a director,” said choreographer Helen Pickett, who works regularly with Muir on the Charlotte Ballet. “He is a binder and collector. He really likes the community and has a long view. She knows ballet can thrive and has a beautiful, keen sense of both classical and contemporary works.”

In a wide-ranging conversation, Muir talked about her early self-doubt, her ideas for the Canadian National Ballet, and whether enough has been done to foster diversity and change in the ballet world. Here are edited excerpts from the speech.

You said once that you didn’t want to run a big ballet company. What changed your mind?

I don’t think I trusted my own experience back then. I was mostly performing in small companies and when I first applied for art direction, I didn’t even get an interview. After becoming assistant artistic director at Scottish Ballet, I thought, “Wait a minute, I danced with a ballet company, I work for a ballet company and I shouldn’t narrow my options.” After coming to Charlotte, I invested 100 percent in the potential of this company and turned down several offers.

But as the Canadian National Ballet approached, I paused. I was very aware that a job like this didn’t come that often. I sat with him for a while, then thought, why can’t I do this? There was something I kept thinking, “You didn’t become a star, didn’t you become a prime ballerina? Will they want a big name?” “Well, why am I not learning?” I thought.

I think women will usually worry about their qualifications for a job while men will take their chances.

One hundred percent, this happened to us as women. Men will apply for things without experience; women will make the checklist: Do I meet the criteria?

What artistic vision did you present to the search committee?

There was no such visionary expression. They gave the nominees a three-year programming exercise that included the various anchor ballets you had to include and ensured that female choreographers, Canadian choreographers, and Black, Indigenous and color choreographers were represented each season. It was a fascinating and very satisfying exercise because when you look at the ballet repertoire you realize that most ballets are choreographed by white men.

There were many other elements in my presentation, but working with young choreographers is very important to me. My nature is to nurture. I am most pleased with the thoughtful development of artists and moving the art form forward. A ballet company today needs to lead people with stories that engage and engage people in the classical tradition.

What will be your balance between classical and contemporary in Canadian National Ballet?

I think the current balance between classic and contemporary is good. We have full-length ballets and relationships to continue with contemporary choreographers like Crystal Pite. I would like to work with many people who have been to the Charlotte Ballet – Christian Spuck, Helen Pickett, David Dawson, Alonso 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 inclusivity, more female voices in ballet. Is change happening fast enough?

The conversation has begun, but there is still much to be done. Changes need to be thoughtful, measured, and permanent.

You have to give people opportunities without tokenism and at the right time in their careers. I consider ordering smaller jobs first and asking people to come and hang out while other jobs are being done, because the culture and practices of a large ballet company can be intimidating. There are also great people like Alonso King who should be considered pioneers.

More work could be done in education to encourage girls to develop their individual voices. I’ve set up a year-round choreography lab here in Charlotte, and I want to do the same in Toronto. If there is an opportunity a year, women are usually very tired because they dance more. That way they can get in and out.

I am excited for all these ideas, as well as for my colleagues and friends who are in executive positions. Sometimes we get together and we’re like, “Is someone going to come and tell us this isn’t real?” we say.

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