Arts Desk

Yet Another Director for the Washington Ballet

Another year, another director for the Washington Ballet.  The company has announced that Peter Branch, current head of Georgetown Day School from 1996 to 2010, will be taking over for Russell Allen as executive director starting in June.  While leadership has been stable on the dance side under artistic director Septime Webre, on the business side, things have been far more tumultuous.  Branch will be the company’s fifth executive director since Webre’s arrival in 1999, seventh if you count two interim directors—most recently board president Kay Kendall, who took over after Jason Palmquist left abruptly in 2007.

So why does the Washington Ballet go through chief administrators like kleenex?  It’s a tough job, certainly, though also one that pays (just above six figures, according to recent tax documents).  And outgoing director Russell Allen didn’t have it any easier. The recession hit performing arts groups hard nationwide, but the Washington Ballet suffered a crippling blow two years ago when the D.C. Council cancelled a $1 million earmark the company had been receiving annually, collateral damage from the fallout over councilmember Marion Barry’s earmark abuse.  The company made some painful cuts, notably replacing its musicians with canned music.

But it could have been worse—and it has.  Allen’s stewardship will be seen as a rebuilding period for the company, which hit its nadir under Palmquist: His ill-fated tenure saw the cancellation of 2005’s Nutcracker and a tour of Italy amid an acrimonious labor dispute with the company’s newly unionized dancers.

For once, the transition appears to be a smooth one.  Though Allen’s contract was not renewed (a decision the company says was mutual and “amicable”), the fact that he managed to finish his three year contract in full is an accomplishment by the Ballet’s standards.  Time will tell if Branch sticks around a bit longer.

Septime Webre on TWB directors past, present and future:

Martin Cohen: “A great friend…With his help and vision we were able to realize some significant projects.”

Tenure: 1 year

George Thompson: “Really brought a love of dance and an interest in developing our institution to the job.”

Tenure: 2 years

Jason Palmquist: A man with “business acumen” and a “commitment to excellence.”

Tenure: 2 years

Russell Allen: “I certainly hope his tenure will be happy and long.”

Tenure: 3 years

Peter Branch: “I have gotten to know Peter over recent months and look forward to partnering with him.  It is an exciting time to be at the Ballet and we have tremendous projects on the drawing board.”

Tenure: ?

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  • Jeff Parks

    Great point about Russell Allen's presiding over a "rebuilding period" for the Ballet. The past three years have seen the Ballet stretching artistically and taking well-recieved "leaps" (sorry). Russell Allen has a solid history of calm, solid leadership and is very well-respected in the industry for a good reason. His tenure at the Washington Ballet was a success by any measure - hopefully Mr. Branch will continue to lead the organization to greater stability and success.

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