Nevada Ballet Theatre looks inward for artistic director


Quote "The Wizard of Oz," then consider Nevada Ballet Theatre.

As Dorothy movingly said: "If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any farther than my own back yard because if it isn't there, it isn't anywhere."

On Thursday, after a nearly year-long, global search, the ballet company announced it had taken Dorothy's cue, naming interim artistic director James Canfield as his own permanent replacement.

Canfield arrived as a stopgap measure in March after the sudden departure of ex-artistic director Bruce Steivel in December 2007 left the company leaderless. A former Joffrey Ballet dancer, Canfield was founding artistic director of the Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland, where he worked with Beth Barbre, who is now Nevada Ballet's executive director.

"I'm proud of the level the company is starting to become," Canfield says. "There is incredible potential and opportunity within this community. And we're starting to gain a national reputation, and we will take our place with the rest of the country."

Canfield takes over as only the third artistic director in the company's 37-year history, after Steivel and co-founder Vassili Sulich.

In addition to his ongoing responsibilities for leading the professional company, overseeing the affiliated Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre and expanding education and outreach programs, Canfield will prepare the troupe for its planned move into the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in 2011, sharing a state-of-the-art hall with the Las Vegas Philharmonic. Barbre will only define Canfield's salary as "comparable to other ballet companies our size."

"Honestly, I just didn't know it was an option at first when I asked him to come," Barbre says about removing "interim" from Canfield's title. He applied for the position on July 1, the last day of eligibility. "I wanted him to help with the transition. Because we were here, we were both interviewing each other. What's nice about having him here so long is that he was able to see it was the right fit, and so were we."

Still, the company's search committee interviewed more than 50 other candidates from the United States, Canada and abroad, whittling them down to six finalists from locations including New York, Seattle, New Jersey and San Francisco. Each was asked to submit a three-year plan for the company and teach a master class for the dancers.

"This is a man with an extraordinary background," says Nancy Houssels, the company's co-founder and co-chairwoman of the trustees, whose decision, she adds, was unanimous. "We were without a leader and in such an emergency situation.

"He guided us through a really turbulent 2008."

Barbre described the cost of the search as "minimal," done without "headhunters" and with donations for hotel room costs, amounting to "basically airfare and a couple of cocktail parties."

The company's operating budget for this fiscal year is $3.3 million, down from last year's $3.39 million, Barbre says, and officials will try to trim the budget further as the economy continues its downward spiral.

Along with his impressive background, Canfield also was trailed by controversy before arriving in Las Vegas.

"There was a line I heard from somewhere that said, 'He attracts controversy like lint,' " Barbre says.

In a 1998 story in the publication Willamette Week, Canfield was described as "a brilliant egomaniac, hot-tempered and controlling ... and an artistic genius."

Charges of staging explicit sexuality and violence in his programs dogged him, as well as accusations that training of young dancers at the company was unduly rigorous.

Barbre says that no such issues regarding Canfield have cropped up in Las Vegas, and when asked whether he's been involved in any conflicts locally, Canfield says simply: "No sir."

During his interim period, Canfield took the company to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. in September as part of the "Arts Across America" program, and supervised stagings of "Cinderella," "Giselle," his own ballet "Equinox," the annual "Nutcracker" presentation and a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil. The company's next production is an all-Balanchine program Feb. 6-7 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas accompanied by the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

story is embargoed until 2 a.m. Friday (1/9)

By STEVE BORNFELD

LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL

Quote "The Wizard of Oz," then consider Nevada Ballet Theatre.

As Dorothy movingly said: "If I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any farther than my own back yard because if it isn't there, it isn't anywhere."

On Thursday, after a nearly year-long, global search, the ballet company announced it had taken Dorothy's cue, naming interim artistic director James Canfield as his own permanent replacement.

Canfield arrived as a stopgap measure last March after the sudden departure of ex-artistic director Bruce Steivel in December 2007 left the company leaderless. A former Joffrey Ballet dancer, Canfield was founding artistic director of the Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland, where he worked with Beth Barbre, who is now Nevada Ballet's executive director.

"I'm proud of the level the company is starting to become," Canfield says. "There is incredible potential and opportunity within this community. And we're starting to gain a national reputation and we will take our place with the rest of the country."

Canfield takes over as only the third artistic director in the company's 37-year history, following Steivel and co-founder Vassili Sulich. In addition to his ongoing responsibilities for leading the professional company, overseeing the affiliated Academy of Nevada Ballet Theatre and expanding education and outreach programs, Canfield will prepare the troupe for its planned move into the Smith Center for the Performing Arts in 2011, sharing a state-of-the-art hall with the Las Vegas Philharmonic. Barbre will only define Canfield's salary as "comparable to other ballet companies our size."

"Honestly, I just didn't know it was an option at first when I asked him to come," Barbre says about removing "interim" from Canfield's title. He applied for the position on July 1, the last day of eligibility. "I wanted him to help with the transition. Because we were here, we were both interviewing each other. What's nice about having him here so long is that he was able to see it was the right fit, and so were we."

Still, the company's search committee interviewed more than 50 other candidates from the United States, Canada and abroad, whittling them down to six finalists from locations including New York, Seattle, New Jersey and San Francisco. Each was asked to submit a three-year plan for the company and teach a master class for the dancers.

"This is a man with an extraordinary background," says Nancy Houssels, the company's co-founder and co-chairwoman of the board of trustees, whose decision, she adds, was unanimous. "We were without a leader and in such an emergency situation. He guided us through a really turbulent 2008."

Barbre described the cost of the search as "minimal," done without "headhunters" and with donations for hotel room costs, amounting to "basically airfare and a couple of cocktail parties."

The company's operating budget for this fiscal year is $3.3 million, down from last year's $3.39 million, and Barbre says they will try to trim the budget further as the economy continues its downward spiral.

Along with his impressive background, Canfield was also trailed by controversy before arriving in Las Vegas. "There was a line I heard from somewhere that said, 'He attracts controversy like lint,' " Barbre says. In a 1998 story in the publication Willamette Week, Canfield was described as "a brilliant egomaniac, hot-tempered and controlling ... and an artistic genius." Charges of staging explicit sexuality and violence in his programs dogged him, as well as accusations that training of young dancers at the company was unduly rigorous.

Barbre says that no such issues regarding Canfield have cropped up in Las Vegas, and when asked if he's been involved in any conflicts locally, Canfield says simply: "No sir."

During his interim period, Canfield took the company to perform at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. in September as part of the "Arts Across America" program, and supervised stagings of "Cinderella," "Giselle," his own ballet "Equinox," the annual "Nutcracker" presentation and a collaboration with Cirque du Soleil. The company's next production is an all-Balanchine program Feb. 6-7 at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, accompanied by the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

 

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