New artistic director for Royal New Zealand Ballet

Former American prima ballerina to bring new energy to the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

The Royal New Zealand Ballet this week has appointed Patricia Barker as the company’s new artistic director. Ms Barker is a former prima ballerina and is artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet in Michigan in the US.

Ballet board chairman Steven Fyfe says Ms Barker has a wealth of knowledge and experience, having held positions of artistic leadership for more than a decade, following a distinguished performing career.

“The board was greatly impressed by Patricia’s vision for all aspects of the ballet company’s activities, together with her experience as an artistic leader. Her knowledge of both contemporary and classical repertoire, as a dancer, coach and director also makes her an outstanding fit.”

Ms Barker was born in Richland, Washington, where she received her early ballet training. She later studied on scholarship at Boston Ballet School and Pacific Northwest Ballet School. At age 17, she joined Pacific Northwest Ballet and quickly rose to the rank of principal dancer.

During her 27-year career, she performed extensively throughout Europe, Asia, Australia and North America in many of the great full-length classical ballets and contemporary works by renowned choreographers. She appeared as a guest artist with national and international ballet companies and performed in many galas throughout the world.

Ms Barker, with Jiří Kylián (The New Zealand company performed his Soldiers Mass recently), were co-artistic advisers to the Slovak National Ballet from 2006 to 2010. She has staged works for the Balanchine Trust for companies including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Slovak National Ballet and Hungarian National Ballet and for the past 10 years has served as a judge for the Youth America Grand Prix.

Patricia Barker became artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet and director of the Grand Rapids Ballet School in 2010. She curated a compelling and dynamic repertoire ranging from full-length classical ballets such as Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty to neo-classical masterworks including George Balanchine’s Serenade and Four Temperaments, Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs and Paul Taylor’s Company B. She also commissioned both full-length and short works by leading contemporary choreographers including Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and Mario Radacovsky.

She also oversaw Grand Rapids Ballet’s education programme serving over 600 public school students annually, a Dancing with Parkinson’s Disease programme, an Explorer Dance for children with Down Syndrome classes, and adult ballet classes.

She will join the ballet company later this month as rehearsals for the new production of Romeo and Juliet begin. Francesco Ventriglia, the company’s current artistic director, is the guest choreographer for this major new commission for the ballet company, and opens on 16 August.

“We are fortunate that Francesco and Patricia have the opportunity to work together over the next two months and this will make for a seamless transition,” Mr Fyfe says. 

Ms Barker will be the 12th artistic director and the second woman to hold this position in the ballet company’s 64-year history after Una Kai first held the position from 1973-75.

John Daly-Peoples has a relative on the board of the ballet company.