The Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB) has anounced the retirement of Artistic Director Patricia Barker. In her five-and-a-half years at the helm of the national ballet company, Barker commissioned 12 new main stage ballets from New Zealand-based or born choreographers including six ballets with original scores by New Zealand composers. New commissions from local and international choreographers are in discussion for 2024.
Barker will retire from the RNZB following the end of the first season of the year, Tutus on Tour. Returning to the USA with her family, she will continue to play a supporting role in the industry. Barker has accepted a position on the board of Seattle-based contemporary dance company Whim W’him, will continue to support dance education internationally, and has been invited to work with the Czech National Ballet Brno, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Youth America Grand Prix and others in 2023.
Together with former Executive Director Lester McGrath, Barker successfully led the RNZB through the pandemic, navigating two lockdowns and a number of postponed or cancelled performances, and helped the company stay connected with audiences through the popular, digital Live in your Living Room and Ballet Bites seasons.
With McGrath, Barker also led the company’s transition out of its home at the St James Theatre – when required for earthquake strengthening and a significant upgrade of its studio, production and office facilities – and then back in again in 2022. The RNZB returns to its rehearsal space and offices from late January as it prepares to celebrate its 70th Anniversary season.
Barker has quietly nurtured a close and productive relationship with the New Zealand School of Dance, rejuvenated the company’s connections with local ballet schools, grown the number of New Zealand-born and trained dancers in the company, and established new pathways into the RNZB through three new scholar positions funded by the Friedlander Foundation and the Royal New Zealand Ballet Foundation. She has supported New Zealand’s next generation of dancers in other ways, too, such as expanding the number of dancers employed after training in New Zealand, and encouraging New Zealand dancers who have undertaken their training overseas to find their artistic home at the RNZB.
Her support of the RNZB’s education and accessibility programmes has seen a year-on-year growth of engagement with education initiatives in schools and theatres. Also, the establishment of a five-year partnership with the Department of Corrections in which the RNZB delivers dance workshops as part of rehabilitation programmes in prisons. A recent expansion has been in opportunities for neurodiverse children to experience live dance free of charge, and Te Reo Māori and New Zealand Sign Language narration of selected shows.
Barker says, “I turn 60 this year, and with 43 years working in classical ballet, 14 of them as an Artistic Director, it is time to pass the baton to the next generation. I am excited to start a new chapter and play a more supportive role. It is time for me to be an enthusiastic member of the audience, applauding the enormous efforts that create beautiful performances. I am proud of what has been achieved during my leadership of the RNZB. It came with its challenges by way of a global pandemic and a not-so-temporary change in our home and rehearsal space. We remained a resilient organisation through it all and worked to a brighter, more fruitful future. I wish the organisation every success and look forward to attending a performance in the US next time the company tours or the next time I visit New Zealand.”
She adds, “I am grateful for the support of our audiences, in theatres and online, for the many journeys that we have taken together. The work of my brilliant artistic team and the many talented dancers I’ve worked with at the RNZB. During my time here, I have been inspired and deeply moved by the collective work from the wonderful magical creatives who have achieved inspirational moments both onstage and off. I acknowledge the hard work of our staff and the many Board members with whom I have worked closely. An organisation’s strength is in its supporters and I thank all of them, and especially the RNZB Foundation for their constant support in the artform that inspires us all. I would also like to thank our colleagues at Te Papa for their support in expanding our family performances over the last four years, including relaxed performances, New Zealand Sign Language and narration in te reo Māori. A special thank you to former Chair Steven Fyfe and his wife Catherine who encouraged me to start this adventure and my journey with the RNZB and especially Catherine for her kindness and support as I navigated a new life in New Zealand.”
RNZB Chair Dame Kerry Prendergast says, “It has been an honour to work with Patricia, and I know the previous Chair Stephen Fyfe and the RNZB Board wish her the very best in her retirement and next chapter.”
The RNZB Board will shortly commence the recruitment process for a new Artistic Director. In the interim, David McAllister AC, former artistic director of The Australian Ballet (2001 to 2020), will step into the role.