Pennsylvania Ballet's Long-time Artistic Chief Leaving

Roy Kaiser, Features

By Peter Dobrin, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Roy Kaiser, Pennsylvania Ballet's artistic director for two decades, is stepping down. The former dancer, who started his career with the company 35 years ago, will stay on until a successor is found.
A search committee will be assisted by outgoing Kennedy Center president Michael M. Kaiser (not related), who is also the author of a plan designed to raise the ballet's artistic and institutional ambitions.
Roy Kaiser, 56, joined the company in 1979, and danced his last role - Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet - before becoming full-time ballet master in 1992.
Kaiser said that he looks forward to being able to accept invitations to work on projects elsewhere, and welcomes the lifting of the responsibilities of running a company often hobbled by financial challenges.
"One of the things I am proudest of is that we were able, even through difficult times, to find ways to maintain our creativity and develop new work and bring in new work to the company," he said. "That's what keeps the company alive, what keeps it a living, breathing entity."
The ballet's five-member search committee, chaired by board member David F. Hoffman, meets Thursday in person for the first time, and hopes to have a new artistic head named by the fall. The criteria will be developed by answering certain core questions - not only who is available, but also, does the ballet want to hire a choreographer or curator? Should a new chief have a background in Balanchine, the basis of the company's repertoire? Elder statesman or stateswoman, or rising star?
Executive director Michael G. Scolamiero said his hunch would be that the search committee would seek someone familiar with the work of Balanchine, and find a curator rather than a choreographer. "But you just don't know the answer. The search committee is just beginning to look into what the ideal traits and characteristics of the next leader will be," he said.
Balanchine, he said, "is such a huge part of our history and heritage, I would be very surprised if that was not to continue, though maybe not to the same extent. We are going to Vail [International Dance Festival] in July because of Balanchine, we were invited to the Kennedy Center for our 50th anniversary because of Balanchine. Certainly the works of Balanchine have advanced the reputation of the company unlike any outside of New York City, and we are very proud of that."
Kaiser, unlike his predecessors, was not a choreographer - he took over from Christopher d'Amboise - but rather a curator of the company's traditional storybook creations, such as The Nutcracker, and cultivator, as with choreographer-in-residence Matthew Neenan. During his time, the company added more than 90 works to its repertoire, including 34 world and 56 company premieres. Pennsylvania Ballet has also traveled widely, to City Center in New York, the Kennedy Center, and Edinburgh International Festival.
Named interim artistic director in 1994 and to the post permanently a year later, Kaiser came to ballet relatively late, at 17, after an early start as a tap dancer. At 21, he moved to Philadelphia from Seattle and San Francisco, to study at the school of the Pennsylvania Ballet.
"I remember saying to my father that it was going to be an interesting year," he said. "And I never left."
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VIDEO: The Pennsylvania Ballet

Videos, Roy Kaiser, 12-13
Sep 14, 2012
Artistic Director Roy Kaiser gives a video interview previewing our entire season.
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Artistic Director Roy Kaiser Weds Melissa deRuiter

Features, Roy Kaiser

By Kellie Patrick Gates
The Inquirer
August 02, 2012

In early 2003, Melissa, now the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts' executive vice president of development, was grants manager at the Pennsylvania Ballet. She was seeking a hugely important Dance Advance grant to fund Christopher Wheeldon's Swan Lake. Needing to learn as much about the production as possible, Melissa made an appointment with the ballet's artistic director, Roy.

Before the interview, Melissa and Roy knew of each other. Roy had unknowingly gotten Melissa in trouble, when she followed his example of wearing jeans to work. But the interview was the beginning of a workplace friendship. The ballet won the grant.

In 2004, when Melissa was acting director of development, they worked together on the ballet's first capital campaign, raising $12 million for new repertoire and the endowment.

Melissa decided in 2005 to take her current position at PAFA, the organization where her career began right after college, and where she had previously served as membership director. The West Chester native gave the ballet a month's notice, so it could find her replacement.

"Are you still here?" Roy would joke whenever he saw her in the halls.

During that month, Melissa, who is now 40, and Roy, now 54, both attended an event at a board member's home, and Melissa heard the board member ask Roy if he would like to be set up on a date.

Roy had separated from his wife about a year before. His colleagues knew it hadn't been an easy time, but no one asked about such things at work.

When she overheard the conversation about dating, Melissa thought to herself, "I guess Roy is ready to begin moving on with his life."

It was the first time she ever thought about him in a personal way.

The fund-raising and philanthropy world of Philadelphia is small, and Melissa's mentors at both institutions had taught her to foster contacts. Plus, she found herself really wanting to know more about Roy as a person. "I very collegially asked him if he would want to go have a drink, and shoot the breeze about my time at the ballet."

Roy's schedule, both professionally and with his kids, Roy III, now 21, and Cristina, now 16, was difficult. But on the evening before Melissa's last day, they went for drinks at the London Grill in Fairmount.

The evening was supposed to be about strengthening ties and establishing a friendship that would last when they didn't share a workplace. But Melissa said she never would have had the courage to ask Roy to get a drink if she hadn't been leaving. And even if she had, Roy said, he probably would not have accepted.

"I honestly thought as I was walking in, we'd be there an hour, an hour and a half, and then I'd be going home," Roy said.

They had drinks, and talked about work. "But then it pretty quickly turned into a much more honest discussion, where we were starting to talk about each other and ourselves, and it started to cross over into our personal lives," Roy said. When Roy realized what was happening, he suggested they get a table.

Melissa asked Roy about the emotional difficulties of his divorce, and to his surprise, telling her felt completely natural.

"I hadn't done that with anybody, to that extent. I tend not to talk openly very easily," he said. "There was a connection that night, no doubt."

Melissa revealed details of her relationship history, too. So intense was the conversation that the waitress asked, "Are you two married yet?"

They were the last two people in the restaurant when it closed.

After her final day at work, Melissa was off to Stone Harbor for vacation. Before she left, there was a text from Roy - the first text message he had ever sent to anyone. "IT'S A BEAUTIFUL DAY FOR A DRIVE. BE SAFE AND HAVE FUN," it said. Roy didn't realize he was shouting.

A few days later, right before Roy headed to Los Angeles for work, he called to ask if Melissa would like to see the Bolshoi Ballet when she returned from the beach. She didn't want to wait that long. "I really want to see you," she told him. "After you get back from L.A., come have dinner with me at the beach."

Roy thought she'd never ask.

Together at the beach, the sparks flew.

Roy was protective of his children, and it was a year before he introduced them to Melissa. Once Roy saw the bond grow between his children and his girlfriend, Roy knew he and Melissa would marry. "From my perspective, it kind of sealed the deal."

Melissa and Roy, who now live in West Mount Airy, had talked about marriage for years by December 2011, when the Pennsylvania Ballet was on tour in Ottawa, and Melissa flew up to spend time with Roy. "Melissa came to the theater, and said she found a beautiful jewelry store, and a ring she really liked." Roy took her back there to look, and while they bought nothing that day, they went shopping again back at home.

Melissa found a sparkly hearts-on-fire diamond she loved. Roy bought it and ordered a setting. His daughter came with him to pick it up, then he took a break from The Nutcracker to join Melissa's family Christmas celebration at her sister Cynthia's house, near Pittsburgh.

Cristina "knew I had the ring, and she was text messaging me every 10 minutes, 'Did you do it yet? Did you do it yet?' " Roy remembered.

After dinner, Melissa was washing dishes. She came back into the dining room to see if she had left anything behind. There was a napkin and her eyeglasses. "I picked up the napkin, and under the napkin was a box," she said.

Melissa opened the box, saw the ring, and looked into Roy's eyes. "Will you marry me?" he asked. She said yes, they kissed, and she forced the ring onto her hand, which was still pruny from the dishes.

They walked into the family room, where Melissa's family was already waiting with champagne.

The ceremony and reception for 100 were held at PAFA. "It's Melissa's professional home, and it also happens to be incredibly beautiful," Roy said. The rich colors "felt like a warm embrace," Melissa said. "And it's also part of history. It opened in 1876, and all of these people have passed through and had celebrations in that space since then."

The ceremony included poetry and humor, and references to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.

Cristina was a bridesmaid and Roy III a co-best man.

Roy was overwhelmed that all four of their parents, his four brothers, Melissa's sister and brother, and friends from around the country all made it to Philadelphia.

Before Roy became the Pennsylvania Ballet's artistic director, he was a dancer with the company, and before that, a Pennsylvania Ballet student. Go back even further, and you find the young man from Perth Amboy singing and dancing with his brothers as the Kaiser Brothers. When it was time for Roy's co-best man and brother Russell to make a speech, he didn't. Instead, the Kaiser Brothers regrouped - with Russell's son, Avery, filling in for Roy - and sang a special version of "Under the Boardwalk," with new lyrics all about Roy and Melissa. "It brought the house down," Roy said. 

For Melissa, the wedding began before its official beginning, as she stood in her hotel room and read a letter Roy had written to her. "He promised to love me forever," she said. "That got me."

Roy stood on the landing of the grand staircase with his best men, watching the procession of bridesmaid and matrons of honor and flower girls. Then finally, there was Melissa, with her eyes locked on his. "For me, that's where the wedding began, as she came down the stairs," he said. Roy cried until she kicked up a leg to reveal a teal-blue shoe. "Then I cracked up."

A bargain: Le Meridien hotel gave the couple a 50 percent discount on a block of guest rooms. It was an incredible price, and over-the-top service, Melissa said.

The splurge: Trolley transportation and a tour from Philadelphia Trolley Works, and Marcie Blaine Artisanal Chocolates' LOVE Park confection for out-of-town guests.

The getaway: A week in Paris.


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Pennsylvania Ballet's N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz

11-12, Roy Kaiser, Interviews

by Jim Cotter
June 2, 2012
WRTI's Jim Cotter speaks with Pennsylvania Ballet Artistic Director Roy Kaiser about the company’s season-ending production at the Merriam Theater through June 3rd.
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Back to school for Pennsylvania Ballet

Roy Kaiser, School of Pennsylvania Ballet, Features

By Ellen Dunkel
The Inquirer
May 07, 2012
‘Don’t be nervous,” Pennsylvania Ballet artistic director Roy Kaiser told the 23 girls and two boys with their left hands on the barre, wearing solemn expressions and numbers pinned to their neat dance clothes. “Relax and work hard.”
The first of two groups of 12- to 14-year-olds followed principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa through an hour of pliés, tendus, jetés, and pirouettes last Sunday morning in the company’s East Falls studios.
“She’s my teacher’s wife!” one girl squealed on the way out of the audition, referring to Ochoa, a calm, gentle instructor with a striking presence. “That’s so cool!”
And that’s the point: The company — whose current and former members, including Ochoa’s spouse, Alexander Iziliaev, now teach all over the region — is about to reopen its own School of Pennsylvania Ballet after a 20-year hiatus as one of the rare troupes without its own training program.
Students will learn from dancers they’ve no doubt seen — or even danced with — on stage at the Academy of Music, and whom they ideally hope to follow into a career in a professional troupe. The children’s cast of Pennsylvania Ballet’s seasonal highlight The Nutcracker, now gleaned from academies around the region, eventually will be drawn entirely from the new school.
“Everyone in the city is excited, of course, no matter what school they currently attend,” said Vanessa Ryan, whose daughter, Sarah-Gabrielle, 14, was auditioning. “I think we’ve been waiting for this day since the first time Sarah set foot at the Academy of Music with Pennsylvania Ballet to do Nutcracker. She was only 10.”
About 170 ballet students, ages 8 to 18, came to audition last weekend from as far away as Connecticut. Many were intimately familiar with the company from their days as mice, soldiers, and angels in the company’s Nutcracker. At least three of the girls had danced the part of Marie, the lead girl’s role.
Stephanie Bandura, 13, from Philadelphia, was one of the more active Maries. She danced the part for two seasons and toured with the company in 2009 to the Kennedy Center in Washington. Even after she grew too tall to be on stage among the smaller children, the company called her back to film the part for the taping of the holiday show on the wall at the Comcast Center.
But she was still unsure about the new school. “I’ve gone to the Rock School [for Dance Education] since I was 3. I don’t want to leave it,” she said.
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