Australian native Danielle Rowe will become Oregon Ballet Theatre’s new artistic director, the company announced Monday. Rowe, who will take over officially on Feb. 27, will be the ballet company’s third artistic director in three years, following Kevin Irving and former company dancer Peter Franc, who has served as interim artist director since the company and Irving abruptly parted ways in June 2021.
“I am thrilled to join the Oregon Ballet Theatre team to cultivate the inquisitive and progressive energy of the company and the Portland community as we work together to thoughtfully re-imagine a more inclusive and exhilarating future for ballet,” Rowe said in the company statement.
She joins Executive Director Shane Jewell, who was appointed in November 2022 and took the reins this January, to form an all-new top leadership team. She will also be the company’s first full-time woman artistic leader in its 34 years. Former company dancer Anne Mueller served as interim artistic director after Christopher Stowell resigned in 2012 and before Irving took over in June 2013. Stowell succeeded founding Artistic Director James Canfield in 2003. Franc, who had high marks as interim director and was considered a serious candidate for the permanent position, will stay with OBT as artistic consultant, according to the company statement.
Rowe, who was born in Shepparton, Australia, began her dancing career in 2001 with the Australian Ballet. She was a principal dancer for that company and later for Houston Ballet, where she and Franc were dancers at the same time. She retired as a dancer in 2015 and began to choreograph, quickly making a name for herself.
Rowe’s work has been wide-ranging, covering both classical and contemporary ballet. As a dancer she originated roles in works by Paul Lightfoot/Sol Leon, Christopher Wheeldon, Wayne McGregor, Alexander Ekman, Crystal Pite, Marco Goecke, and Mehdi Walerski. She’s worked with choreographers Mats Ek, Jiri Kylián, Hans van Mansen, Alexei Ratmansky, and Christopher Bruce, and performed in works by Kenneth McMillan, Jerome Robbins, George Balanchine, Mark Morris, and Nacho Duato.
As a choreographer she’s created works for San Francisco Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theatre’s SWITCH program, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, Ballet Idaho, Grand Rapids Ballet, SFDanceworks, Dance Aspen, Barak Ballet, Diablo Ballet, Oakland Ballet, and Berkeley Ballet Theatre. In 2018 and 2019 she was associate artistic director of SFDanceworks, and during the pandemic she created several dance pieces for film.
OBT audiences saw Rowe’s Dreamland in the company’s April 2022 program of the same name. Martha Ullman West, reviewing that performance for ArtsWatch, noted: “The fight for inclusion is relevant to our times, and certainly to what’s going on in the world of the ballet, where choreographers who identify as female (with some noteworthy exceptions, such as Eugene Ballet’s Toni Pimble and Suzanne Haag) are only beginning to come into their own. Franc programmed Danielle Rowe’s Dreamland, he told Gavin Larsen for her program interview with the choreographer, not primarily for her gender, but because of his observations of her as a dancer when he and the Australian native were on Houston Ballet’s roster at the same time. ‘[She] always brought meaningful nuance and detail to all her movement, no matter the style,’ he said.”
George Balanchine famously said that “ballet is woman,” but in fact its leadership has long been mostly male. The Dance Data Project®, which tracks trends in the industry, reports that as of July 2022, 70 percent of artistic directors in the 50 largest ballet companies in the U.S. were male. Figures for smaller companies indicate that the disparity is slowly beginning to change. In the 51st to 100th largest companies, the male majority of artistic directors dropped to 59 percent, and in the 50 after that, women were in the majority with 57 percent.