In early 2023, Susan Jaffe will take over as artistic director of American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in New York City. With a background as a principal with the company, the Dean at the School of Dance for the University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA), and artistic director of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre (PBT), her experience points toward a future of growth within the company. She’ll join Lourdes Lopez (Miami City Ballet) and Tamara Rojo (San Francisco Ballet, as of late 2022) as one of three female artistic directors within the top 10 ballet companies in the United States.
Jaffe has a lot of ideas for ABT and plans to use her background as a dancer as a guide to navigate a world of male dominated leaders.
“Women are far more bold and adventurous than they used to be, and feel that they can accomplish things in the ballet world,” she tells Dance Informa. “I think that’s a reason why more women are starting to take those roles, as opposed to men. I’ve never been a man, so I don’t know if people push on men’s boundaries as people push on my boundary. But I’ll just put a line in the sand, with kindness and compassion but firmness. That helps me be able to lead people in a way that’s positive.”
It’s also important to Jaffe to increase the diverse voices presenting work, as she had previously done at UNCSA and PBT.
“For me, to go into an audience where the audience is diverse because of what’s being offered, it’s such a celebration,” Jaffe says. “It’s so fun! I want to do more of this.”
Jaffe’s goal is to diversify the choreographic voices in short ballets, plotless ballets, contemporary ballets, as well as full-length story ballets. Audience building is always a concern for any dance company, and Jaffe hopes to make ballet accessible and welcoming to more audiences. Part of that philosophy stems from working in a collegiate dance program and recognizing the deep value of a dance education, whether or not students end up as dancers.
‘There’s so much data about how dance develops the brain in very significant ways,” Jaffe notes. “Dancers have some of the highest stats in critical thinking. I think it’s because of the unbelievable amount of multi-tasking, proprioception, balance, coordination, spatial awareness, music, rhythm, velocity. There are so many things that are required of a dancer. You develop a really deep understanding, just by movement, in so many areas like critical thinking.”
Jaffe arrives back to NYC from her current home in Pennsylvania, in early winter 2022, to shadow departing Artistic Director of 30 years Kevin McKenzie before taking the reins in the new year. She’s excited to visit the Met, shop at (the last remaining) Fairway and nurture the dancers in the best way she knows how.
“The tenacity that is developed as a result of dancing and doing nearly impossible things (beautifully, I might add) really develops a human being from the inside out,” Jaffe says. “I always say, ballet taught me how to be a human.”
By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.