McKenzie, a former principal dancer for the company, is a direct link with the founders of the Ballet Theater, founded in 1939 by Richard Pleasant and funded in part by a dancer, Lucia Chase. She co-directed with Oliver Smith, a set designer, in 1945 and hired McKenzie in 1979, shortly before Mikhail Baryshnikov took over artistic direction in 1980.
McKenzie remained prominent in ballet theater until 1991 (critic Arlene Croce once called him “the Jeremy Eisen of ballet”) when he became an artistic collaborator for the Washington Ballet. It was a short training; In 1992 he was offered the position of artistic director by a beleaguered ballet theater that was heavily in debt and without a director. (Jane Hermann, who ran the company after Baryshnikov’s abrupt departure in 1989, had resigned five months earlier.)
“To say things were messy was an understatement,” McKenzie said of those early years. “I succeeded in the beginning because everyone needed me, and our only resource was sheer determination. I don’t think the current moment is a crisis point like it was back then. It’s not intuitive, but the company is in good health. “
McKenzie will be leaving a different company than the one he inherited. In recent years he has moved away from the historical dependence of ballet theater on international ballet stars. While stars generated obvious excitement, they were “not primarily focused on the company’s success”.
When asked if this was a good time for the company to make a change in leadership, Barnett said it was “a natural time in many ways because the pace of change has accelerated.” She added, “If Kevin has decided that he oversaw this catalytic year and that this next era will require new skills, interests and ideas, I trust his instincts to do so.”
Barnett said the company, which has $ 26.8 million in endowment assets, has managed to lower its operating budget over the past five years ($ 45 million in 2019 and under $ 30 million last year ) to balance. She added that government support, as well as individual and corporate donations, would have enabled the ballet theater to continue providing benefits and health care and a portion of their salaries to the dancers and musicians during the shutdown. For 2021, given the uncertainties surrounding returning to live performance, the company planned a number of different budgetary scenarios.