American Ballet Theatre says farewell to artistic director, looks toward future

Megan Brugger

NEW YORK – The American Ballet Theatre (ABT), an international cultural institution, is performing Swan Lake at the Metropolitan Opera House from June 13 through July 16th.

This performance was especially unique, as it represented a grand and welcome return to the Opera House after the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as Kevin McKenzie’s – the American Ballet Theatre’s artistic director – final season.

The ballet did a tribute to McKenzie during their finale, presenting him with flowers and bows and bringing him to tears. Instead of celebrating the dancers, the focus was on McKenzie’s work for the Theatre and the time he had sacrificed to making it the institution it is today.

Additionally, the program presented to audience members at Swan Lake had a large portion dedicated to McKenzie, describing his contributions, changes and how he sees the future of the program.

The program described how ABT was hit especially hard during the pandemic, as they are a company that relies on the in-person presence of both dancers and an audience. ABT made accommodations the best they could, by filmed performances and an increased social media presence.

While McKenzie is not worried about the future of ABT after the pandemic’s effects, he state in the program he recognized he is not equipped for the future of the company after the permanent changes that had to be made, especially with technology. 

McKenzie has been part of ABT’s family since the early 1990s, overseeing the growth of ABT’s training pipeline and Summer Intensives that now span across the country. 

“I realized the very thing that I don’t have a very high regard for, which is social media, is going to play a huge role in the company’s future. I feel the artistic director should know how to control the messaging and imagery,” McKenzie said to audience members in his farewell. “I believe ABT must be a catalyst to teach those with a short attention span to be an audience instead of just searching for cool things to look at.”

The intentional social media presence has served well for the company’s growth and reach. Because of this, company members are more easily able to interact with fans across the world, giving them access to updates, footage, information and more. 

It is fitting that ABT is housed in New York, a place often referred to as the “Big Apple.” New York is renowned for its vast culture, diversity and plethora of experiences. This nickname originated in the 1920s after John J. Fitz Gerald wrote a column for the New York Morning Telegraph about the “big apple” prizes for horse racing. Now, it is a symbol for the “biggest and best one can achieve.” according to writer Inka Piegsa Quischotte from “Travel Awaits.”

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