A former principal dancer of the company, McKenzie is a direct link to the founders of the Ballet Theater, formed in 1939 by Richard Pleasant and funded in part by dancer Lucia Chase. She became co-director, with Oliver Smith, set designer, in 1945, and hired McKenzie in 1979, shortly before Mikhail Baryshnikov took over artistic direction in 1980.
McKenzie remained a significant presence at the Ballet Theater until 1991 (critic Arlene Croce once called him “the Jeremy Irons of Ballet”), when he became artistic associate of the Washington Ballet. It was a short apprenticeship; in 1992, he was offered the post of artistic director by a besieged, heavily indebted and directorless Ballet Theater. (Jane Hermann, who ran the company after Baryshnikov’s abrupt departure in 1989, had resigned five months earlier.)
“To say things were chaotic was an understatement,” McKenzie said of those early years. “I was first successful because everyone needed me, and our only resource was determination. I don’t think the current moment is a moment of crisis like it was then. It’s counterintuitive, but the business is healthy.
McKenzie will be leaving a company different from the one he inherited. In recent years, he has moved away from the Ballet Theatre’s historic dependence on international ballet stars. While there was obvious enthusiasm for the stars, he said, they “weren’t primarily focused on the success of the business.”
When asked if it was the right time for the company to change direction, Barnett said it was “a natural time in so many ways, as the pace of change has been so accelerated.” She added: “If Kevin has decided he’s overseen this catalytic year and this next era requires new skills, new interests and new ideas, I trust his gut on that.”
Barnett said the company, which has an endowment valued at $ 26.8 million, has managed to balance its operating budget ($ 45 million in 2019 and less than $ 30 million last year) over the years. last five years. She added that support from the government as well as individual and corporate donors has enabled the Ballet Theater to continue providing benefits and health care to dancers and musicians during the closure, as well as part of their salaries. For 2021, she said, the company was forecasting a number of different budget scenarios, given the uncertainties surrounding a return to live performance.