School of American Ballet Winter Ball, Monday, March 11, 2019, David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

The School of American Ballet marked its 85th anniversary on Monday night with a Winter Ball and the arrival of a new director.

Wes Gordon, Dyllón Burnside and Indre Rockefeller came out to toast SAB’s dancers as well as Jonathan Stafford, who two weeks ago was appointed artistic director for SAB as well as New York City Ballet. Stafford had been serving as the company’s interim director since early 2018, when his predecessor Peter Martins resigned amid allegations of misconduct. He will share his duties at City Ballet with fellow former dancer and newly minted associate artistic director Wendy Whelan, who was unable to attend Monday’s gala.

SAB, the official training school for the New York City Ballet, is now in the hands of a revitalized staff. Stafford has put inclusivity and diversity at the top of his objectives there, with the goal to produce “a company that represents the city we live in and love so much,” he said.

School of American Ballet Winter Ball, Monday, March 11, 2019, David H. Koch Theater, Lincoln Center. Credit Photo: Erin Baiano

SAB faculty chairman and former NYCB dancer Kay Mazzo with new company artistic director Jonathan Stafford.  Erin Baiano

“I’ve been front and center for the work we’ve done in the company over the last year and a half. We hired an outside consultant to come in and do some cultural work around inclusion and equity,” Stafford explained of early changes at the company, which was beleaguered by a texting scandal last fall that resulted in the departure of three top male dancers.

“The diversity piece comes from the school because we hire [all of our dancers] out of the school. The next thing is to work with faculty so there is more sensitivity training. Learning is really crucial, you can’t really make changes unless there’s learning or else you repeat the same mistakes. So we are working really hard on inclusion, equity and diversifying the pipeline of dancers,” he added.

Stafford is also hard at work with artistic adviser Justin Peck on finalizing City Ballet’s 2019-2020 calendar, to be released in early April.

City Ballet principal dancer Teresa Reichlen — who addressed a sold-out audience on the company’s behalf following fall’s scandal — said she feels “relieved” by the recent changes.

“The younger leadership starting out will help further important issues,” she said. “I think it’s a really exciting time for SAB and City Ballet. We’ve seen our diversity initiative start to blossom. There were many, many months of unknowns and now we are all a little bit more relaxed.

“I’m settling into the role both at the company and the school. It was so temporary being in an interim position for 15 months, so I’m coming to terms with the fact that it’s not temporary anymore. I’m starting to settle into the job and put my head down to get into the work,” Stafford said.

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