NEW YORK — In ballet, the right fit is essential. Whether it’s a dancer’s pointe shoes, partner or swan costume, any minor glitch can cause a performance to go awry.

The same goes for a ballet company’s management. In the past four years, American Ballet Theatre has been through three executive directors. It’s no wonder ABT’s staff and supporters are hopeful that the latest appointee, Rachel S. Moore, who took the helm seven weeks ago, is the answer.

This story first appeared in the June 24, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Her most valuable asset may be that she knows a plié from a grande jeté. Moore, who most recently served as the director of Boston Ballet’s Center for Dance Education, is also a former ABT member, who danced with the corps during Mikhail Baryshnikov’s reign as artistic director in the Eighties. “I’m a bridge between the artistic community and the business community. I speak both languages,” says Moore, who looks equal parts business and arts in a polished green suit topped off by a crop of spiky red hair. Seated at a conference table in her new office and bearing the ramrod straight posture of a ballerina, she adds with a knowing look, “I’m also respectful of both of their priorities, which sometimes clash.”

Artistic director Kevin McKenzie, who was instrumental in selecting Moore, says that she just clicked during the interview process. “Every institution needs different things at different times. This institution needed Rachel right now,” he says. “It’s not just because she was a former dancer. It’s because she has this incredible arts education in the business world and specifically in the nonprofit world,” he adds. “When I say, ‘The choreographers all want to work with her’ or mention a full-length ballet that’s going to have this adjustment, she understands immediately without having to ask questions like, ‘OK, there are 44 costumes?’”

ABT’s chairman, Lewis Ranieri, who doubled as executive director this past year during the search for a replacement, says, “Rachel’s entire career has been spent in this industry. She’s not an outsider trying to understand. She’s an insider who in my assessment has spent all of her career preparing for this job.”

The task at hand is not an easy one. Moore cites her immediate goals as drafting next year’s budget, crafting a strategy and meeting board members and donors. (She also attends every performance, minus a few matinees when she can’t escape the office.)

As the nation’s ballet company and its second largest, ABT has always viewed its mission to be the standard-bearer for excellence in classical ballet, and a touring one at that. However, without a home theater — ABT rents space at Lincoln Center — or a holiday “Nutcracker” (the “cash cow” of most ballet companies, according to Moore), ABT has repeatedly faced financial challenges over the years.

Moore believes strongly that ABT should focus on its national scope. “We’re not regional. New York City already has a major ballet company,” she says. “How can we develop a structure so we can continue to tour and not put ourselves in financial jeopardy? That’s a huge priority for me.” She cites the production requirements for taking “Romeo & Juliet” to Washington as an example: four trucks of sets and costumes, 90 dancers and 40 additional staff and crew. The upside? “We have access to a lot more markets and can fund-raise from a much greater group of people.”

In 2003, ABT, which has an operating budget of $35 million, had a deficit of $1.1 million. However, Moore remains hopeful ABT will close the budget gap. In 2004, the endowment is up to $11 million from last year’s $9 million, and ticket sales and donations are still flowing in for this year. The company also has benefited from the deep pockets of Ranieri, who has contributed several million to ABT.

Although Moore’s day-to-day focus is to keep her eye on the business, her vision for the company leans unabashedly toward the artistic — most of the time. “Raising the bar of excellence in ballet is what we’re all about,” she says. “We need to figure out how to maintain that quality — and not lose our shirts.”

— Alison Burwell

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