PICTURED: Gennadi Nedvigin (center, in rehearsal with Atlanta Ballet), is moving from San Francisco to Atlanta to lead the company. Photo: Atlanta Ballet
ATLANTA BALLET has named Gennadi Nedvigin, a principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, as the fourth artistic director in its 87-year history.
Nedvigin begins work Aug. 1, succeeding John McFall, who has led the nation’s oldest ballet company since 1994. McFall, 70, announced seven months ago that he would retire at the end of this artistic season. That happens officially on June 1.
Nedvigin, who was born in Rostov, Russia, trained at Moscow’s famed Bolshoi Ballet School and danced with Le Jeune Ballet de France and Moscow Renaissance Ballet before joining the San Francisco company as a soloist in 1997 and becoming principal dancer in 2000.
He was reportedly chosen from among three finalists, a group that included Atlanta Ballet dancer John Welker, who’s in his 21st season with the company. and is founder/ballet master of Wabi Sabi, a company offshoot that collaborates with other art forms to create new works, often outdoors and often free of charge.
Dance writers nationally, including the San Francisco Chronicle and The New York Times, have called Nedvigin’s dancing “dashing,” “brilliant” and a “paragon of finesse.” In his 19 years in San Francisco, he performed everything from 19th-century classics and 20th-century masterworks to ballets by some of today’s best choreographers.
“I am very honored and excited to have been chosen to lead Atlanta Ballet,” Nedvigin said in a statement. “I came to know the company when I staged a work for them two years ago, and I was very impressed — not only by the quality of the dancers, but by their incredible enthusiasm and passion.”
Obviously, Atlanta Ballet chooses its leaders carefully, and not too often. Dorothy Alexander founded the company in 1929 and led it until she retired in 1963. Robert Barnett, who had been a New York City Ballet soloist under George Balanchine, danced in Atlanta and became a company member, teacher and choreographer before taking the top post. A burned-out Barnett resigned abruptly in 1994, citing, in part, conflicts with the board of directors and the working conditions at the ballet’s Midtown home.
John McFall’s legacy
Few would argue that McFall re-energized and raised Atlanta Ballet’s bar. In 1996, with dean Sharon Story, he founded the Atlanta Ballet Centre for Dance Education, now considered one of the Top 10 dance education facilities in the country, with some 1,300 students.
In May 2010, he led the ballet’s move to new headquarters at the Michael C. Carlos Dance Centre on Marietta Boulevard in West Midtown. The converted 5,000-sq. ft. warehouse is LEED-certified, a hub of recycling, bright and airy and spacious.
McFall’s tenure also will be remembered for its vibrant mix of contemporary and modern dance premieres, new full-length ballets and out-of-the box collaborations with such artists as Big Boi of the rap group OutKast, the Indigo Girls, the Red Clay Ramblers, the New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Choir and the Michael O’Neal singers.
A pivotal moment
“This is a pivotal time for our organization,” ballet board chair Allen W. Nelson said in a statement. “We are confident that Gennadi will be a leader who can build on the rich legacies of John McFall, Robert Barnett and Ms. Dorothy Alexander but also carve out his own legacy within our organization.”
Helgi Tomasson, Nedvigin’s director and mentor at San Francisco Ballet, says the dancer has “worked with the best choreographers in ballet from the last two decades — William Forsythe, Mark Morris, Alexei Ratmansky, Paul Taylor, Hans van Manen and Christopher Wheeldon. … With this experience has come a wealth of knowledge and perspective of choreographic possibilities.
“It has molded Gennadi’s artistic vision,” she says, “and it is his conviction that will shape Atlanta Ballet dancers and produce the finest performances onstage. As an artistic director for 31 years, I truly believe that he will thrive and lead Atlanta Ballet to an enduring future.”