Hope Muir knows how to scope out a prospective job: Slip into town unannounced, check out a company incognito, absorb the cultural vibe of the community, then bolt home to get busy on the application form.
She was sure, after her secret visit to the Queen City last November, that she wanted to become artistic director of Charlotte Ballet when the post opens in July 2017. The search committee announced today she’ll get the position.
Muir, currently assistant artistic director of Scottish Ballet in Glasgow, will drop in on the company over 15 months, learning from artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux before she replaces him for the 2017-18 season. But she and her future employers have already begun a group hug.
“When the final four candidates gave us their artistic plans, we loved her ideas,” says Lise Hain, chair-elect of Charlotte Ballet’s board of directors. “It looks like a continuation of Jean-Pierre’s format of some classical work and some contemporary, with Hope bringing in new and exciting choreographers.
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“We want to be pushed and challenged and shown refreshing things. We’re not going to take a sharp turn away from Jean-Pierre’s vision – she’s building upon his legacy – but she has international connections that can give Charlotte exposure to new choreographers.”
Muir thus becomes the third woman in her 40s to be named director of a ballet company in the last two months. (Aurélie Dupont will take over Paris Opera Ballet, and Julie Kent will lead Washington Ballet.)
“I knew the next stage in my career was to run a company, and it was about finding a good fit,” says Muir. “I danced in a very large company – English National Ballet, which had 70 people – and Rambert Dance Company and Hubbard Street, which both had about 25. That’s about as many as Charlotte, and that size fits best for work I want to do.
“Charlotte Ballet has two resident choreographers, which shows it’s interested in new works. A lot of structural (pieces) are already in place there, so I can step in and do the sort of work I am interested in.”
Which, on the evidence, is... everything.
The Toronto-born Muir has worked as a dancer, teacher, re-creator of ballets and administrator for 27 years. She has tried everything from classical solos to Cunningham technique – she trained with Merce Cunningham in New York – and has danced pieces by Jiri Kylian, Mats Ek, Twyla Tharp and other adventurous choreographers. She has remounted work by Christopher Bruce, Helen Pickett and Crystal Pite, names better known in Europe than the United States.
Unlike Bonnefoux, she’s not a choreographer: Hain and Muir refer to her as a dance curator. But like Bonnefoux, she wants to preserve a familial environment in which people grow.
Says Hain, “Each candidate led two dance classes. Hope had an incredible air of confidence and command of the studio, but she was engaging. When she gave dancers a piece of advice or made an adjustment, you saw a light bulb go off for them. We got feedback from dancers and staff and the advisory board, and they all took to her.”
Muir says she wants to “develop a repertoire that attracts and keeps dancers (for) long careers. I was at Rambert for all 10 years of Christopher Bruce’s tenure, and it was clear we weren’t a company people joined so they could be there a couple of years and move on. I respect the family of artists that has been created in Charlotte, and I want to make it attractive for dancers to stay.”