Ballet B.C. names European Branislav Henselmann as its new executive director
Ballet B.C. is bringing in a new executive director from Europe who hopes to expand the company’s international profile.
The company has hired Branislav Henselmann, a German-born dancer who has a masters of fine arts in dance and business, and who’s worked extensively in London and New York.
He definitely sees opportunities for Ballet B.C. in the international realm. “The company is really made up of—and I don’t use the word lightly—world-class dancers,” he tells the Straight with enthusiasm from his home in London, before getting ready to move to Vancouver.
“I’m really fascinated about what [artistic director] Emily [Molnar] has been able to do. I believe it’s one of the best rep companies that I have seen in a long time and definitely there’s a place for it on the world stage. But also crucial to that is the regional and national level too. Now we have to build the infrastructure around it.”
Henselmann replaces Jay Rankin, the former Toronto Dance Theatre managing director who Ballet B.C. brought in from Toronto in 2009 to help it rebuild after a brutal financial crisis at the end of 2008. Since that time, Molnar has reinvented the company as repertory-based, showcasing the work of some of the hottest international contemporary choreographers.
Henselmann leaves his post as executive producer of London’s Michael Clark Company—an edgy troupe that’s made a name with its visual-arts collaborations at places like the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Tate Modern—to move to Vancouver to take over the reins of Ballet B.C.
To hear him talk, you get the feeling it’s fate itself that brings him here to collaborate with artistic director Molnar. Over the years, he’s had several opportunities to work and meet with her, first when he was artistic curator at New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute, where she came as one of its emerging choreographers after a long career as a dancer. More recently they bumped into each other in London, and she started telling him her vision for Ballet B.C.
Both share a background as classically trained ballet dancers who became interested in contemporary dance. (Henselmann began his training in Munich, then moved on to the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance in London, and eventually studied with the Merce Cunningham Foundation.) Henselmann says they also have common views on the art form, as well as knowledge about business.
“There’s a whole generation of us, and Emily and I are just about the same age, where one area doesn’t really exclude the other. I wanted to work with Emily because she is very clear in her artistic vision,” he adds. He points to her skill as an “educator and curator”, and in recognizing the potential for, say, resident choreographer José Navas, who had never created a work en pointe before she brought him to Ballet B.C.
“Working with Emily and working with an amazing company that’s re-energized and redefined itself interested me. I didn’t really work in a company that deals that much with repertoire before.”
Rather than shying away from the fact that the company is rebuilding itself, Henselmann sees it as a challenge and an opportunity. He expects his early weeks on the job to be spent getting to know all the dancers and other members of the company, and seeing what they aspire to. “I want to get everyone energized about the possibilities that a company can do. And these possibilities need to be identified. I’ll be looking at operations but looking beyond them as well, stepping back and saying ‘How about thinking about the company in this way as well?’
“Everyone has been so concentrated on making it happen over the last three years, my responsibility will be to try and induce that change.”
Clearly the company also feels that, after getting back on its feet after 2008, it's finally in a position to look at growth. In a press statement released today, Ballet B.C. board chair Kevin B. Leslie said: “Mr. Henselmann is a creative, dynamic and passionate arts professional with senior management experience and a global network that will prove invaluable to Ballet BC. We anticipate that working with him will extend Ballet BC’s reach to include both American and European audiences, as well as expand the company’s profile and reputation in Canada.”