Yesterday it was announced that former Paris Opéra Ballet étoile Laurent Hilaire will take over the artistic directorship of Moscow’s Stanislavsky Ballet effective January 1, 2017. He replaces Igor Zelensky, who has taken over Munich’s Bayerisches Staatsballett. (If that name sounds familiar: Yes, Zelensky is the director who took Sergei Polunin under his wing post-Royal Ballet.) Though Zelensky is officially staying on in an advisory capacity at the Stanislavsky through the remainder of the season, the former Mariinsky star has focused primarily on the Munich company since October, and it was in the intervening time that Hilaire’s visits to the company brought discussions of his appointment to a head. A frequent partner of Sylvie Guillem, Hilaire was a star of the Paris Opéra during the Rudolf Nureyev years.
Choosing a French ballet star to head a Russian company might seem like a strange choice, especially given that Hilaire has spent the vast majority of his career working at the Paris Opéra Ballet in some capacity: He was promoted from soloist to étoile by Rudolf Nureyev in 1985 (entirely bypassing the premier danseur rank), served as a ballet master beginning in 2005, retired from the stage in 2007 and became associate artistic director in 2011 under Brigitte Lefèvre, a position he held until the arrival of Benjamin Millepied. However, his career trajectory seems to have been designed to prepare him for such a leadership position—he was one of the more likely candidates to replace Lefèvre at Paris Opéra back in 2014 and was among those considered to replace Makhar Vaziev at La Scala earlier this year.
In a statement he acknowledged that he was aware of the potential disparity between his French roots and the company’s Russian identity, but expressed a great admiration for the enthusiasm and potential of the Stanislavsky dancers. Though he did not comment on programming plans, he did mention a desire to respect the company’s traditions without forgetting to look ahead—after all, this is the man who helped redefine what ballet could be when he originated a role, opposite Guillem, in Forsythe’s iconic In the middle, somewhat elevated.
Shuffling and re-shuffling the leadership of ballet companies across the pond has become something of a theme for 2016. Benjamin Millepied departed Paris Opéra Ballet after less than two years and was replaced by Aurélie Dupont. Makhar Vaziev left La Scala for the Bolshoi in March; Mauro Bigonzetti took over from him in Milan only to depart just eight months into his tenure. Sasha Waltz and Johannes Öhman were announced as the incumbent directors at Staatsballett Berlin, beginning their new posts in 2019 when current director Nacho Duato’s contract expires; the dancers quickly launched a protest of the decision. And the U.S. ballet scene hasn’t been without its own changes.
Are we in for more seismic shifts across the ballet world? Only time will tell. For now, we’re wishing Hilaire all the best as he prepares to take on his new position.