Philly Creative Guide

Creative Personality

Roy Kaiser | Artistic Director, Pennsylvania Ballet

Interview :: Roy Kaiser
by Ruth Weisberg, 1 Dec 2007

This month's "Creative Personality" is Roy Kaiser. Roy is the artistic director of the Pennsylvania Ballet, and is a former performer with the company.

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Host: Ruth Weisberg; Production: Tat Communication:
Tom Thompson, Videographer; Sage Thompson, Lighting/Sound; Editing, Jessica Lloyd

PCG: A brand new rehearsal space. A brand new updated production of The Nutcracker. Lot of newness going on, Roy.

RK: It's an amazing space. It's fantastic. It gives us three studios, exclusively ours, which will enable us to do so much, and get so much work done. And especially going into Nutcracker, we have a lot of rehearsing to do. We have costume fittings we still have to get done, and putting the final touches on the new production as well, so that will all happen here before we move into the Academy of Music in a couple of weeks.

"Many people that have been coming to the ballet for years... this will give it a fresh look, and maybe they'll see something new that they've never seen before."

PCG: The Nutcracker is getting its long overdue makeover! Why this, and why now?

RK: A very practical reason is that our old production was 20 years old. The costumes were taking on a life of their own, and didn't smell so great—the costumes themselves could've danced the production! I wanted to give it a fresh, new look. And we're not changing the ballet; we're not doing new choreography and doing a new production that way. We've set it in a different period of time, used different color palettes for both the costumes and set design and I think come up with something that's really beautiful. And also really exciting for Philadelphia. Many people that have been coming to the ballet for years, our former production is the only production they know. So this will give it a fresh look, and maybe they'll see something new that they've never seen before.

PCG: One of the really cool things about The Nutcracker is that it appeals to audiences of all ages.

RK: It's certainly appropriate for children and wonderful for children, and often times it's people's first experience with the ballet. But it's wonderful for adults as well. We perform George Balanchine's version of The Nutcracker, and the second act has some of the most wonderful choreography of any ballet that he did.

PCG: And you danced it! You're a former dancer with the company and now you've made the leap to the director's side of things.

RK: And a while ago, now. I began performing with the company in 1979. Can you believe that?

PCG: Did you have it in your personal and professional radar to eventually, when it was time to give up dance, to go into the management side of things?

RK: Absolutely. I knew very early on that I wanted to direct a ballet company, and never in my wildest dreams thought I would direct Pennsylvania Ballet company. It generally doesn't work that way. The previous directors gave me opportunities to teach company class and to take a couple of rehearsals and to start to work with the dancers from the other side. So I gained that experience and I really enjoyed it. So everything just kind of lined up, good timing, I was in the right place at the right time, and all of those clichés, but I couldn't be happier.

PCG: So where do you see the ballet going in years to come?

RK: You need to look first at the integrity of the work. It has to be good work that comes from the right place. It's part of our mission. It's part of what we need to do. I think that, if we, as a company, and if the art form just sits back.. I know I can sell tickets to The Nutcracker and Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty, and they're all wonderful works, but if that's all we do, we will die. We need to create work for today's artists, for today's dancers today.

"There are very few things that say Philadelphia as much as the Academy of Music does."

PCG: Even though this year's production of The Nutcracker has been updated, it'll be performed in the legendary Academy of Music. What is it about that stage and that space? Everytime I'm there it takes my breath away!

RK: To my knowledge, there's not another opera house quite like that in the country that's still in operation. It's just a wonderful combination of elegance, simplicity, and intimacy. It's a big house—it seats something like 2800 people! The stage is wonderful and expansive, so the dancers have room to dance big and cover space, and eat up space, which I love. And it's Philadelphia. There are very few things that say Philadelphia as much as the Academy of Music does. I feel fortunate to have that as our home. And around the holidays, and Nutcracker time, I feel especially fortunate, because I think that it lends itself to the holidays. We have the Philadelphia Boys Choir at every performance—they sing the end of the first act, the snow scene. So the combination of the Pennsylvania Ballet and our orchestra and the Philadelphia Boys Choir, the Nutcracker on the Academy of Music stage is pretty spectacular.

PCG: Wow!

RK: Yeah, makes you want to come back, right?!

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