Kevin McKenzie (dancer)
Kevin McKenzie (born April 29, 1954 in Burlington, Vermont) is an American ballet dancer, choreographer, and director. A former principal dancer with American Ballet Theatre, he has served as the company's artistic director since 1992.
The youngest of 11 children, McKenzie began taking dance lessons at the urging of his father, who was eager to see his son become the next Fred Astaire. Shortly after his first lesson at the O'Brien School of Dance, he found that he was drawn more to ballet than to tap dancing. After being informed of their great talent, his mother sent him and his sister to study at the Washington School of Ballet under the directorship of Mary Day. Following a year long bout of ulcerative colitis, McKenzie spent his senior year on preparing for the Varna International Ballet Competition. At the 1972 edition of the competition, he was awarded the silver medal for his performance in the junior division.
After his win, McKenzie joined The Washington Ballet, making his professional debut at the Kennedy Center in Les Sylphides. He left the company in 1974 to join the Joffrey Ballet, where he performed as a principal dancer, until 1979 when he departed to join American Ballet Theatre as a soloist. The following year he was promoted to principal dancer. During his time at ABT, McKenzie danced all of the major roles in the repertoire, though he excelled in princely roles. Retiring from ABT in 1991, he returned to Washington Ballet to assist Mary Day as her associate director. The following year he returned to ABT to take over as artistic director.
At time that he took over, ABT was $5.7 million dollars in debt and on the brink of collapse. Revitalizing the repertoire with new versions of The Nutcracker and Don Quixote, the company's fortunes were further strengthened by the arrival of Paloma Herrera and Angel Corella whose performances proved box-office gold. Adopting a new guest-star strategy, McKenzie gathered the strongest roster of male ballet stars in the world to continue the company's box-office success. By the end of the 90's, performances from Julio Bocca, Jose Manuel Careno, Vladimir Malakhov, Corella, Ethan Stiefel, Alessandra Ferri, Julie Kent, Herrera, and Irina Dvorovenko ensured that the company's fortunes remained high. Though a few dancers, such as Gillian Murphy, David Hallberg, Marcelo Gomes, and Herman Cornejo were promoted naturally through the ranks, this star-casting scheme had the unfortunate side effect of suppressing opportunities for the upcoming generation of dancers
With the retirement of this wave of leading dancers over the course of the late aughts, McKenzie changed course on the company's policy of importing established stars by opening the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School to nurture the company's homegrown talent and appointing Alexei Ratmansky as Artist in Residence to shape ABT's future choreographically. In recent years, while the company continues to perform McKenzie's versions of Don Quixote and Swan Lake, his Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty have been replaced by Ratmansky's restorations. Even as he has continued to support Ratmansky's choreographic endeavours, McKenzie has also invested in commissioning new work from female choreographers, particularly Jessica Lang.
McKenzie is married to the former ballet star, Martine van Hamel. The two co-founded Kaatsbaan International Dance Center.
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