A nurturing leader: Dani Rowe takes the helm at Oregon Ballet Theatre
Dance Informa speaks with Australian artist, Dani Rowe, who is taking over as artistic director of Oregon Ballet Theatre in Portland, Oregon.

Dani Rowe never dreamed of being an artistic director of a ballet company, but she now joins the ranks of woman leading prominent ballet companies in the United States, along with Susan Jaffe of American Ballet Theatre, and Tamara Rojo of San Francisco Ballet. Rowe is excited to take all she’s learned as a dancer, choreographer and mother to create a thoughtful and creative work environment that translates into inclusive art onstage. Dance Informa chatted with this Australian-born new leader about everything she hopes to develop while at the helm of Oregon Ballet Theatre (OBT).

Why are we finally seeing a rise in female artistic directors for major ballet companies?

“We’re recognising the importance of varied perspectives, and the need to hear stories from all sorts of mouths. Ballet, in particular, is very female-driven. We are the core of that. So, to have someone in the position of leadership that truly understands what goes into becoming a ballerina, and that you have someone’s career in the palm of your hand, it requires nurturing, understanding and true empathy – I think we’re recognizing the importance of that. To have females there that can truly empathize and provide a varied perspective, is just important. It’s needed.”

Did you ever see an artistic directorship role in your vision for the future?

“Genuinely, it’s never been on my radar. It really was a series of events, of people and moments. It was just serendipitous that I applied. Enough people said, ‘I think this would be right for you.’ And my experience at OBT was such a beautiful one when I came last year, that it just felt worth looking at. But as far as leading a company, it hasn’t really been on my radar.”

The search process to find someone to fill this role was exceptionally lengthy. Why did it take so long?

“The reason it took so long is that the search committee for OBT was very different from any other search committee. It involved not just the board members, not just the admin side…they really took into account the artistic perspective. They included dancers in the search process, they included artistic staff, they also included community members in the search process – so they had a very holistic perspective. There were a lot of varying opinions, and everything was a discussion. Just the logistics of bringing that many people together at the same time takes time! They really wanted to do it well, and factor in many different opinions and perspectives, rather than just from a business side of things.”

What are your plans for the company, now that you’ve stepped into this leadership role?

“I’m definitely in a feeling out period. I really want to make thoughtful decisions, sustainable changes and moves that are of substance rather than band-aid solutions. So right now, I’m just listening and gathering information. I have a lot of hope for the company on an artistic level. The biggest thing for me is that process cannot be undervalued and really looking at the ballets I choose to bring into the company. Not just what they are onstage but what the process is like getting them onto the stage: who is coming to stage them, how will those people work with my dancers, what will my dancers get out of that, and how can they use that later on down the track. Am I helping them to be greater and richer dancers, or am I going to traumatize them?

I’m looking at the whole experience. And also, providing and opening that to our community here – bringing them in, involving them, helping them understand, and peeling it back and revealing the scaffolding of ballet and dance. I think that really helps people appreciate dance a lot more. Especially here, there is a ‘maker’ culture and an appreciation for the building of something and understanding how it works, and valuing all the steps along the way. I think that’s something that drew me to Portland. I love that mentality. People are process-driven, rather than product-driven.”

Dancers are having longer careers these days, and many are becoming parents while still dancing and performing at a high level. What has it been like for you working with parents?

“They are not just dancers; they are people. Everyone has a life that’s bigger than what’s inside the studio. It’s important to me to look at them as a whole person and how can I support them being the best possible person they can be. That includes parenthood, and whatever support we can provide. What does that actually look like? Whenever I work with a mother or a father in the studio…your relationship with time is so very different. I always love working with people that have children because they are so incredibly focused and so incredibly grateful for the time to spend focused on dance and on themselves. What was so important before, isn’t as important now because you have a life in your hands. You think, ‘Maybe I don’t need to be so scared of that triple pirouette, maybe I just do it. And if I fall over, that’s okay.’”

What kind of leader do you seek to be for your dancers?

“I’m just so interested in how to get the most out of them, and get the most of their careers for them. To show care and that you really love, you sometimes have to be that person that says ‘no’, or ‘we need to fix something.’ Nurturing can often be associated with being soft and weak, but it’s not at all that. It’s about trying to identify what’s best for that person and being willing to put yourself in that position to provide that information and care.”

By Emily Sarkissian of Dance Informa.

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