Arts & Theater

Sacramento Ballet’s new artistic director is one of its former dancers

Amy Seiwert
Amy Seiwert Steve DiBartolomeo

Amy Seiwert first joined the Sacramento Ballet as a dancer in 1991, at the age of 21, and spent eight years performing under the tutelage of co-artistic directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda before moving to the Bay Area.

There, she emerged as an innovative and accomplished choreographer, sought by companies across the country that commissioned her to come in and create ballets. In those works, and in pieces developed for her own dance company, Imagery, Seiwert said she built upon a foundation set during her time in Sacramento.

“I feel like when you see my work, you are actually seeing a direct lineage,” Seiwert said. “I refer to it as my ‘ballet DNA.’ The Sacramento Ballet has been in me ever since I left.”

It will soon bring her back. The Sacramento Ballet has appointed Seiwert its new artistic director beginning in the 2018-19 season. She will replace Cunningham and Binda, who will serve their final season in 2017-18, their 30th with the organization.

The ballet’s board of directors, which announced it would look for a new artistic director earlier this year, selected Seiwert from an international pool of more than 35 candidates. Sacramento Ballet board member Andrew Roth said finalists during the selection process were brought in to teach a company class and meet with administrators and the board.

Roth said Seiwert stood out as “somebody who not only has a foundation in the history of Sacramento Ballet, but has proven over the last 15 years since she left the company that she’s a visionary artist who is forward-thinking and has achieved a pretty impressive amount of success on her own with her own company.”

Seiwert, who is from Cincinnati, said she’d been apprenticing with a dance company in New Jersey before coming to Sacramento in the early ’90s. She left in 1999 to join Smuin Ballet of San Francisco, where she danced for nine more years before becoming the company’s choreographer-in-residence.

She already was receiving commission requests by that time. In 2005, Dance Magazine named Seiwert one of its “25 to Watch.” She founded Imagery, a contemporary ballet company based in San Francisco, in 2011. Her new work “Wandering” premieres in San Francisco this month and will appear at New York’s Joyce Theater and Jacob’s Pillow in Massachusetts.

Seiwert said she has “always had a mission to kind of explode the preconceptions of what people think ballet is and can be.” Last year, she premiered a work called “Instructions” that was based on a poem by the English writer Neil Gaiman. She previously collaborated with a software artist on a ballet that included interactive on-stage video.

“Ballet is an art form with a super-fantastic and rich history, but sometimes it can be really slow to change,” Seiwert said. “So for me, it’s looking at all possibilities of what the art form can be, as well as having respect for where it comes from.”

Seiwert said the training she received under Cunningham and Binda “really has informed a lot of my aesthetic decisions as a choreographer and what I do.” Cunningham was hired as the Sacramento Ballet’s artistic director in 1988. Binda joined him in Sacramento the next year, and together the couple guided the company to national acclaim and developed its ballet school, which has nearly 400 students and has been instrumental to training the company’s dancers.

The ballet has faced financial challenges, including halting its season and laying off dancers with several weeks remaining in 2015, but last year made a long-anticipated move into the Clara Midtown studios at 24th and N streets in midtown. The ballet employs 28 dancers and 10 full-time staff members. Its 2017-18 budget reportedly is $2.76 million.

After it was announced in January the ballet intended to replace them, Cunningham and Binda told The Bee they were “not at all ready” to step away and the decision belonged to the board of directors.

Board president Nancy Garton said at the time the move was “a statement about what the organization needs to do for the future.” Roth on Tuesday described the company’s new artistic director as having “a national reputation as being a cutting-edge choreographer.”

Cunningham and Binda are contracted to the ballet through the upcoming season, which ends June 30, 2018. After that, they will be named artistic directors emeritus. Roth said Seiwert will work with the company as Designate Artistic Director this season to prepare for 2018-19, but that “really, the 2017-18 season is all about Ron and Carinne.”

“They really helped transform Sacramento Ballet, and put it on the map nationally,” Roth said. “So this season is really about celebrating all that they’ve accomplished.”