Renowned choreographer Amy Seiwert was recently designated the new Artistic Director of Sacramento Ballet following a controversial year for the company. Seiwert spent eight years as a professional dancer at Sacramento Ballet, as well as with Smuin and LA Chamber Ballet. She has choreographed extensively for her own company, Imagery, and has work in the repertoires of dance companies across the country. The World Dances spoke with Seiwert about this new chapter, returning to Sacramento Ballet, her goals for the company, and more.
What is it like to inherit the artistic directorship of a company where you danced for eight years?
It’s daunting that the outgoing Artistic Co-Directors, Ron and Carinne Binda Cunningham, aren’t leaving by choice. There’s a lot of heartbreak involved there and it feels awkward. My dream job would be a transition where they fully supported me taking over the company. Ron has been really great to me. We’ve met up and had coffee. I’m going to just keep having the awkward conversations. I want to continue the beautiful legacy they’ve built there. I think acknowledging the awkward elephant in the room right away is the best way to go, but it has been hard. They’re my former bosses and I’ve learned so much from them. That’s my biggest challenge: dealing with the transition and make it as positive as I can.
I don’t know all the sides to this story so I don’t want to speak to that. I do know there has been a lot of new energy on the board and there will be new energy in the staff. There’s a search for a new executive director now, so I’ll be building plans with this person in the future. It’s an opportunity to develop something synergistically. There’s a lot of change happening, but that can be daunting too. We don’t want change just for change’s sake. We know that doesn’t work. We want to stabilize everything so the dancers are supported, so the community that supports the ballet is growing, and so the dancers are challenged by and grow artistically with the rep. I met with the board of directors and told them, “At the end of the day, I want you to be so excited that you’re on this board.” They’re volunteering their time. They’re committed financially to the company. That can feel like people expect you to just open your wallet all the time. I really want to rebuild the community—from the board side, the patron side, from the people who have been seeing the company for over 25 years. I want everyone to feel invested in what the company is doing. We’ve had a year of a lot of drama and we need to stabilize from that.
What are your artistic visions for the company?
They say when you get a new job, you assess, then you make a plan, then you implement your plan. I’m really still assessing. I can tell you that I’m really excited to get in world-class repertoire. That requires building relationships with the different foundations to make that happen.
What role will you play as a choreographer with the company?
I will get to create there, which is great. They have a beautiful group of artists, some of whom I already know well. With my own group, Imagery, I’ve always had a problem keeping dancers long enough. Because I don’t have enough to work to offer them, they end up taking full-time jobs with benefits from other people. Now I’ll be able to have consistent dancers with whom to create. That will be an incredible gift and that’s going to be an important focus.
Will you get to sustain your work with Imagery?
There’s a lot of discussion right now and we don’t know. There’s a board of directors for Imagery and for Sacramento Ballet. Imagery’s main series is SKETCH. That’s a laboratory environment to foster people taking creative risks. That is the thing that Imagery does of whcih I’m most proud. I really want to keep that in some way, shape, or form. How that will happen, I’m not sure. But I think the creation of a lab for experimentation is a way to serve our field that is important.
How prepared do you feel to take on this role?
I retired from dancing in 2008 and I feel that everything I’ve been doing from then until now has trained me for this job. I have experience being in board meetings. I have experience dealing with conflicts within a board that led me to seek executive training to learn different models for dealing with this conflict. I can read a budget, write grants. I know what marketing needs to happen. A lot of times, dancers are successful artists and then they get pulled into artistic directorship without any experience. I’m fortunate to have all that experience under my belt. It feels good, very grounded.
What was your response when you found out you were getting this position?
My response was really overwhelmed and really excited. And my husband was so happy!
What was the application and vetting process like?
It was interesting. I had some people ask me casually if I’d be interested in the position. When I first applied and talked to the search committee at Sacramento, I told them I wanted to be of service to them and give them my thoughts on what was happening. There was so much drama happening and I talked about rebuilding community. I invited them to use me as a resource because I wanted to support this institution that had given me so much. Then I made it on the short list and it became a more real possibility. That shifted how I thought about it. I’m in my 40’s now, and I look at the world very differently than I did when I was younger. I’ve grown into this urge to give back, and it felt like this was a way I could really give back to my field. As a choreographer, working with dancers and helping them accomplish something they didn’t realize they could do is so much better than dancing. Being a part of someone else’s process is such a gift. Being able to be in a company and advocate for pay equity and diversity is a gift. Getting to think about how to strengthen our art in the field is something that is important and exciting to me.
What are your goals for the company in five years?
I would like to oversee the achievement of a stable budget, dancers making fair wages, and an increase in the number of people that are truly invested in the ballet. I want there to be a buzz happening whenever this company is performing and that people are excited about what they’re seeing.
Sacramento Ballet in Seiwert's "I Want Inside," Picture by Annali Rose