New director will bring world of experience to Atlanta Ballet

Gennadi Nedvigin, principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, traveled halfway around the world and spent half a lifetime preparing for his next major debut — in a role he might not have taken, if it hadn’t been for a remarkable experience with dancers of Atlanta Ballet.

Atlanta Ballet announced Thursday that Nedvigin will become the company’s fourth artistic director, after John McFall ends his tenure in the position on June 1. Nedvigin, who trained at the Bolshoi Ballet School in Moscow and developed an extraordinary breadth of repertoire on the West Coast, will make his official entrance on Aug. 1.

The news was still fresh Wednesday evening, when Nedvigin gave The Atlanta Journal-Constitution an exclusive interview. He’s thrilled, excited and a little overwhelmed at the news, he said over the phone, with a soft Russian accent. He’s in the middle of one of his busiest performing seasons, and has just begun to think about how he’ll prepare to lead the 87-year-old company.

Nedvigin anticipates a learning curve during his first year, as he works with dancers, staff and trustees to learn more about the company and school. Like the trustees who hired him, Nedvigin hopes to bring the company to a higher level — ultimately, so it can perform the world-class repertoire he’s experienced for the past 19 seasons with San Francisco Ballet. Such programming — by the likes of William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky and others — would help elevate Atlanta Ballet’s national and international reputation.

But that will mean getting back to the basics of technique, and Nedvigin intends to draw as much from his education at one of the world’s finest ballet academies as he’ll pull from a celebrated career with San Francisco Ballet, where he performed works ranging from classical ballets of the 19th century to George Balanchine’s neoclassical works to contemporary pieces by major luminaries in the field.

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A fair-haired Russian with chiseled features, a handsomely square jaw and deep-set blue eyes, Nedvigin is a modest, thoughtful speaker. On stage, he moves through classical lines with refined elegance, freedom and vigor — hovering for a split second at the height of his leaps.

At 39, Nedvigin is still at a high point in his performing career. And though he could have continued to perform with San Francisco Ballet, he spied the opportunity to step into a role he envisioned last season while staging Yuri Possokhov’s “Classical Symphony” on Atlanta Ballet. He was impressed with dancers’ eagerness to learn, he said, their quick comprehension and focused attention, as well as the energized atmosphere in the studio. It felt natural to work with Atlanta Ballet dancers, and mutually satisfying, Nedvigin said, as if they were all on the same wavelength.

Allen Nelson, chairman of Atlanta Ballet’s Board of Trustees, who oversaw the seven-month search, felt a similar ease in conversation with Nedvigin. At the onset of the search, trustees aimed to take the company to new heights while maintaining the organization’s culture, or “unique DNA,” Nelson said. “We were looking for somebody to build on the things that have been built to date; to enhance the technical skill, enhance the artistry of the company; to bring in world-class choreographers of the highest degree, and really allow this company to soar.”

To achieve this, the board chose not to seek a full-time choreographer, as many companies do, but chose to further McFall’s legacy of developing dancers through varied repertoire. Out of a strong talent pool, Nedvigin proved the right match, with the integrity of his training, “innate understanding of excellence,” and access to an international network of choreographers. Nelson took regular counsel from company dancers during the selection process.

On the administrative side, Nedvigin will have a few things to learn — about fundraising, and participating in the community as the voice of the organization, Nelson said. “We’ve got a very strong team in place to help along with that process.”

As Nedvigin plans to relocate to Atlanta with his wife, Miho Urata Nedvigin, and their daughter, Mila, he’ll start learning more about the company and setting goals. For now, he’d like to develop the school, so it would prepare more of its students to feed into the company. He aims to help dancers to show their best artistry while staying healthy.

“The company’s in a great place. They look strong, and I’m thrilled to continue working with them and bring them to new ground,” Nedvigin said. “It’s life-changing, for sure.”

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