Atlanta Ballet CEO Arturo Jacobus retiring

Arturo Jacobus, CEO of the Atlanta Ballet, has announced he is retiring at the end of the 2020-2021 season. AJC FILE PHOTO
Caption
Arturo Jacobus, CEO of the Atlanta Ballet, has announced he is retiring at the end of the 2020-2021 season. AJC FILE PHOTO

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

In 12 years Jacobus grew the organization, established national profile

Atlanta Ballet CEO Arturo Jacobus, who has been working since he was 17 year old, recently glimpsed what to expect in retirement.

“The COVID situation has given me a good taste of what it’s going to be like to be at home all the time,” said Jacobus this week, adding that he’s not sure his wife Elvira is ready for that much togetherness.

Ready or not, life after the Atlanta Ballet is nigh. Jacobus, 80, announced last week that he would leave the company July 31, at the end of the 2020-2021 season.

Jacobus came to the ballet in 2009, and was promoted to CEO in 2014. He is credited with establishing financial stability for the organization and expanding its Centre for Dance Education. He also created a potential revenue stream with a new $3.7 million production of “The Nutcracker.”

“We are so very fortunate to have had Arturo Jacobus lead Atlanta Ballet for twelve seasons,” said board chair Elizabeth Adams, in a statement. “His passion for the art form has elevated the quality of our performances and inspired all who are associated with Atlanta Ballet and its Centre for Dance Education.”

When Jacobus arrived in Atlanta the ballet’s budget was $8 million a year. He boosted it to $12 million, enlarged its teaching activities, and brought the ballet to perform for the first time at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C.

Atlanta Ballet's film version of "The Nutcracker" features dancers Airi Igarashi as Marie and Nikolas Gaifullin as Drosselmeier.
Courtesy of Gene Schiavone
Caption
Atlanta Ballet's film version of "The Nutcracker" features dancers Airi Igarashi as Marie and Nikolas Gaifullin as Drosselmeier. Courtesy of Gene Schiavone

Credit: Gene Schiavone

Credit: Gene Schiavone

In D.C. the Atlanta troupe performed its new “Nutcracker,” with choreography by Yuri Possokhov and eye-popping new sets and visual effects created by scenic designer Tom Pye, lighting designer David Finn and video designer Finn Ross.

That moment was a high point for Jacobus, he said.

“To take the Atlanta Ballet to the Kennedy Center, to be invited for the first time, and to take such a unique, phenomenal piece of work to the nation’s capital was a singular experience,” he said.

Some Atlanta audiences were nostalgic for the “Nutcracker” that had been created by former artistic director John McFall, a version that had entertained young and old audiences for 21 years.

The new Nutcracker was among many changes to the company after Jacobus brought San Francisco Ballet principal dancer Gennadi Nedvigin east in 2016 to replace McFall and become Atlanta’s new artistic director.

The new director declined to “reengage” two apprentices and six dancers after his first year and five other company members decided to leave by choice.

“Any time a new leader comes in there is inevitably turnover,” Jacobus said at the time. “Certain individual dancers decide the new direction is not for them, and others are not fitting in with the new vision of the leader.”

Before his time in Atlanta, Jacobus was the chief executive officer at the Pacific Northwest Ballet for 10 years, and the San Francisco Ballet for another 10 years.

At the beginning of his working life, Jacobus served for 20 years as a bandmaster for the U.S. Navy, leading ensembles in France, Italy and San Francisco.

Compared to the military band, ballet is a slightly less regimented world, but there are similarities, Jacobus said.

“A lot of the principals of, shall we call it, enlightened leadership apply across the board, so that experience I had for those 20 years as a band leader in the Navy, I think they served me well,” he said.

Jacobus has also led the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, the American Center for Food., Wine and the Arts, and has taught at the Armed Forces School of Music in Norfolk, Va., and the Navy School of Music in Washington, D.C.,

He said he plans to seek no full-time work from this point forward, and to focus on exercise, relearning classical guitar and spending time with his four children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

All of those family members live on the west coast, and the Jacobuses plan to return there to a house they own in the town of Napa, in the heart of the Napa Valley wine country.

The Atlanta Ballet is mounting a nationwide search for a new CEO and Jacobus said he will “stick around” if they have difficulty finding a replacement.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to new experiments at many arts groups around the city. At the Atlanta Ballet choreographers were unable to travel to create new works with the company, so artistic director Gennadi Nedvigin gave Atlanta Ballet dancers a chance to choreograph their own work. Eight company dancers took advantage of the opportunity. Those works, called “Silver Linings,” will be livestreamed free to the public via the Rialto Center for the Arts’ Facebook channel on Feb. 12 and March 19.