Spotlighting NBS Alumni Leadership
For more than six decades, graduates of NBS’ Professional Ballet Program have been making their mark in the global dance community in a range of leadership positions—as artistic directors, advisors, répétiteurs, and teachers. Recently, two NBS Alumni made the news through their appointments to high-profile directorship roles in some of the world’s most prominent companies. Read below as we speak to Aaron Watkin and Demis Volpi about their new appointments and reflections on their time at NBS.
Aaron Watkin: Appointed Artistic Director Designate of the English National Ballet (ENB)
Aaron Watkin has been appointed the Artistic Director Designate of the English National Ballet, and will soon assume the position of Artistic Director, beginning August 2023. Speaking about his new role, he shares, “What I’m mostly excited about is to keep learning. I really have wonderful people around and they can learn from my experience, and I can learn from theirs. I want to take ENB onward and upward into a collaborative, safe, creative environment where the dancers’ voice means something.”
Aaron fondly reflects on his time as a student at NBS as supporting him in developing his passion for not only the artistic side of a leadership role in a company, but also the organizational and administrative skills required. He recalls organizing a student showcase of Paquita as an example of an important opportunity to develop the confidence and drive that would serve him as he took on various leadership roles throughout his career.
Speaking about his time at the School, Aaron shares, "When we were there, the heart of the School was studio A and B. And that’s where so many memories were carved....Canada's National Ballet School really provides a platform for you to make the most of what you can be. Without it, I wouldn’t be anywhere.”
Demis Volpi: Succeeding John Neumeier as Artistic Director of the Hamburg Ballet in 2024
Demis Volpi has been appointed Ballet Director at the Hamburg Ballet and will succeed John Neumeier in 2024. Connecting with us to speak about this transition, Demis shared insights into his approach in this new appointment: “I will start stepping into the company in Hamburg and understanding who the people are that are there. We often speak of institutions, but forget that institutions actually are the people. Institutions sometimes seem like they are this abstract thing, but it is really a conglomeration of individuals who have a common goal and commit to something. To move something forward."
Demis credits his time at NBS, and the unique connections between dance training and academics that are interwoven into student life, as playing a key part of his growth as an artist and a leader: “Now looking back in the position that I’m in, I realize that so much of what I am trying to do as an Artistic Director goes back to my time at the School."
Through exploring his artistic voice as a student, Demis quickly began to see the impact dance could make beyond the studio walls. He describes the experience as a young artist of "seeing dance as something bigger. Something greater…when I arrived at NBS, I suddenly started seeing the connections between dance and other things in life."
We hope you'll join us in congratulating Demis and Aaron! We continue to be proud and inspired by our Alumni community, who are shaping not only the ballet world, but the many industries and communities where they make a meaningful impact and realize inspiring achievements.
About Aaron Watkin:
Born in British Columbia, Canada, Aaron Sean Watkin graduated from the National Ballet School of Canada in 1988. Watkin is experienced in a variety of different styles of dance including Vaganova, Cecchetti, Bournonville, Balanchine and the French and English styles.
Watkin enjoyed a full career in dance beginning with leading classical companies including National Ballet of Canada, English National Ballet and Dutch National Ballet, where he worked his way up from Corps de Ballet to the ranks of Soloist. After 7 years of the classical repertoire, he was invited by world renowned choreographer William Forsythe to become a Principal Dancer with Ballett Frankfurt. During this time, he learned a completely new vocabulary of dance and had numerous opportunities to create new works with Mr Forsythe. In 2000, Watkin joined the National Dance Company of Spain under the directorship of Nacho Duato. By this point Watkin’s professional experience in dance included an excellent knowledge of diverse repertoire including the classical ballets of Petipa, Ashton and Wright, the neo-classical works of Balanchine, Forsythe and the contemporary works Kylian, Duato and many others.
In 2002 Watkin was appointed Associate Artistic Director to Victor Ullate Ballet in Madrid, Spain where he gained experience in many different areas of directing a company, from studio to administration. Watkin was a Choreographic Assistant to Mr William Forsythe, in charge of staging his ballets on dance companies throughout the world, including Kirov Ballet, Paris Opera, Dutch National Ballet among others. Watkin was the Artistic Associate Director of the annual Dance For Life AIDS Benefit Galas at the Cirque Royal Theatre in Brussels, Belgium. Aaron Watkin was appointed Artistic Director of the Semperoper Ballett in August 2006. During his 17 year tenure with the company, he created numerous classical full-length productions including The Sleeping Beauty in 2007, La Bayadère in 2008, and Swan Lake in 2009. In 2011, together with Prof. Jason Beechey, he created The Nutcracker, and premiered his own creation of Don Quixote in 2016.
In August 2022, Aaron S. Watkin was appointed Artistic Director Designate of the English National Ballet and will assume the position of Artistic Director as of August 2023.
About Demis Volpi:
Demis Volpi has been Ballet Director and Principal Choreographer of the Ballett am Rhein since the beginning of the 2020/21 season. The German-Argentinian artist trained as a dancer in Buenos Aires, at Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto and the John Cranko School in Stuttgart. He subsequently danced in the corps de ballet at Stuttgarter Ballett. He began choreographing for the company in 2006 in one of the Noverre evenings for emerging choreographers and in 2013, following his first successful narrative ballet ‘Krabat’, was appointed Resident Choreographer. He continues to be fascinated by stories and to explore the possibilities for storytelling within ballet.
He has created both narrative and abstract works for companies including American Ballet Theatre, Ballet de Santiago de Chile, Ballet Nacional del Sodre in Uruguay, Latvian national Ballet, Ballett Dortmund, Compañia Nacional de Danza de México and Ballet Vlaanderen. He has also created works for Canada's National Ballet School, where he was Guest Artist in Residence in 2014.
Since 2014, Volpi has also worked as an opera director, challenging the boundaries of theatrical genres. In 2017 he directed Benjamin Britten’s ‘Death in Venice’ in a co-production between Staatsoper Stuttgart, Stuttgarter Ballett and the John Cranko Schule.
Volpi was awarded the Erik Bruhn Prize in 2011, the Chilean Art Critics’ Circle Prize in 2012 and the “Future” category of the German Dance Award in 2014. He was also nominated for the Prix Benois de la Danse in 2017 for his full-length ballet ‘Salomé’ and, following the successful premiere of ‘Death in Venice’, he was named Emerging Artist of the Year 2017 in the critics’ poll organized by the professional journal Opernwelt. Demis Volpi was a member of the jury for the Prix de Lausanne in 2018. In September 2019 his work and achievements as a choreographer over the previous decade were recognized with the Merit Diploma at the Konex Awards in Buenos Aires. For Ballett am Rhein, Demis Volpi created ‘A Simple Piece’ and ‘Geschlossene Spiele’ and restaged successful pieces from his repertoire such as ‘Krabat’, ‘The Nutcracker’ or ‘one and others’. He also devoted himself to the interpretation of the opera ‘Herzog Blaubarts Burg’ by Béla Bartók. In the 2022/23 season he will present his take on the ballet classic ‘Giselle’.
At the beginning of the 2024/25 season, Demis Volpi will take over as artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet, succeeding John Neumeier, who has led the company since 1973.