In a chat with BalletMet Columbus artistic director Gerard Charles at the beginning of the 2011-2012 season, The Beat marveled and Charles himself even spoke in some disbelief about his tenure with the company. Charles was entering his 10th season as artistic director and his 26th overall with BalletMet, having been a dancer and assistant director.
There was no way to know at the time it would be Charles' last – in fact, it's a pretty fair bet he didn't know, either.It was announced yesterday that Charles is leaving BalletMet to become the Ballet Master of the renowned Joffrey Ballet in Chicago this July. Earlier today, Charles confessed somewhat jokingly that when he moved back to Columbus from Montreal "we were never moving again." "It's a great opportunity and I'm very honored to have been given it," Charles said of the move to one of dance's premier companies. "It just seemed right." He added that the move also even more closely focuses his responsibilities on the artistic side of things, something which he said has great appeal. "Artistically, you're always looking forward to the next challenge," he explained. "But you're also learning and being able to spend more time with the artistic side of things is the biggest appeal. This new position offers me fresh experiences and the opportunity to focus on what I like most - working in the studio." Charles leaves a significant legacy at BalletMet. Programs like 30 X 30 a couple years ago to the recent DanceTech, and his reading of classics like Sleeping Beauty and of course The Nutcracker, have been a gift to the community and to the company's repertoire. "I'm very, very proud of what we've done here," he said. "I was given a great opportunity, with the work of those who had come before me, to be able to do so much good work." BalletMet has forged artistic partnerships with a number of other central Ohio arts organizations under Charles' watch as well. He was pleased at what the company has been able to accomplish in trying times for the arts. When he became BalletMet's artistic director, there had been some rapid turnover in other leadership positions (current executive director Cheri Mitchell has been on the job about a year after some turnover there) and, Charles pointed out, his first season began about a week after 9/11. "The last 10 years have been difficult for the arts community. (Our success) has not been without a lot of hard work and it's not been done against the best of backdrops." "One of the things I was very encouraged by is that when everyone seemed like they were cutting back, we looked to the future and asked how we could build audiences and grow out of this." In The Beat's opinion, and knowing such a process is a team effort, Charles was the right man for the job. His knowledge of the institution, the audience and the community in Columbus has been, without question, a significant part of why and how BalletMet has been able to thrive. "Gerard leaves the organization in a strong position, in terms of finances, audience reach and reputation," board chair Mary Duffey said in a statement. "While we will sincerely miss him, BalletMet is exceptionally well-prepared to build on its foundation to move the company to the next level." Charles echoed this sentiment, telling The Beat "The profile of the company is good and BalletMet is in a position to attract a good leader." At the risk of over-sentiment, that person will have a tough act to follow. BalletMet's Board of Trustees has formed a search committee headed by board member and former board chair Susan Porter and board member and former board chair and development director Nancy Strause. The committee will launch an international search for a new artistic director, according to Duffey.