Washington Ballet names new executive, Peter M. Branch, to succeed Russell Allen

The Washington Ballet announced Thursday that it has hired Peter M. Branch, the former head of Georgetown Day School, as its chief administrator. Branch, 68, will take over from Washington Ballet Executive Director Russell Allen, who plans to leave in the next few weeks. His three-year contract ends June 30.

Not including interim officials, Branch will be the ballet’s fifth top administrator since Artistic Director Septime Webre arrived in 1999.

Branch said he found out Wednesday night that he had been named the ballet’s new executive director, though he had been in discussions about the position since the beginning of the year. Branch and his wife, Paula Carreiro, who is head of the Beauvoir School, are donors to the ballet.

In an interview Thursday, Branch joked that though he has never run an arts organization, he descends from “a long line of impoverished artists and teachers.”

He had led Georgetown Day for 14 years when he retired in June. Before that, he had run schools in New York City, Long Island and Oklahoma. He established dance programs in a couple of those schools and a performing arts center in one.

“I don’t come in presuming knowing how to address all the challenges of a group like this,” Branch said. “I do see the Washington Ballet, with the strength of its programs and the reputation of its artistic director and the very fine reputation of its school, as in a terrific position.” Branch said his contract and salary have not been determined.

Branch’s knowledge of the local donor base seems to have been his chief selling point. Webre praised Branch’s “knowledge of the city. . . . His reach in the community is great.”

Webre added that among Branch’s priorities will be figuring out how to renovate or add on to the aging building on Wisconsin Avenue NW.

“We’ve got to raise more money,” Webre said.

Allen, a longtime arts leader who came to the Washington Ballet from the Orlando Ballet, said he is happy to have been able to increase the ballet’s earned revenue in a period of economic decline. The ballet’s budget this year is $8.2 million, with a projected deficit of $240,000.

“I’m thrilled the ballet is in as good a financial position as it is, with an amount of debt that can be gotten rid of. More people are coming to see us than ever. . . . I feel really good about the position I’m leaving the ballet in.”

Sarah Kaufman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism and has been The Washington Post's dance critic since 1996. But after logging serious sit-time in opera houses, church basements, fairground tents and lawn chairs, what moves her most is seeing grace happen where she least expects it.
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