The Washington Ballet has hired Kennedy Center official Jason Palmquist as its executive director, the company announced yesterday. Palmquist, who steps into a position vacant for more than a year, will start the job Dec. 1.
There was no official word from the Kennedy Center about who would take Palmquist's place as vice president for dance administration, though Palmquist said dance program manager Kristen Brogdon would likely take over some of his duties. Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser was out of the country and unavailable for comment, though in a written statement he congratulated Palmquist, praising him as "a talented, energetic and passionate advocate of the art of dance."
In his 11 years at the Kennedy Center, Palmquist, 33, rose from intern fresh out of college to Kaiser's chief staff member. For the past nine years he managed the center's dance program, which has an annual budget of nearly $11 million. Among his largest tasks has been producing the Kennedy Center-sponsored national tour of the Bolshoi Ballet in 2000, as well as building the highly regarded Suzanne Farrell Ballet into a touring organization with an annual season at the center.
Recently, Palmquist began itching for more responsibility. "I have become more and more convinced," he said, "that I need to take that next step in my own career as arts administrator -- that being administratively responsible for an arts institution is something I need to do."
Having gotten to know the Washington Ballet and its artistic director, Septime Webre, through the troupe's frequent performances at the Kennedy Center, Palmquist determined that managing the company was the sort of challenge he sought. "I really wanted to go for broke," Palmquist said. "I really wanted to pour all of my energy into making a company run."
Among his goals for the company is including live music in its performances, which he said was "absolutely necessary if the company's going to continue its rise as a nationally important ballet company."
The Washington Ballet, with a $6 million budget, has seen three executives leave under Webre's tenure. The last, George Thompson, resigned in July 2003 after not quite two years in the job. At that time, the board of directors was already involved in the search to fill another position, a new director for the Washington School of Ballet. The search for an executive was put off until Webre and Palmquist discussed the post over lunch a few months ago.
Webre described Palmquist as "a genuinely nice guy" who knows dance well, has a strong business sense and has benefited from working closely with Kaiser, widely acknowledged as an authority on arts administration. "One of the things that we all found attractive about Jason is he's had one of the best mentors in the business, and certainly that doesn't hurt."
Asked why he thought Palmquist would outlast his predecessors, Webre quipped, "Well, Liz Taylor always entered her marriages optimistic."