On the heels of the Washington Ballet’s sold-out performances of “The Sleeping Beauty,” Executive Director Michael Mael announced that after 18 months with the company, he would be leaving as of June 30.
“I’m at the age where I need some balance,” said Mael, 62.
“The ballet needs someone who is all in, somebody who is at every single performance and every single donor event and social event,” he added. “And that’s not where I am in my life.”
Mael first joined the ballet as a consultant after stepping down as executive director of the Washington National Opera in July 2017.
He arrived as a change agent, said Washington Ballet board chair Jean-Marie Fernandez, “to help us out of what was becoming crisis mode for us.”
That crisis was a $3 million debt, which Mael says was left behind when the ballet brought in star ballerina Julie Kent to replace longtime artistic director and choreographer Septime Webre.
“I’ve set the organization on a stable foundation and a course for moving forward,” Mael said.
The ballet company has a budget of $13.5 million, including its affiliated Washington School of Ballet.
“The debt is not retired,” Mael added. “We still owe money, about $2 million, and a mortgage on the house next door,” where Kent and her husband, associate artistic director Victor Barbee, reside, adjacent to the company’s headquarters on Wisconsin Avenue NW. Mael said he expects the ballet will see a small surplus in fiscal 2019.
Last fall, the Washington Ballet received a $1.5 million loan from the Lois and Richard England Family Foundation “to start paying down the debt,” Fernandez said, and it received a $1 million grant from the D.C. government this year.
A search for Mael’s replacement is underway, she said.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t wish he’d stay longer,” Fernandez said, “but there were no pretenses about how long he would stay.”