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Stoner Winslett Announces Final Season as Artistic Director of Richmond Ballet

After 44 years at the helm, on July 1, 2024, she will take on a new advisory role of Founding Artistic Director, Richmond Ballet, The State Ballet of Virginia.



On the heels of the Company’s triumphant debut at Wolf Trap and prior to the Richmond season opening with Carmina Burana and Thrive at Dominion Energy Center September 22-24, Stoner Winslett has announced she will step away as Artistic Director of Richmond Ballet at the conclusion of the Ballet’s 2023/2024 season. After 44 years at the helm, on July 1, 2024, she will take on a new advisory role of Founding Artistic Director, Richmond Ballet, The State Ballet of Virginia, when Ma Cong, current Associate Artistic Director, assumes the main creative and leadership role for the organization.

Winslett is the longest-tenured artistic director and one of the few female artistic directors of a major ballet company in the United States in her era. When she arrived in Richmond in 1980 at the age of 21, Richmond Ballet was a civic company featuring students from the then five-year-old School of Richmond Ballet along with guest artists from major New York companies. She oversaw the merger of these two not-for-profit dance organizations and founded the Richmond Ballet professional company in 1984. In 1992, Richmond Ballet was declared The State Ballet of Virginia by then Governor Douglas Wilder.

During her four decades as Artistic Director, Winslett has built Richmond Ballet into one of the most respected dance organizations in the United States. She has led the Company through six seasons in New York City, its international debut in London in 2012, and the Company’s Asian debut in China in May 2015. She also founded the Minds In Motion community engagement program in 1995 and was instrumental in moving the Ballet to 407 East Canal Street in 2000.

Recognized as a decades-long leader in diversity and inclusion in the ballet field, in 2017 Winslett was part of a small group of artistic directors invited by Dance Theatre of Harlem to begin discussions addressing these issues throughout the field. This two-day exchange of ideas launched The Equity Project, a 3-year cohort led by Dance Theatre of Harlem, International Association of Blacks in Dance, and Dance/USA and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

While the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most performing arts organizations, Richmond Ballet took a different path. Under Winslett’s leadership and with meticulous guidance and safety protocols set by a superb medical task force, the Ballet successfully reopened in summer 2020 to serve young dancers with training and to provide audiences with uplifting performances under extremely difficult circumstances.

During her time at Richmond Ballet, Winslett has developed an impressive repertory for the Company, with a foundation of full-length classics and 20th-century masterworks coupled with a strong commitment to new works, nine of which are her own choreography and include her highly acclaimed version of The Nutcracker.

She has received countless awards and recognitions at local, state, and national levels, including the YWCA “Woman of the Year” for Arts, the Richmond Times-Dispatch “Person of the Year Hall of Fame,” Style Weekly’s “100 Most Influential People of the 20th Century,” the Governor’s Award for the Arts and the Smith College Medal. Winslett has been an active leader in the country’s performing arts community and has served as Vice Chair of Dance/USA, President of The John Butler Foundation, and as a U.S. Delegate to the Peoples Republic of China People-to-People Exchange in 2014.

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to extend our most sincere gratitude and admiration to Stoner,” said Margaret Clinard, President, Richmond Ballet Board of Trustees. “Over the past 43 years, she has built, maintained, and championed an outstanding professional company, a world-class ballet school and an inspiring community engagement program. We are very pleased to name her Founding Artistic Director, a truly deserved distinction that will live with her in perpetuity. As a community, we should be very proud of our Richmond Ballet and look forward to the vibrant work still to come under Ma’s leadership.”

Ma Cong has been widely recognized by the dance world as a bold, bright, and inspired artist and choreographer. Cong started his dance career at the Beijing Dance Academy, where he trained in the art of Chinese classical dance. He danced with the National Ballet of China from 1995 until 1999 when he moved to the United States. During his celebrated 22-year career at Tulsa Ballet, as both Principal Dancer and Resident Choreographer, he performed works by some of the world’s foremost choreographers and created many original works for important dance companies worldwide, such as Queensland Ballet, Singapore Ballet, and National Ballet of China. As a choreographer, Cong was described by The Washington Post as “Powerful” and Houston’s En Pointe as having “swiftly risen to become one of America’s most exciting choreographers.” Among his many personal and professional achievements, he was named one of the “25 to Watch” by Dance Magazine in 2006 for his dancing and choreography and received Joffrey Ballet’s “Choreographers of Color” award in 2013. Cong made his Broadway debut in 2017 while working with Julie Taymor on the revival of David Henry Hwang’s Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly, starring Clive Owen.

Cong’s relationship with Richmond Ballet began in 2009 when he choreographed Ershter Vals as a part of the New Works Festival. Since then, he has created nine world premieres for the Company, several of which have been performed by companies across the nation and taken on tour by Richmond Ballet to New York City, London, and throughout China. After being named Richmond Ballet Associate Artistic Director in June of 2020, Cong moved to Richmond in 2021 with his husband, Thomas Landrum, and their twin sons.

“From the youngest dancers in our education programs all the way to our professional dancers, Stoner’s influence has reached every corner of our organization. Her legacy in both Richmond and the world of dance is truly profound,” said Cong. “I am grateful to have the opportunity to expand upon what she has established in this amazing city and am excited to choreograph the future of Richmond Ballet.”

“When I arrived at Richmond Ballet in 1980, I was astonished by the quality of the civic ballet company that local enthusiasts had carefully built since 1957,” stated Winslett. “I was honored to be their first full-time employee and humbled to gain their trust to lead the Richmond Ballet into a new era. Working with many of those original pioneers as well as new community leaders, inspiring professional artists, and truly dedicated administrators, it has been a privilege to be able to build the Company into what we all share today. As I enter my final season as Artistic Director, I am very proud of what we have done together. I am also confident that Ma Cong is the right artist to continue our mission of awakening, uplifting, and uniting human spirits. As Founding Artistic Director, I look forward to supporting Ma and to watching his fresh ideas inspire and energize this community and beyond.”

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Richard Hayes is the co-founder of RVAHub. When he isn't rounding up neighborhood news, he's likely watching soccer or chasing down the latest and greatest board game.

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