While it’s not typical for a ballet company to be on the front page of a city newspaper, Stoner Winslett has been anything but a typical artistic director. Her announced retirement from Richmond Ballet was front-page news for the Richmond Times-Dispatch in September. After more than four decades of guiding dancers through highlights and hardships, Winslett will pass the baton to Ma Cong, the company’s current associate artistic director, on July 1, 2024.
Winslett, the longest-tenured artistic director of a major ballet company in the U.S., has developed a company that is invested in both developing cutting-edge ballet and teaching future generations of artists and audiences. Recent successes include Jennifer Archibald’s 2022 commission Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, a gorgeous contemporary ballet with a timely message about diversity and acceptance, and the company’s excellent Minds in Motion arts education program, which brings dance instruction to schools in central Virginia, as well as in Portsmouth and Israel.
Richmond Ballet is choreographing its leadership change to be both collaborative and focused on sustainability and longevity. Cong is working closely with Winslett, who will step into the role of founding artistic director to support and advise. The company’s leaders are using the reorganization period to assess strengths and weaknesses as well as to prioritize making dancers and employees feel supported and valued. While recent years have been challenging for many arts organizations, Richmond Ballet ended its most recent fiscal year in the black. The emphasis from the artists, trustees, and administration on organizational well-being means that Cong will inherit a company with a supportive board of trustees, a healthy financial outlook, and time to focus on his priority, “an excellent product.”
Named associate artistic director in 2020, Cong brings international experience and choreographic talent to Richmond Ballet. Among thousands of children who auditioned for the Beijing Dance Academy when he was age 10, he was one of two boys chosen from the Yunnan province for the school. He focused on Chinese classical dance during his training, yet was invited at graduation to join the National Ballet of China, where he danced from 1995 to 1999. Cong then joined Tulsa Ballet, creating his first choreographic work for the Oklahoma-based company in 2004. Named one of the “25 to Watch” by Dance Magazine in 2006, Cong was selected as Tulsa ballet’s resident choreographer in 2009. He will continue to choreograph as well as commission other artists, such as Young Soon Hue, who premieres a new work for the company October 24–29, on a program that also features Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s Akwarium, in the Richmond Ballet’s Studio Theatre.