Damian Woetzel

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Damian Woetzel (born May 17, 1967) is the 7th President of The Juilliard School.

Woetzel was a principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, where he performed from 1985 until 2008. He also frequently performed internationally as a guest star and visiting artist with numerous internationally recognized companies including the Kirov Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, until his retirement from the stage in 2008.[1] As a Principal Dancer at New York City Ballet, Woetzel danced virtually the entire leading male dancer repertory, and had works created for him by Jerome Robbins, Eliot Feld, Twyla Tharp, Susan Stroman, and Christopher Wheeldon among others. Woetzel also frequently performed as a guest star with companies including the Kirov Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, and starred in numerous television broadcasts and as the Cavalier in the Time Warner movie version of George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. Woetzel has also choreographed a number of ballets for NYCB and other companies.

Among his awards, in April 2015, Woetzel received the Harvard Arts Medal.[2] In July 2012 Woetzel was honored with the inaugural Gene Kelly Legacy Award - an honor jointly created by the Dizzy Feet Foundation and the Estate of Gene Kelly in honor of the 100th anniversary of Kelly's birth. Woetzel serves on the artists committee of the Kennedy Center Honors, the Knight Foundation's National Arts Advisory Committee, and was a member of the Harvard University Task Force on the Arts. Woetzel holds an MPA degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. In the fall of 2010 he was a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School where he co-taught a course on performing arts and the law.

In November 2009, President Obama appointed Woetzel to the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, where he has worked on creating the Turnaround Arts Program, which now brings arts education to some of the nation’s most challenged school districts. Woetzel serves on the board of directors of NY City Center, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, and Sing for Hope, and on the advisory board of Define American.

In May 2017, Woetzel was named President of the Juilliard School, replacing Joseph W. Polisi.[3]

Early life and education[edit]

Woetzel was originally trained in Boston at E. Virginia Williams ballet school, then moved to Los Angeles at 15 where he attended John Clifford’s school before joining Clifford’s Los Angeles Ballet at 16. He toured nationally with this company including to New York City; where he received raves in the New York Times and New Yorker Magazine for his role in ”The Young Apollo” a ballet made especially for him by Clifford. He danced many ballets by Balanchine, Bournonville, Petipa, as well as Clifford’s during his 3 years with that company. When the Los Angeles Ballet closed Clifford sent him to New York where he joined the NYC Ballet, quickly rising through the ranks. He was a particular favorite of Jerome Robbins. Woetzel attended Fay School in Massachusetts, where he graduated in 1981. In 2007, he earned an MPA degree from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.[4]

Career as director and producer[edit]

Aspen Institute[edit]

In June 2011, Woetzel was named the Director of Arts Programs at the Aspen Institute.[5]

Among the events curated by the Aspen Institute Arts Program under Woetzel's direction include the inaugural US-China Forum on the Arts and Culture in Beijing, in partnership with Asia Society and the Chinese People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries. American and Chinese artists and cultural representatives engaged in the forum included Joel Coen, Meryl Streep, Yo-Yo Ma, Alice Waters, Liu Ye, Ge You and others.[6] In March 2012, Woetzel produced a panel with Howard Gardner, the Hobbs Professor of Cognition and Education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and Dr. Ellen Winner, Professor of Psychology at Boston College, and Senior Research Associate at Project Zero, examining the current state of the arts in education.[7]

In June 2012, the Arts Program for the first time curated multiple sessions at the Institute’s premiere public program, the Aspen Ideas Festival.[8] For nineteen sessions, Woetzel brought renowned artists, policymakers, arts administrators as well as leading Chinese cultural representatives for discussions, film screenings and cultural exchanges focusing on how the arts impact society. In October 2012, the Arts Program under Woetzel's direction hosted the inaugural Aspen Arts Strategy Group, convening over 30 arts leaders from around the nation in New York City.

In December 2012, Woetzel and cellist Yo-Yo Ma organized a participatory visit to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD, where musician Arthur Bloom and his MusiCorps program help wounded warriors to overcome injuries and recover their lives through intensive music practice.[9] In April 2013, Woetzel and the Arts Program announced the appointment of cellist Yo-Yo Ma as the 2013 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence.[10]

Since 2013, the Arts Program has produced over 100 events in cities across the country, involving a range of participants including artists-in-residence Renee Fleming, Theaster Gates, JR, Goldie Hawn, Cameron Carpenter, Lil Buck, Alfre Woodard, Yo-Yo Ma, Eric Fischl, Julie Taymor, and Elizabeth Diller. Additional program expansion activities include the Aspen Arts Strategy Group, and the Creative Young Leaders Alliance.[11]

Vail Dance Festival[edit]

Since 2006, Woetzel has been the Artistic Director of the Vail Dance Festival, where he presents dance performances and commissions.

Under Woetzel's direction, the festival has received wide acclaim for its innovation and growth as a nationally recognized showcase for dance, featuring such performances as the debut of Morphoses/The Wheeldon Company, and the launch of New York City Ballet MOVES. The Festival has also hosted the Pacific Northwest Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Paul Taylor Dance Company, the Trey McIntyre Project, the Martha Graham Dance Company, and other major companies. As a major part of Festival programming and community activities, Woetzel has engaged noted and diverse musicians including Philip Glass, Eddie Palmieri, Caroline Shaw, members of the Silk Road Ensemble, Jennifer Koh, and Brooklyn Rider. The annual International Evenings of Dance galas have become renowned for Woetzel's curation of first-time partnerships across companies and countries, as well as the presentation of young, emerging stars making their debuts in new repertory. In August 2012, The New York Times' Alastair Macaulay wrote that the 2012 Vail International Dance Festival presentations "were distinguished above all by catholic taste and brilliant programming. They merit superlatives" and that the International Evenings I gala "was simply the best gala I have attended in decades."[12] Writing the same week, Wendy Perron of Dance Magazine compared Woetzel to the legendary impresario Serge Diaghilev, and praised Woetzel for engaging and educating audiences through spoken introductions to each work, and for his commitment to collaboration with live musicians.[13]

Also under Woetzel, the Festival has commissioned choreographers to create new works, including Paul Taylor, Christopher Wheeldon, Fang-Yi Sheu, Jill Johnson, Ronald K. Brown, Trey McIntyre, Matthew Neenan, Larry Keigwin and Brian Brooks.

Woetzel has instituted a number of other initiatives as director, including bringing the educational arts program "Celebrate The Beat" - the Colorado associate of Jacques d'Amboise's National Dance Institute - to the Vail Valley, to reach local underserved children in the public schools.[14][15] Through public events involving Festival Artists, Mr. Woetzel has also institutionalized several initiatives highlighting community engagement with the arts, including an annual celebration of National Dance Day, “Dancing in the Streets” programs, open Master Classes and “UpClose” lecture-demonstration events which combine rehearsal, performance and commentary by Woetzel and special guests. Recent UpClose performances have included: “UpClose: Footwork,” which explored virtuoso footwork in dance forms ranging from Memphis jookin’ to ballet to tango to modern dance (2013); "UpClose: Stravinsky by Balanchine," an examination of the legendary collaboration between George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky, co-hosted by Woetzel and New York City Ballet Master-in-Chief Peter Martins (2012); "UpClose: Premieres," which provided a first look at a series of works created in Vail by choreographers including Christopher Wheeldon and Emery LeCrone during the weeks of the 2011 Vail International Dance Festival; among many others.

In 2013, the Festival celebrated its 25th anniversary, and launched its Now: Premieres annual program which has presented new commissions from a wide variety of choreographers.

Lil Buck @ Le Poisson Rouge[edit]

In April 2013, Woetzel directed and produced a "jookin' jam session" at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, featuring the Memphis jooker Charles "Lil Buck" Riley with special guests including dancer Ron "Prime Tym" Myles, Yo-Yo Ma (cello), Marcus Printup (trumpet), Cristina Pato (galician bagpipe), John Hadfield (percussion) and the ensemble Brooklyn Rider. The evening featured a specially commissioned world premiere for solo cello by Philip Glass, co-choreographed by Woetzel and Lil Buck. Alastair Macaulay wrote in The New York Times, “As Lil Buck performed with an array of distinguished musicians on Tuesday night at Le Poisson Rouge, a series of extraordinary windows seemed to open, each revealing a new and imagined realm.”[16] On October 7, 2013, Charles “Lil Buck” Riley and Ron “Prime Tyme” Myles were awarded Bessies in the Outstanding Performance category for their appearances in Lil Buck @ Le Poisson Rouge.[17]

Kennedy Center Honors[edit]

In December 2012, Woetzel co-produced the tribute to legendary ballerina Natalia Makarova as part of the 35th annual Kennedy Center Honors, and in 2014 he co-produced the tribute to ballerina Patricia McBride. For his contributions to the Emmy-Award-winning CBS special, Woetzel was honored by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences for the 2012-2013 Primetime Emmy Awards.[citation needed]

World Science Festival[edit]

In 2009 and 2010, Woetzel produced and directed the World Science Festival Gala Performances at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. For the 2010 event he created an arts salute to science honoring the theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, featuring performances by Yo-Yo Ma, John Lithgow, and Kelli O’Hara among others.[18]

New Essential Works Program[edit]

In the fall of 2009, Woetzel co-founded and began directing the Jerome Robbins Foundation's New Essential Works (NEW) Program, which supports choreographers and dance companies during the current financial crisis by giving grants to enable the production of new works.[19][20] Choreographers who have received grants to date include Andrew Bartee, Stephanie Batten-Bland, Attila Bongar, Brian Brooks, Thaddeus Davis, Norbert de la Cruz, Elena Demyanenko, Robert Garland, Jodie Gates, John Heginbotham, Larry Keigwin, Jessica Lang, Emery LeCrone, Edwaard Liang, Jodi Melnick, Michelle Mola, Jennifer Muller, Matthew Neenan, Helen Pickett, Zalman Raffael, Brian Reeder, Ken Roht, Matthew Rushing, Amy Seiwert, Pam Tanowitz, Endalyn Taylor, Zack Winokur and Nicholas Villeneuve. Companies who have participated in the production of NEW works include Alaska Dance Theatre, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Ballet X, Baryshnikov Arts Center, Boston Ballet, Carolina Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Dance St. Louis, Dance Theatre of Harlem, Eugene Ballet, Grand Rapids Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Kansas City Ballet, Keigwin+Company, Nevada Ballet Theatre, NYC Opera, Oakland Ballet, Orchestra of St. Lukes, Oregon Ballet Theatre, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet, Philadanco, Richmond Ballet, and Sacramento Ballet. Grant awards fall into two categories: NEW grants, for the premiere of a new work, and RE(NEW) grants, supporting the restaging of a NEW work.

Studio 5 Performance Series[edit]

In 2009, Woetzel launched as curator and director the new Studio 5 performance series at New York’s City Center, which features in-depth examinations of today’s most compelling dance artists and companies highlighted by in-studio performances and demonstrations. In 2009-2013, guests included David Hallberg, Christopher Wheeldon, Herman Cornejo, Gabriel Missé and Analía Centurión, Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild, Victoria Clark, Rob Berman, Angel Corella, Wendy Whelan, Edward Villella, among others; topics of discussion ranged from musicality to collaboration to musical theatre; and featured companies included American Ballet Theatre, the Paul Taylor Dance Company and Dance Theater of Harlem.[21]

Turnaround Arts[edit]

As a presidentially-appointed artist on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (along with Chuck Close, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kerry Washington, Forest Whitaker, Yo-Yo Ma, and others), Woetzel is actively involved with Turnaround Arts, an arts education initiative developed in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Education and the White House Domestic Policy Council to help turn around low-performing schools through engagement with the arts. Woetzel has adopted two schools – Lame Deer Jr. High School in Lame Deer, MT, and Orchard Gardens K-8 in Roxbury, MA – and works on arts programming and projects with the schools and their surrounding communities consistently throughout the year.

Arts Strike[edit]

In June 2010 Woetzel piloted "Arts Strike," a new effort to have celebrated artists engage educators and students, schools and communities, highlighting and sharing the unique power of the arts to empower, enrich and educate. The first events have taken place in Vail, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., and almost all have featured Woetzel with Yo-Yo Ma in schools, engaging with students and their teachers to promote learning through the arts.[22] Most recently, Woetzel piloted the High Line Arts Education Project, an Arts Strike organized in New York in collaboration with architect Elizabeth Diller.

Silk Road Connect[edit]

Woetzel works with Yo-Yo Ma on his Silk Road Connect program in the New York City Public Schools. In June 2010, Woetzel directed the culminating year-end event which took place at New York’s Museum of Natural History, and featured the participation of the Silk Road Ensemble and 450 6th grade students.[23] In June 2011, the culminating year-end event opened the Central Park SummerStage series. Titled “Night at the Caravanserai: Tales of Wonder,” the performance again featured hundreds of 6th grade students from New York-area public schools, Ma with his Silk Road Ensemble, vocalist Bobby McFerrin, the soprano Emalie Savoy, actor Bill Irwin, and author Jhumpa Lahiri, among others.[24]

In April 2011, Woetzel organized an "arts strike" at Inner-City Arts in downtown Los Angeles with Yo-Yo Ma, The Silk Road Ensemble, and Memphis jooker Charles "Lil Buck" Riley.[25] The event included a demonstration and workshop for more than one hundred elementary school students from the Los Angeles Unified School District. Highlighting the event was a first-time duet directed by Woetzel between Ma and Lil Buck, who performed a Memphis Jookin' version of The Dying Swan with Ma accompanying on the cello; the performance was immortalized in a video shot by Spike Jonze which reached over one million views within weeks.

Other education work[edit]

In October 2012, Woetzel, Renée Fleming and Yo-Yo Ma — as National Cultural Advisors — helped Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel unveil the long-awaited Chicago Cultural Plan, which guarantees the arts an important place within the Chicago school curriculum.[26] The announcement came one year after the Aspen Institute Arts Program, with Yo-Yo Ma and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, convened a closed-door roundtable with Chicago Public Schools leadership and local arts education forces, to strategize on the place of the arts in the longer school day anticipated for 2012-13.

Harvard Law School[edit]

In the fall of 2010, Woetzel was a visiting Lecturer at Harvard Law School, where he co-taught a course on Performing Arts and the Law with Jeannie Suk.[27] The course explored many intersections of the arts and law, from copyright law, to courtroom performance to celebrity law, with guests including playwright John Guare, actor Alec Baldwin, and Balanchine Trust Co-Founding Trustee Barbara Horgan.

New York State Summer School for the Arts[edit]

Woetzel was the artistic director of the New York State Summer School for the Arts School of Ballet from 1994-2007.

Dance career[edit]

New York City Ballet[edit]

Woetzel joined New York City Ballet in 1985, and was a Principal Dancer from 1989 until his retirement from the stage in 2008.[28] At New York City Ballet, Woetzel had works created for him by Jerome Robbins, Eliot Feld, Twyla Tharp, Susan Stroman and Christopher Wheeldon among others, and danced more than 50 featured roles in the Company's repertory, including: George Balanchine's: Agon, Coppélia, The Prodigal Son, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, Stars and Stripes, Swan Lake; and Jerome Robbins': Afternoon of a Faun, Fancy Free, Dances at a Gathering, A Suite of Dances, and West Side Story Suite.

Woetzel originated featured roles in: Jerome Robbins' Ives, Songs and Quiet City, Eliot Feld's The Unanswered Question and Organon, Twyla Tharp's The Beethoven Seventh, Christopher Wheeldon's An American in Paris, Carousel, Evenfall, Morphoses, and Variations sérieuses, Peter Martins' Jeu de cartes and The Sleeping Beauty, and Susan Stroman's "The Blue Necklace" from Double Feature. Woetzel also originated roles in ballets by Kevin O'Day, Richard Tanner and Lynne Taylor-Corbett, among others.

Woetzel appeared in Dance in America's presentation of "Dinner with Balanchine," dancing Union Jack and Stars and Stripes. In May 1999, he starred as Prince Siegfried in Peter Martins' Swan Lake on the PBS national telecast "Live from Lincoln Center." Woetzel also appeared in the 2002 nationally televised Live from Lincoln Center broadcast "New York City Ballet's Diamond Project: Ten Years of New Choreography" on PBS and in the May 2004 Live from Lincoln Center broadcast of "Lincoln Center Celebrates Balanchine 100." Woetzel starred as the Cavalier in the film version of George Balanchine's The Nutcracker, released in the winter of 1993. In October 1998, Mr. Woetzel appeared as one of the stars of the Cole Porter musical Jubilee in a special benefit performance at Carnegie Hall, during which he sang as well as danced.

Guest appearances[edit]

During his career, Woetzel frequently performed internationally as a guest star and was a visiting artist with numerous companies including the Kirov Ballet and American Ballet Theatre. In his guest appearances, Woetzel danced principal roles in classics such as Don Quixote, Giselle, and La Bayadere among others, in addition to his NYCB repertory.


Woetzel has choreographed a number of ballets for New York City Ballet, among other companies. For New York City Ballet, he choreographed Ebony Concerto to Stravinsky, and Glazounov Pas de Deux to the composer's Les Ruses d'Amour. Woetzel also choreographed the "Polovtsian Dances" for New York City Opera's production of Prince Igor, and in 1998, he choreographed and starred in a new version of An American in Paris ballet for Marvin Hamlisch's Gershwin Centennial Gala. In recent years, Woetzel has choreographed works including The Orchard for Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Carla Körbes, which premiered at the Vail International Dance Festival, and collaborated on choreography with the jookin’ star Lil Buck for performances in New York, Los Angeles and Colorado, among other places.

Honors and appointments[edit]

In 2015, Woetzel was awarded the Harvard Arts Medal. In July 2012, Woetzel was honored with the inaugural Gene Kelly Legacy Award - an award jointly created by the Dizzy Feet Foundation and the Estate of Gene Kelly in honor of the 100th anniversary of Kelly's birth - for his contributions to the arts as a ballet star and director of dance and music performances.[29] He serves on the Artists Committee of the Kennedy Center Honors and as a judge for the Astaire Awards. He has also served as a juror for the Princess Grace Awards. Woetzel is a frequent speaker on the arts and arts policy. Woetzel was the 2008 Harman-Eisner Artist in Residence of the Aspen Institute,[30] and in 2011, he became a member of the Knight Foundation's National Arts Advisory Committee. Woetzel also serves on the boards of directors of New York City Center, The Clive Barnes Foundation and The Sphinx Organization, and served on the recent Harvard Task Force on the Arts. In November 2009, President Obama appointed Woetzel to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.[31]


Woetzel holds a Master in Public Administration Degree from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.[32]

Personal life[edit]

Woetzel has been married to fellow New York City Ballet Principal Dancer Heather Watts since 1999.


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