Four weeks into his new job, Robert Curran has a bit of a challenge. The native Australian has to get the lay of the land in his new home while hitting the ground running.
He happens to be good on his feet.
Curran is freshly installed as the new artistic director for the Louisville Ballet. The 38-year-old stepped into the role right at the timing of â€œGiselle,â€ the companyâ€™s 2014-2015 season premiere. With the companyâ€™s Raise the Barre fundraiser on Oct. 11, the Studio Connections series the following weekend and a couple of gigs happening in the downtown area before taking on the Brown-Forman Nutcracker for December, he had a full agenda on day one.
So, he got to work.
â€œItâ€™s busy. Thereâ€™s not a lot of settling in happening. Itâ€™s been straight to work, and I wouldnâ€™t have it any other way,â€ he said in an interview last week.
Curran was chosen from a pool of more than 80 candidates compiled by a search committee that set to work to find the new artistic leader of the organization after former artistic director Bruce Simpson announced his impending retirement last November. As one of four finalists in the search, Curran was invited to Louisville to meet with dancers, staff and board members, teach a class, and present a plan for the companyâ€™s next five years.
â€œThe search process was immaculate in terms of how well it was organized and implemented (and) how comprehensive they were in exposing me to the company and the company to me during the process,â€ Curran said. â€œIt was really by far the best search process Iâ€™ve been through in the two and a half years since I retired from dancing. So that was a brilliant beginning, to know that the board was so organized and open-minded and involved.â€
Curran also credited the health of Louisvilleâ€™s arts ecosystem for confirming that the Ballet was the right fit for him.
â€œThe support for the arts here is so exciting,â€ he said. â€œThereâ€™s the incredible change thatâ€™s happening across every organization in the arts community, with Teddy [Abrams, new music director for the Louisville Orchestra] arriving, with the Operaâ€™s new direction, with the exciting new developments in Kentucky Shakespeare and the successes theyâ€™ve had. Thereâ€™s just so much going on here. And whilst itâ€™s a little bit daunting in terms of competition, itâ€™s also just really exciting because the arts ecology here is just so strong and so well-supported.â€
Curran danced for 16 years with The Australian Ballet, 10 as a principal artist. He didnâ€™t consciously pursue a path in arts administration – â€œI fell into it…not literally, being a dancer,â€ he said with a laugh – but duties away from the dance floor put Curran in a management role many times. He worked on behalf of Australia Ballet company dancers to create new opportunities for exhibitions and as a go-between for management and the company on labor relations, and later co-founded the project-based dance company Jack Productions with a colleague, serving all administrative functions while studying for a business degree.
All this progressed to a defining moment for him: after a performance of â€œDon Quixote,â€ Curranâ€™s artistic director met with him about an issue with another dancer in the company. Curran offered his perspective on how to address the problem.
â€œJust before leaving my dressing room, he said â€˜This is gonna be you. Youâ€™re gonna be doing this in a couple of years. I can see that you would make a really good artistic director,â€™â€ he said. â€œIt was not really until then that I thought â€˜Well, actually, I have put everything in place.â€™ All of a sudden, I could look in a mirror and understand why other people thought that might be what my ambition was.
â€œThis realization of wanting to be a leader also assisted me greatly in my decision to retire, when the excitement and the motivation and the inspiration that I could envisage in my leadership role started to shadow the inspiration and motivation I had as a dancer after a 16-year career,â€ he said. â€œIt made that decision very easy to leave the stage. I feel really, really lucky.â€
Now firmly in place at the Ballet, Curran is looking forward to getting to know his new home and exploring the possibilities Louisville offers in making the most of the Balletâ€™s mix of the classic and the innovative.
â€œOne of the things Iâ€™m looking forward to in the coming weeks is exploring, seeing whatâ€™s out there already both in terms of artistic offering and in terms of artistic venues, getting my creative brain going in terms of what we might participate in, taking the incredible dancers of this company out into the community in new ways,â€ he said.
â€œCome along and join us. You will be seeing the new Louisville Ballet. There is so much new stuff that weâ€™re about to drop into the community in new and exciting ways.â€