In December 2019, Richmond Ballet celebrated Stoner Winslett’s 40th anniversary as artistic director with the successful completion of a $10 million capital campaign and a surprise fundraising effort in her honor called the Ruby Slipper Project. She was extremely touched and honored, and obviously felt at the time that the Ballet was beginning a new chapter of soaring success. That turned out to be true, but not in the way that anyone pictured at that moment.
Three months later the world closed down with the coronavirus pandemic and Richmond Ballet, under Ms. Winslett’s leadership, resolved to keep fulfilling the mission of awakening and uplifting the human spirit for both dancers and audiences in any possible safe way during one of our planet’s darkest hours. Unlike most dance organizations, Richmond Ballet opened its School on July 6, 2020 and its professional company returned to work on August 17, 2020, all with the guidance of a superb medical task force. During that time the organization served young dancers with training and audiences with uplifting performances under extremely difficult circumstances to maintain safety. Ms. Winslett now believes that this is Richmond Ballet‘s highest achievement under her four decades of leadership, and she is eternally grateful for the other artists, the administrators, and the community supporters that made it possible.
During her first 40 years as artistic director, Winslett founded the professional company, led the company through five 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 program in 1995 and was instrumental in moving the Ballet to 407 East Canal Street in 2000.
Ms. Winslett received her early training from Ann Brodie, Aldofina Suarez, and Michael Lland in Columbia, South Carolina, and later trained at the American Ballet Theatre School and the North Carolina School of the Arts on scholarship. After knee injuries curtailed her performing career, she pursued a course of independent study at Smith College, where she graduated summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. In 2005, she was awarded the Smith Medal, which is the highest honor the College can confer on an alumna.
Ms. Winslett is one of the longest tenured artistic directors of a major ballet company and one of the few female artistic directors in the United States. She has received countless awards and recognitions at local, state, and national levels, and remains an active leader in the country’s performing arts community that includes serving as a former Vice Chair of Dance/USA, as the President of the John Butler Foundation, and a U.S. delegate to the 2014 U.S.-China Consultation on People-to-People Exchange in Beijing. Recognized as a decades-long leader in diversity and inclusion in the ballet field, in 2017 Ms. 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. The promotion of equitable representation throughout the ballet industry remains ever-present at the heart of Richmond Ballet. Despite her many awards and distinctions, Ms. Winslett has often stated that her highest honor has been the privilege to work with the talented professionals and dedicated community members who have made a real difference in the world by building Richmond Ballet. Never has that been more poignant than during the challenges of achieving the mission during the pandemic.
Photo Credit: Todd Wright