Princeton Resident David Gray Is Ballet Company’s New Director
Ballet was not on David Gray’s radar when he was growing up in Princeton and attending Princeton High School (class of 1977). It was not something he thought about when he began a publishing career in New York after graduating from Johns Hopkins University.
But while not a dancer himself, Mr. Gray knows his way around a pirouette or entrechat-six. What started when he was assigned to edit a few dance books back at that first job, followed by a position in the press office of the New York City Ballet, has come full circle with his recent appointment as executive director of the Pennsylvania Ballet.
Mr. Gray, whose resume also includes the financial industry and writing books, got a call from the Pennsylvania Ballet last July while he was filling in for Princeton Symphony Orchestra executive director Melanie Clarke, who was on leave. The ballet company’s artistic director and executive director had stepped down. Would Mr. Gray take over as interim executive director while a search for the two positions was taken on?
“I did both jobs, at the PSO and the ballet, for a few weeks before I worked it out so that I could do the ballet full-time,” Mr. Gray said, over coffee at Small World a few weeks ago. “By August, they had named Angel Corella as artistic director. I had known him for years, so that made it easy. And the ballet world is a world I know pretty well.”
Mr. Gray was in his 20s when he was offered the press office job at the New York City Ballet, via his connections from the publishing world. In 1990, he married one of the company’s most acclaimed principal dancers, Kyra Nichols. The couple moved to Princeton when their son Joe, now 18 and a PHS senior, was a toddler. Their younger son, Cameron, is 14.
“When I was growing up, I thought Princeton was the most boring place in the world and I couldn’t wait to leave. But my parents were here and we needed the free babysitting,” Mr. Gray joked. “We stayed, bought a house, and we’ve been here all these years, so I guess you could say I’ve changed my mind.”
Mr. Gray became a financial planner after leaving the New York City Ballet. Following the move to New Jersey, he was executive director of New Jersey’s American Repertory Ballet and interim executive director of the New Brunswick Cultural Center before opening his own financial planning office in Princeton. Another interim position was heading the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault. He has taught at Brookdale Community College and was a guest lecturer at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation and the University of Pennsylvania. “I kept getting sucked into the non-profit world,” he said.
Arriving at Pennsylvania Ballet’s offices in Philadelphia last summer, Mr. Gray found an enterprise in need of some attention. “Like many non-profit organizations at the end of a recession, there were some real financial challenges,” he said. “But it’s definitely getting better.”
Recent performances of Christopher Wheeldon’s Swan Lake were mostly sold out, and response to the appointment of Mr. Corella, a former star of American Ballet Theatre, have been positive both among audiences and the dancers in the company. Soon after taking over from former artistic director Roy Kaiser, Mr. Corella made some administrative and artistic changes, hiring some dancers from Cuba and from a company he headed briefly in his native Spain.
“Angel is very hands-on,” said Mr. Gray. “He spends a lot of time with the dancers. He’s instituted a twice-a week men’s class and a women’s class, which allows the dancers to work on different aspects of technique that are specific to men and women. And he’s broadening the repertoire.”
Ms. Nichols, who retired from New York City Ballet in 2007 and has been teaching privately in Princeton, is now teaching the dancers of Pennsylvania Ballet II, its apprentice ensemble, once a week. She may also be setting some works by choreographer George Balanchine for the full company.
The affable Mr. Gray can be found in the lobby of the theater at each performance of the company, greeting donors and audience members. He wears a name tag and insists that other staff members do the same. “Angel is creating a lot of excitement, and we need to be accessible to the public and help build on that excitement,” he said. “Part of the plan is to increase family support, and we’re doing just that.”