May 24, 2017

Former Ballerina Kyra Nichols Leaving Princeton for Academia

Kyra Nichols and David Gray, shown here in the ballet studio of the Princeton home they are about to leave, are moving to Bloomington, Ind., where Ms. Nichols has joined the faculty of the prestigious Jacobs School of Music. (Photo by Andrew Wilkinson)

Princeton resident Kyra Nichols, a former principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, has been named to the faculty of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Ind. Ms. Nichols and her husband David Gray, who is the executive director of Pennsylvania Ballet, have lived in Princeton with their two sons for 18 years. Ms. Nichols was most recently a ballet mistress at Pennsylvania Ballet.

“This is the most prestigious [dance] teaching job in a university in the country,” Mr. Gray said last week. “Kyra is incredibly flattered. To be in that pantheon, following Violette Verdy [famed ballerina who held the position until her death last year] — it’s wonderful.”

Ms. Nichols will be a professor of music (ballet), holding the Kathy Ziliak Anderson Chair in Ballet, previously held by Ms. Verdy. Also hired was Carla Korbes, a former member of the New York City Ballet and a principal dancer with Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet. Ms. Korbes will become an associate professor of music (ballet). Both appointments begin August 1.

Indiana University began courting Ms. Nichols in the first week of March. She flew to Bloomington and taught classes. “She loved it,” Mr. Gray said of his wife. “They are putting together a really positive team of people. All of this is so ironic,” he continued, “because Kyra’s father was a biophysics professor at [University of California] Berkeley. Her mother was a dancer, and Kyra followed her career, which meant she didn’t go to college. Her father always worried about that. And here she is, a tenured professor. Somewhere, her dad is looking down and hopefully enjoying this immensely.”

The couple’s house in Princeton, which they remodeled extensively, includes a spacious dance studio. They were concerned about finding a buyer, but they needn’t have worried. “It sold in three days, assuming the sale goes through,” Mr. Gray said.

Ms. Nichols danced with the New York City Ballet for 33 years, working with legendary choreographers George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins. She and Mr. Gray, who met when he worked in the ballet company’s press department, married in 1989 and moved to Princeton some 11 years later. Mr. Gray grew up in Princeton and graduated from Princeton High School in 1977.

Since retiring from the stage in 2007, Ms. Nichols has taught widely, including coaching students in her home studio. At Pennsylvania Ballet, she coached dancers in works by Mr. Balanchine and Mr. Robbins.

“I am so honored to be following in the footsteps of such great ballerinas as Patricia McBride and Violette Verdy,” she said in a press release from Indiana University. “The ballet program at the Jacobs School of Music is the most respected program at any college in the country and I am so excited to get to be a part of it.”

The University’s Jacobs School of Music Dean Gwyn Richards commented, “She will bring unparalleled talent to the school. It would be difficult to identify another individual who brings with her this kind of experience and artistry. When we consider her stellar tenure as a principal dancer, her post-performance career staging ballets around the country and working with Pennsylvania Ballet, and now her eagerness to bring her knowledge and wisdom to the students, we are proud to make such an addition to our faculty.”

Mr. Gray served as interim executive director of Pennsylvania Ballet for a year before being appointed to the permanent position there three years ago. He feels good about the company’s accomplishments under his direction. “It’s the idea of leaving a campground cleaner than you found it,” he said. “We finished 12 percent ahead of last year. We’ve broadened the donor base. We have a lot of donors stepping up. I’m hoping to get the musicians’ contract done while I’m still here. And it’s a great opportunity for the next person. I’m hopeful that the search process will turn up someone for the next phase of Pennsylvania Ballet.”

A published author, Mr. Gray said he looks forward to having time to write again, while also getting back to arts management consulting. As for leaving Princeton? “It’s bittersweet,” he said. “I grew up here. And it’s sad leaving our house. It’s tough to walk away from something you’ve made exactly how you want. But Kyra is so excited and folks there are, too, so it’s an instant community. And in many ways, Princeton and Bloomington are very similar. But Bloomington has more limestone.”