Ex-dancer is named conductor in residence

Ex-dancer is named conductor in residence


norman lebrecht

January 10, 2020

The Estonian ballerina Maria Seletskaja has been named conductor in residence of the National Ballet of Canada Orchestra.

Seletskaja has been principal dancer with Royal Ballet of Flanders, Staatsballett Berlin, Zurich Ballet and Estonian National Ballet.


  • Joel Lazar says:

    Very carefully choreographed. Given her background, not surprising.

  • Tim says:

    I’m afraid this says so much about so many things… About naked ambition as now the near sole catalyst for success for conductors, about what promotors and agents looking for, and about the standards in many ballet orchestras…

    I could be wrong, but 20 years as an orchestral musician tells me this is as much about ‘looking balletic’ on the podium, as it is to do with hiring a musician who has something unique or inspiring to say.

    • V.Lind says:

      Rubbish. The National Ballet of Canada’s first, and longterm conductor was George Crum, who had the sort of musicality and understanding of dancers to which George Daugherty alludes below.

      And what about John Lanchbery? Questioning his musical credentials? Ashley Lawrence? Barry Wordsworth?

      Nothing to do with “looking balletic.” Lots to do with understanding the nature and demands of the ballet stage. I have sat in on many discussions on stages between principal dancers and casts on the stage and conductors with their orchestras in the pit. What I have heard is something less common when it is just a conductor and an orchestra a willingness to listen, to understand the issue to ADAPT. (I have heard similar responsiveness from conductors in the pit listening to the problems of singers).

      Maria Seletskaja is a well-trained and experienced conductor. She has been working toward doing this all her life. That she had a successful ballet career is just a bonus that a ballet company could not normally expect.

      And your implied insult to the National Ballet of Canada is absurd. It was founded by a Royal Ballet dancer and maintained its contacts with that company, including Dame Ninette, Sir Fred and Sir Ken, all of whom had residencies with the company, as did Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Alexander Grant became its artistic director. For Erik Bruhn, it would be the last company he ever worked with — had he lived he would have retired from the National Ballet; as it was he died as its artistic director.

      The National Ballet has had a long tradition of extremely able musical directors. I see no reason to think that they are about to let standards slide.

      • Tim says:

        Nah. I’ve read her conducting CV and to say she’s spent her life preparing for this is an insult to many colleagues who really have.

        I see a couple of conducting courses and a few musical backwaters.

        As someone who’s played in the best ballet orchestras in the UK and Germany I’d be dismayed if she was put in front of me.

        Respect needs to be earned. And this appointment smacks of fast tracking someone totally unproven in order to sell tickets.

        • George Daugherty says:

          Tim: First of all, Maria has not been appointed Music Director of the National Ballet of Canada. She is a resident conductor. David Birskin is Music Director, and there are additional conductors on staff. She, the very talented Maria is being groomed for this new position in the best possible way. Secondly, how can you say “I would be dismayed if she was put in front of me” when you have never seen her work? Highly experienced Toronto musicians for whom I have huge respect were surprised and delighted with her initial performances there, and the dancers were over the moon. And I have respect for her, not only as a ballerina (she was superb) — but I saw and listened to a full length performance of her conducting Ashton’s “La Fille mal gardée,” and it was delightful and effervescent musically, and she served the dancers on stage brilliantly. Thirdly, ballet conductors come from very diverse background. If you’ve played in the “best” ballet orchestras in the U.K., surely you know Martin West, former Music Director of English National Ballet, and now the highly respected Music Director of San Francisco Ballet. Martin got a degree in math from Cambridge before he even started his conducting training. Good thing nobody wrote HIM off for that. While Maria may not have studied conducting all her life, she has WORKED with conductors as a highly-musical ballerina for all her career, and she has studied music all her life . . . violin, piano. The way conductors work with dancers is no surprise to Maria — she has spent her entire career doing exactly that. Ballet companies who hire conductors who have no experience whatsoever with dance and dancers many times make musicians happy, but leave the dancers on stage in real trouble. Finally, as a ballet conductor who has ALSO worked with and conducted for the greatest ballet companies and dancers for 40 years . . . from Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Makarova, Gelsey Kirkland, Alicia Alonso, David Wall, Merle Park, Suzanne Farrell, Cynthia Gregory, Cynthia Harvey, Anthony Dowell, Carla Fracci and a few hundred more in the 1980’s, up to virtually all of the ballet stars of today . . . who worked directly as a conductor with George Balanchine as we restaged two of his landmark ballets . . . and who has conducted on staffs for American Ballet Theatre, The Munich State Opera Ballet, LaScala Ballet, The Royal Ballet on tour, the Bellas Artes Ballet, was music director of Chicago City Ballet, Ballet Chicago, Louisville Ballet, and many other major companies . . . I really got a good laugh out of your comment that National Ballet of Canada did this to “sell tickets.” Newsflash, Tim. Ballet conductors don’t sell tickets for ballet companies, and never have. While music should ALWAYS be a foremost and revered element of the ballet-going experience, ballet audiences come to see BALLET DANCERS. And supporting BALLET DANCERS with great but, at the same time danceable and sensitively-conducted music from the pit, enhances everybody’s experience. I’m sure that “selling tickets” was the last thing on the National Ballet of Canada’s mind. You know, sir, we live in a world where ballet company after ballet company is ditching their live orchestras, and dancing to recorded music. Including some very major companies who have made this sad decision. And these are the ballet companies who are still in business, because in the U.S. and Canada at least, plenty of them have ceased to exist at all. Anything that enhances the musical experience for ballet keeps live music in the pit. And I applaud Maria for making this very logical career jump, for which she HAS spent a career preparing … albeit in a refreshing and non-traditional way . . . and I applaud the National Ballet of Canada for giving her a chance. Conducting ballet is not just about conducting patterns.

        • George Daugherty says:

          By the way, Tim. Don’t just take my word for her talents. Maria is currently coaching with Paavo Järvi, who has belief in her future potential as a conductor. So I am not the only conductor who believes in her . . . far more glorious maestros than me are behind this extraordinary woman.

        • Lela says:

          Dear Tim,
          I might be wrong here, but it really seems you are feeling threatened by a young woman standing in front of you. A woman who has proven herself more in this world of conducting than you will ever get the chance to do so.
          Maria’s CV does not show a quarter of the musical education and influences she has had during her childhood and then ballet carrier.
          Stuttgart Ballett Orchetra is very happy to have her stand in front of them..and so are many other orchestras..
          somehow have the feeling she will never stand in front of you anyways..so you can stop worrying about that.

  • Nijinsky says:

    Wasn’t gheorghiu available?

  • George Daugherty says:

    As a longtime ballet conductor (40 years conducting for the world’s greatest companies and dancers), I can personally vouch that Maria’s musicality as a ballerina was (is) sublime and superb. Her performances were breathtaking. Conducting for ballet involves not only understanding the musical aesthetics, but Also understanding the needs of dancers …. which can vary greatly. GREATLY!!!!!! I applaud Maria on making this jump … or should we say, grand jete. Too often, ballet conductors are looked at as being on the lowest of the conductor food chain. That is unfortunate, because being an expert and responsive ballet conductor is a highly specialized field in itself, which requires great training, experience, knowledge, and intuition In both art forms. Maria, with her experience as both a superb ballerina and a trained musician, is perfect for this career change. It’s a win-win for all. Brava to her!!!!!!

  • Women Conductor's rule says:

    Conducting is truly becoming an all women’s profession.