Barry Hughson on His ‘Difficult’ Departure from Boston Ballet

The executive director, who’s heading to Toronto in January, says he tried to get a start date in the summer.

Late last week, Boston Ballet’s executive director Barry Hughson announced his departure this January—during the midst of the Ballet’s globetrotting 50th anniversary season—to become executive director of the National Ballet of Canada. On Tuesday, Hughson elaborated on his “difficult” decision and what he’ll leave behind in Boston.

“I pressed National Ballet hard for a summer start date that would allow me to finish the season in Boston, but it was simply not possible,” he said via email. A recruiter poached Hughson to replace Kevin Garland, who served as the National Ballet of Canada’s executive director from 2002 until this past June, he said.

Hughson said he’ll miss “the total commitment to excellence, which I give a great deal of credit to [artistic director Mikko Nissinen] for inspiring.” He continued: “I am proud of the success of my partnership with Mikko. We have shared some incredible progress and career-defining moments together. Today, Boston Ballet is arguably in the best health in its history, artistically and behind the scenes.”

When Hughson arrived in June 2009, the company faced a $2 million structural deficit and had cut 20 percent of its dancers, shrinking from 50 to 41. With the Clean Slate Fund, Hughson and Nissinen corralled eight donors to raise enough to wipe away the structural deficit and finance international tours as well as a $3 million renovation to the company’s South End studio. “While many companies in the U.S. were reacting to the financial crisis with a certain level of paralysis, Boston Ballet was bold in setting the bar very high,” he said. “I believe we are here today because of that commitment.”

As Nissinen and the company begin to search for a new executive director, Hughson seems resolved, even nostalgic (on his successor: “There will always be ups and downs, but be sure to have fun.”). That’s not to say he’d follow John Farrell’s example, hopping from Boston to Toronto and back. “I never join an institution with an exit strategy in mind. … [But] I’ve also learned that life is full of twist, turns, and unexpected surprises.”

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