New York City Ballet alum Silas Farley, 26, is named dean of Colburn dance institute
Silas Farley was 9 when he joined a scholarship program for young male dancers at the North Carolina Dance Theatre School of Dance, created by then-director Darleen Callaghan. Quickly recognizing his talent, Callaghan encouraged Farley to begin choreographing at 11 and teaching other dance students at 13.
She continued to mentor Farley over the years as he studied at the School of American Ballet and joined the New York City Ballet as a teenager in 2012, eventually performing principal roles in the works of George Balanchine and Christopher Wheeldon. Last June, Farley announced his retirement from the New York City Ballet and began forging a new path as a dance leader.
Now, Farley and Callaghan will be reunited to run Colburn School’s Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, the Los Angeles performing arts institution announced Wednesday. Farley, 26, will become dean of the dance institute, and Callaghan, 62, will become associate dean. The two will start in July and will replace Dean Jenifer Ringer and Associate Dean James Fayette, the married couple who began working at the Colburn School in 2014.
Colburn’s dance institute offers programming for youth and adult students. The institute’s Dance Academy is a highly selective, pre-professional training program for ages 14 to 19.
Farley began working with the Colburn School last year after Ringer invited him to choreograph virtually for students. He was also an inaugural artist in the Colburn School’s “Amplify Series,” which highlights artists of color through short-term residencies.
In January, Ringer and Fayette called Farley with a surprise.
They were transitioning out of their roles at Colburn “and they thought that I would be the perfect person to succeed them in that role,” Farley said. “I was surprised, but thrilled. And this has all come together so seamlessly and so beautifully and so quickly.”
The role seemed like a perfect next step after retiring from the stage and becoming the ballet artist-in-residence in the dance division at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts.
“It was an incredible privilege to have that young man walk in my dance school,” Callaghan recalled. “You just knew from the very beginning that he was incredibly special and just gifted in so many different ways, so it’s been a joy for me to nurture him and his talent.”
As dean of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute, a role similar to an artistic director, his job will be “to steward and shepherd and collaborate with a great team of teachers,” Farley said, “and create an environment where the students can thrive and investigate their dance and develop as artists, and cultivate their voice.”
Farley had a say in who would work with him as associate dean, managing the dance institute’s budget, business operations and administrative duties. He immediately thought of his longtime mentor, Callaghan, who directed the Miami City Ballet School from 2013 to 2017.
As leaders of the Colburn School’s dance institute, Farley and Callaghan said their overarching goals would be to ensure students received a holistic education, focused on technical training but also with opportunities to choreograph and learn about the various aspects of arts administration.
“In case, one day down the road, they want to be an artistic director,” Callaghan said, “or they would love to be a school director or work in the marketing department, we’re interested in showing the students what that looks like as well.”
Farley said he was excited to make dance history an immersive part of the Colburn education, which “empowers the students to investigate and explore lots of different dimensions of dance work as they’re developing.”
Farley’s passion for dance history isn’t surprising. Callaghan recalled his early training and the time he spent buried in the dance library as a young boy.
Farley “would check out all the books all the time and the videos, and he would just absorb himself in the history of classical ballet,” Callaghan said. “He was like a sponge from the get-go; he just was fascinated by it all from the very beginning, and you could never feed him enough information.”
Farley has also been thinking about justice and representation in dance — from the ways students are recruited to the choreographers invited to work with students.
Within the first year, he plans to make a new ballet with music from Billy Strayhorn, the late Black jazz pianist and composer. Farley hopes to create an environment for students where they “feel that they can bring all the different dimensions of their journey and their story to their art practice,” he said. “That it’s not like they have to check their Blackness at the door, or check any aspect of their identity at the door.”
As an arts administrator with more than 20 years of experience, Callaghan looks forward to making Farley’s work as efficient as possible.
“We’re going to be able to get so much done so quickly,” she said, “because of the combination of his youth, and brilliant ideas and connections and ambition, and my years of building schools and maintaining them.”
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