In brainstorming out-of-the-box ways to promote and fund her company, American Ballet Theatre, arts executive Rachel Moore came up with the idea of putting it on a box.
A shoe box, that is.
Ask Kevin McKenzie, longtime artistic director of ABT, about what Moore has meant to the New York City-based dance company she’ll leave in in October to take over the top executive’s spot at the Music Center in downtown L.A., and he’ll mention shoes, among other things.
As ABT’s executive director, Moore struck a deal with Payless Shoes in 2006 that has put its brand and its biggest stars’ pictures on boxes of dance shoes sold at thousands of its outlets.
“We designed a ballet shoe, a jazz shoe and a tap shoe for students to buy at a very affordable price at Payless Shoes all over the country,” McKenzie said. “People who have daughters in ballet school and may not know about ABT see the ABT brand and the story of one of our soloists -- Sarah Lane or Misty Copeland -- on the box. And we get proceeds from the sales. That’s out-of-the-box thinking for a ballet company, if you ask me.”
McKenzie had been artistic director of ABT for 12 years when Moore came on board as executive director in 2004. The company, which tours extensively and puts on seasons at New York’s Lincoln Center, had seen three previous business directors come and go in short order before Moore arrived.
Under her, McKenzie said, “it’s the first time we had a team that I thought worked as a team. She was excellent on consensus-building. Of course I’m sad that she’s leaving, but as soon as she told me, it made a certain amount of sense. I think it’s an interesting moment in her life to take advantage of a lot of tools she has in her toolbox.”
Moore was a dancer with ABT from 1980 to 1984, when an ankle injury derailed her career as a performer but spurred her toward a new career as an arts manager. She had led dance education programs in Boston for 10 years before landing in what had become a hot seat at ABT.
On Moore’s watch, ABT won a congressional designation as America’s National Ballet Company, which helped bolster its identity as a staple of the touring dance scene. She oversaw the growth of dance education programs for young children and for teens with professional aspirations. Moore cut costs early in her tenure to stabilize ABT’s finances, then worked successfully to build its endowment.
McKenzie said it wasn’t so much her inside knowledge of ballet that fed her work at ABT, as the work ethic with which professional dancers are imbued.
“She comes from a background where you do what you have to do to maintain excellence. To quote one of the best things I’ve heard her say, ‘If you want to find a good employee, hire a dancer. They’re disciplined, they know how to play well with others and they know how to meet a deadline.”