The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, also known as The Wallis, recently announced the first half (Part I) of its 2023-2024 performance season that includes the return of the Los Angeles dance company BODYTRAFFIC and the New York-based Camille A. Brown & Dancers. We learned the shortlist of performances was intentional with the March 2023 hiring of The Wallis’ new Executive Director and CEO Robert van Leer, giving him the opportunity to architect a new vision for the Center. Van Leer’s priorities include The Wallis Arrives, a major comprehensive campaign that has already raised more than half of its $55 million goal with two years remaining.
As The Wallis approached its 10th anniversary and having successfully navigated the pandemic, there was a feeling among the Center’s leadership, most notably the Board’s Chairman Michael Nemeroff, that a strategic funding campaign was needed to help realize their vision, encompassing both physical and programmatic. Equally important to the initiative was making a significant investment to the endowment. Currently, the fundraising effort is on track to reaching its ultimate goal.
Van Leer has been described by The Wallis as “an exceptionally accomplished arts administrator highly respected for his breadth of experience with renowned arts organizations in the United States and Europe…” His extensive background in the arts and theater ranges from serving as Senior Vice President of Artistic Planning at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where he contributed to the creation of REACH, a building addition to The Kennedy Center that includes an indoor and outdoor performance space. Van Leer served as an Executive Administrator at London’s renowned Wigmore Hall and later as Head of Music and Arts Projects at London’s Barbican Centre.
About his new position at The Wallis and the funding campaign, van Leer states, “I’m grateful to accept this new role at The Wallis and thrilled at the success we’ve achieved thus far. We enter the public phase of The Wallis Arrives comprehensive campaign having raised more than half of our fundraising target.The Wallis looks forward to channeling a reinvigorated direction around what we want to be artistically, culturally, communally and educationally.”
Van Leer went on to share that, like many large institutions in Los Angeles, The Wallis is reinventing new ways to generate the income necessary to continue cultivating exceptional programming that is distinct to the company. “The Wallis now has a strong foundation for future success,” he added.
BODYTRAFFIC and Camille A. Brown & Dancers were already programmed before van Leer stepped into his new role at The Wallis. Under his direction, the second half (Part II) of programming will be announced later this fall. He was not at liberty to provide the names of the performances but did state that there will be other national and local dance companies at The Wallis, with more to come in the spring season.
During Part I of The Wallis’ next season, BODYTRAFFIC (October 6 – 7, 2023), will feature works by Spanish dancer and choreographer Fernando Magadan; Cuban-born and Phoenix-based Joan Rodriquez; Los Angeles-based Micaela Taylor, artistic director of TL Collective; and Trey McIntyre, founder of the Boise, Idaho-based Trey McIntyre Project.
Part I also includes Camille A. Brown & Dancers (January 12-13, 2024). Writer, curator, community educator and Bessie Award winner Eva Yaa Asantewaa wrote in the December 2020 issue of Dance Magazine, “…at once rigorous in research and execution, accessible, socially aware and deliciously appealing—has made this modest artist into the go-to dancemaker of her era.”
During the interview, van Leer stated that he loved the art of dance. One of his positions that related to dance was a two-and-a-half-year role as Managing Director of Nederlands Dans Theatre (NDT) in The Hague. When he arrived, the Netherlands’ government announced an enormous across-the-board cut in arts funding, which placed NDT’s future in great peril. Van Leer re-envisioned the company’s mission, which saved the theatre from shuttering its doors. He also led Wonderbird UK, a boutique cultural consultancy that advised cultural and corporate clients on social, cultural and fundraising policy.
Considering his busy schedule, I asked if he had the opportunity to attend performances of local dance companies yet. He responded that he had seen a few already, including Ballet BC at The Soraya.
“I’m doing my best,” he said, “but I haven’t seen them all yet.” Van Leer mentioned that he usually attends between four and six performances a week; he will soon be attending more LA-based dance company performances.
After reading about all the places he lived and worked, I asked van Leer what drew him to accept the position at The Wallis. “A combination of factors. I have always liked LA. I came here often over the years for business. When I worked in London, I collaborated with the LA Philharmonic. Then, I was in D.C., where I connected with other LA-based organizations and artists.”
After an intense seven years at The Kennedy Center in D.C., van Leer took a much needed six-month break to decide what he wanted to do next. David Bohnett, currently on the Board of Directors at The Wallis, previously served on the Board at The Kennedy Center, so the two knew each other. Bohnett suggested that van Leer look at the opening at The Wallis. “Frankly, at this point in my life, the idea of the weather on the west coast was very attractive,” van Leer said. “But, I also think that LA is at an interesting point in terms of what’s happening out here. The visual art thing has just gone crazy. And I think it’s a reflection of a dynamism that you’re seeing in LA, which I find very interesting and attractive.”
When asked what he wanted our readers to know about his vision for The Wallis, van Leer answered “It is a multi-genre, multi-venue, multi-community vision. At the same time, my commitment to dance is marrow deep. I’ve always been a lover and believer of dance and never understood why it is sometimes viewed as the underdog. I am desirous of building The Wallis as one of the homes for dance in LA. I’m deeply committed to the local companies and the significant national companies. And in due course, I want to explore the important international dance companies.” He feels that all of that should be included in the dialogue around what is happening in the world of dance today.
He continued, “You and I both know that there are different aesthetics from various parts of the world. Los Angeles, as one of the global megacities, should be talking about these different styles, bodies and visions of different choreographers. We’re trying to find time to have as much of that dialogue here at The Wallis as we possibly can.”
This was great news to hear from the new Executive Director and CEO at The Wallis. We are very grateful for the time taken to share his vision with readers of the LA Dance Chronicle.
BODYTRAFFIC will return to The Wallis October 6-7, 2023 at 7:30 pm in the Bram Goldsmith Theater.
The Program includes:
Fernando Magadan’s yet untitled new work (World Premiere)
Joan Rodriguez’s Patria Y Vida (World Premiere)
Micaela Taylor’s SNAP
Trey McIntyre’s Blue Until June (BODYTRAFFIC Premiere)
Camille A Brown & Dancers will present Brown’s full-length work ink January 12 – 13, 2024 at 7:30 PM in the Bram Goldsmith Theater.
For more information about the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and to purchase tickets to upcoming events, please visit their website.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Robert van Leer – Photo by Ineke Oostveen