Founding Artistic Director, Pacific Northwest Ballet
Francia Russell was Artistic Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet and Director of Pacific Northwest Ballet School from 1977 until her retirement in June 2005. She is responsible for the addition to the Company’s repertory of many works of George Balanchine. In addition to teaching, rehearsing, and promoting the potential of Company dancers, Ms. Russell enriched the curriculum of PNB School by adding related subjects of study and engaging a team of expert consultants. She also oversaw the development of an extensive community education program and founded the DanceChance program in 1994. These components of the School were distinguished as ahead of their time in American dance education.
Ms. Russell’s most influential teachers were Felia Doubrovska, Antonina Tumkovsky, Vera Volkova, Robert Joffrey, and George Balanchine. She joined New York City Ballet in 1956 and was promoted to soloist in 1959. She retired from the company in 1961, danced for a year with Jerome Robbins’ Ballets USA, and taught on the faculty of the School of American Ballet in 1962-1963. In 1964, Balanchine appointed her ballet mistress of NYCB. Ms. Russell was one of the first ballet masters chosen by Balanchine to stage his works. To date, she has staged 246 productions of Balanchine ballets worldwide. In 1987, she staged the first Balanchine ballet in the People’s Republic of China for the Shanghai Ballet, and in 1988-1989, she staged the historic first authorized performance of Balanchine’s work in his homeland for the Kirov Ballet in St. Petersburg. From 1975 to 1977, Ms. Russell and Kent Stowell were Co-Artistic Directors of Frankfurt Ballet.
Ms. Russell’s numerous awards include the Washington State Governor’s Arts Award, the Dance Magazine Award, an Honorary Doctor of Arts from the University of Washington, an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Seattle University, and the Brava Award from Women’s University Club of Seattle. In 2004, Ms. Russell received the Arts Fund Lifetime Achievement in the Arts Award, the Seattle Mayor’s Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement, and the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and was recognized by the King County Council for her achievements in the arts.