Celebrating Retiring Rehearsal Director Otto Neubert

By Emma Love Suddarth

A Deep, Booming German Accent. A Tall, Towering Stature. A Ready-To-Work Look on his Face from the Moment He Enters the Studio. “So many people tell me later, ‘When I first met you, I was scared of you!’ and I’ve never understood it,” explains PNB rehearsal director Otto Neubert. While I can attest to this experience from my own initial Otto encounter, nothing could be further from the truth. “They call me the Kindergarten Cop—kids just took to me,” he laughs. Walk by any studio during rehearsals for The Nutcracker, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, or any other ballet that incorporates children, and you’ll see him keeping them on the beat and making them smile simultaneously; however, his reach stretches far beyond there.

The innumerable choreographers he’s supported over his past 32 years come running to express gratitude for having him
in the chair next to theirs throughout each process. Jessica Lang, acclaimed choreographer and future resident choreographer
of PNB, explains, “He instantly felt like my guardian and protector. I have so much respect for his experience and his keen eye that always helped me shape movement to execute emotion. The job of a choreographer can feel lopsided and almost lonely. I am one person at the front of the room facing this giant group of moving energy. Otto grounded me.”

Then, there’s his day-in-day-out unwavering impact felt by every Company member that’s ever worked in his studio. From class to rehearsal to stage, Otto is the coach that doesn’t quit: “I’ll never get tired of trying to describe one thing in many, many different ways. You never know what sticks with people,” he says. Former PNB artistic director Francia Russell sums him up perfectly: “He is uncompromising, but he understands dancers’ sensibilities and honors them. His whole goal is helping them to realize their best selves, and always go a little beyond, in service to their art.” Children, choreographers, and professionals alike rely on Otto to be in the wings come that premiere performance, trusting he’s already equipped you with every tool you need.

While rehearsal director Otto is a well-known presence at PNB for the past 32 years, what about the Otto Neubert who danced in both Europe and the United States, known for his commanding presence and supernatural partnering abilities? Who would have guessed this source of boundless ballet insight started out as a decathlete in Munich! He only started ballet to improve bad posture, thanks to the suggestion of a neighbor down the street. After a brief stint of open classes, it was not until he was eighteen, in Stuttgart, Germany, that he officially started training in ballet. An unbelievable journey filled with army conscription, world travels, world-famous ballerina partners, and unforgettable mentors along the way, he danced his way up through the ranks of Stuttgart Ballet and then the New York City Ballet. He was in the studio for the births of the choreographic careers of William Forsythe and Jiří Kylián, dancing alongside both in Germany. His experience is extensive, his skills remarkable, and his insight unmatched. Then, when a fortuitous, shared acquaintance told artistic directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell to take a chance on Otto, as Russell puts it, “He was right! All these years later Otto, Kent and I share absolute trust, in rehearsals and in life.”

His presence is daily and his effort is unending. Beginning at the barre in his weekly Company class, Otto’s dedication to the growth of each dancer profound: “If you want people to follow you, there has to be a reason. I can back up an exercise late in class with what I did at barre. It’s incredible when you’ve built up trust with a dancer so when you say, ‘try it this way,’ even though it doesn’t feel good, because there’s trust, they go with it.” And suddenly, it works. Choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams summarizes the feeling from another side of the studio, “He leads with a brilliant eye and exceptional artistic expertise. And always with patience, humanity, and warmth.” We can always rely on his dedication to progress, just as we can always rely on the interlaced joke, smile, or subtle laugh to bring us back down when we most need it. “He brings humor and calmness wherever he goes,” says former PNB student, dancer, and current PNB School faculty member Eric Hipolito. There’s no more dependable, grounding voice than his—for both subtle laughs and effective insight.

“Every class I’ve ever taught I’ve written down. I’m a total ballet bunhead—I don’t get enough of it.” Otto’s unwavering love
of ballet has proven unmatched over his 32 years at PNB.“I can’t quite imagine PNB without this gentle lion,” artistic director Peter Boal shares, “but knowing his legacy of care and commitment lives on in our students and company is reassuring.”

His guidance has been immeasurable and his presence irreplaceable. And it starts with the smallest of dancers: Russell explains, “he was like a giant sun with many little planets circling around him.” I know that Price Suddarth and my own son Milo will always b-line it back to the artistic office in hopes that he just might be there. My sentiments exactly, kiddo. Bravo, Otto—we all are sure of one thing, PNB,
and each of us, will be forever changed.

Author: Emma Love Suddarth, Contributing Writer. Emma danced with PNB from 2008-2021. She writes for Pointe and Dance Magazine, as well PNB.

Photo credits: Featured photo – Otto Neubert, photo © Angela Sterling. Otto Neubert, photo © Lindsay Thomas. Otto Neubert with PNB dancers Elle Macy and James Kirby Rogers and PNB’s founding artistic directors Kent Stowell and Francia Russell, photo © Lindsay Thomas. Otto Neubert, photo courtesy of Otto Neubert. Otto Neubert, photo © Angela Sterling. Rehearsal directors Otto Neubert and Anne Dabrowski in rehearsal with PNB School students, photo © Kurt Smith.