Danielle Rowe in rehearsal. Photograph by Talia St. Clair

New Directions: Danielle Rowe

From ballerina to associate director of SFDanceworks

Danielle Rowe was a bright star at the Australian Ballet. Born in Adelaide, Rowe trained at the Australian Ballet School before joining the company in 2001. With extension for days, she rose quickly through the ranks, winning accolades and hearts along the way. She is the only dancer in the company’s history to win the Telstra People’s Choice award twice, once in 2003 and again in 2005, and she was also the first recipient of the Dorothy Hicks Fund. She attained principal in 2008, and was the apple of company’s eye.

In 2010, Rowe announced she was leaving the Australian Ballet to take a first soloist position at Houston Ballet, under the direction of Stanton Welch.

“After the Australian Ballet, I felt like I needed to spread my wings a little bit. I really wanted to work in the States, and I was fortunate enough to get a job with Houston Ballet,” said Rowe, speaking on the phone from San Francisco, where she has recently been appointed associate artistic director of James Sofranko’s SFDanceworks.

Rowe was quickly promoted to principal at Houston Ballet, where she continued to conquer the classics. “I did some great classical ballet roles; some dream roles like Giselle and Aurora, and also some MacMillan pieces as well, which were amazing.

“And then after that time, I got restless again.”

In 2012, seeking a different movement terrain, as well as a change of scene, Rowe gravitated north. “I’d always been in awe of Nederlands Dans Theater, and I got the urge to learn how to move in a different way,” Rowe says. She took the risk and bid farewell to Houston Ballet to audition at NDT; “not really thinking that I would get it, but I thought I’d give it a go.”

The bold move was not entirely anxiety-free: “There were times when I’d be crying in the bathroom, just thinking, what am I doing? I just quit my job and I don’t have a job lined up.

“I’ve always had this mentality and been hyperaware that life is short, which kind of sounds horrible but it’s worked for my sanity well. If I feel the need to do something, then I’ve got to do it, and do it now, even if it seems stupid to most other people, which I’m sure it did.”

If I feel the need to do something, then I’ve got to do it, and do it now, even if it seems stupid to most other people.

Her gamble paid off. Rowe landed a job and toured with the company for three years, working with choreographers such as Jiří Kylián, Mats Ek, Crystal Pite, Wayne McGregor, Paul Lightfoot, Sol Leon and Alexander Eckman. Her husband, Luke Ingham who had moved with her from Australia to Houston, had taken a soloist position at San Francisco Ballet. “So we were long distance and three years was enough,” she said. In 2015, Rowe packed up and moved to San Francisco, where her daughter, Aggie would come into the world.

Danielle Rowe in rehearsal. Photograph by Talia St. Clair

“I didn’t know if I wanted to be involved in dance in any way for quite a while. I guess I was burnt out,” Rowe reflects. “I’d done amazing things and I feel that I shouldn’t complain about the career that I had, but I felt like I started work when I was 15, I was so absorbed in that world. By the time I got to 33, I was like, ahh…ok.”

With support coming from the dance community in San Francisco, Rowe found herself being invited in, to join projects as a dancer, and to choreograph. “Once I moved to SF people were so generous here in the dance community, and people were approaching me about doing projects or helping out in different ways which was amazing, and unexpected.”

Rowe notes that the time away from the studio let her discover a new path in dance. “I didn’t have the pressure of finding work immediately, and I will forever be grateful. Having that break allowed me to take on little projects here and there, and that led to choreographing full time. It was that space that allowed me to figure out that that’s what I wanted to do.”

James Sofranko, former soloist with San Francisco Ballet was one of the first to reach out. “He told me about this company that he was starting and I thought it sounded fantastic.”

Sofranko founded SFDanceworks in 2014 as a company dedicated to presenting contemporary repertory and new work. Their debut season featured three world premieres with work by Lar Lubovitch, Alejandro Cerrudo, Penny Saunders, Dana Genshaft, and Sofranko, and sold out.

“He was one of the first people to encourage me to choreograph,” says Rowe. She created “Pixie” for SFDanceworks’ Season Two, and has since created work for Grand Rapids Ballet, Diablo Ballet and Berkeley Ballet Theater.

In 2018, Sofranko invited Rowe to become the company’s associate artistic director. In July Sofranko will take up the position of artistic director at Grand Rapids Ballet, while remaining AD of SFDanceworks.

Danielle Rowe in rehearsal. Photograph by Talia St. Clair

SFDancework’s Season Three opens at the Cowell Theater at Fort Mason Center for Arts and Culture on June 8. Rowe is presenting a new work, untitled at the time of speaking, for eight dancers and set to an original score by Alton San Giovanni, played live by instrumentalist David Knight, member of indie-pop band Low Roar.

To give a sense of her style, Rowe mines her past. “What I learned at NDT with so many amazing choreographers was to look at the whole piece, not only the choreography element, but the lighting, sets, music—creating an atmosphere on stage, that everything is there for a reason.”

Britt Juleen, formerly of Dutch National Ballet and Dresden SemperOper Ballet, and recent artistic director of Berkeley Ballet Theater, will return to the stage to perform in Rowe’s work. The two met when Rowe was creating her 2017 work “O” for Berkeley Ballet Theatre. “She has a beautiful creature-like quality,” Rowe says, “she ties the whole piece together.”

Rowe’s work features alongside Nacho Duato’s 1983 work “Jardi Tancat,” Penny Saunders’ duet “Snap” originally made on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and new work by Sofranko.

”It’s important to know your history. I think that will only support and elevate the work that new choreographers are doing,” says Rowe. “The philosophy of going back to the past of contemporary dance is really important to SFDanceworks.”

SFDanceworks presents Season Three at Fort Mason Center for the Arts and Culture, June 8-10, 2018. Visit SFDanceworks for tickets and more information. 

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