Queensland Ballet has announced Leanne Benjamin AM OBE as its new Artistic Director. Named Australian of the Year in the UK 2023, this is a homecoming for Ms Benjamin, a Queenslander who has been a vibrant voice in ballet, vocational development, advocacy, and governance on the world stage for many years.
Ms Benjamin will be the sixth Artistic Director to take the helm at Queensland Ballet and the first female to assume the role. In a natural balance to her international accomplishments, she started life in Rockhampton, so Queensland runs through her, strong and vibrant.
“This exciting appointment has been made following an extensive global recruitment search, which attracted unprecedented interest from candidates all around the world,” said Brett Clark, Queensland Ballet Chair.
“The selection committee comprised of Board Directors, internal leadership, and external sector experts from Australia and abroad, including Director of The Royal Ballet, Kevin O’Hare CBE.
“Throughout the process, Leanne stood out with an innate currency of our artform, an uncanny alignment with our strategic cornerstones which have been developed significantly throughout Li’s tenure, and a visceral passion for Queensland.”
“She is also sought after across the world as she has been muse to some of the most inspired choreographers of our artform. She was with Queensland Ballet in 2019 as part of the staging team here as the Company presented MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet for the second time. To have Kenneth MacMillan’s muse here in person is very inspirational for our dancers and artistic team,” said Mr Clark.
In 2005, Ms Benjamin received an OBE in recognition for her services to dance. In 2015, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia and in 2014, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Performing Arts from Central Queensland University. In 2019, Leanne was the recipient of the inaugural Agent-General Queensland Day Award.
Leanne will be working alongside longstanding Queensland Ballet Executive Director, Dilshani Weerasinghe. It’ll be a reunion for the pair, who worked together at the Royal Opera House, and home to The Royal Ballet, for eight years.
“I remember landing at The Royal Opera House and meeting Leanne, a fellow Antipodean, who had been there for a few years by then. I’ll never forget her interpretation of Manon but equally, she was very present in all the diverse endeavour that surrounds performance, including donor and community engagement,” said Dilshani.
“She was ever generous despite a demanding schedule. Time has passed and we have both gone on to have families and wider careers and I’m looking forward to exploring our working chemistry and rhythm. What excites me is that Leanne, has also informed her experience with a currency that comes from her wider roles.”
“Her heart sits with our artform, our artists, and with Queensland. She has a vibrant, breath-taking vision across ballet pathways, ballet traditions, and ballet fresh thinking. It’s an exciting time ahead for the Queensland Ballet, and for me personally,” said Dilshani.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be returning home to Queensland – as Queensland Ballet’s sixth Artistic Director. It’s an incredible honour,” said Ms Benjamin. “Ballet has been part of my life since I was a three-year old in Rockhampton.”
“If you had told that wide-eyed girl that she would go on to have a vibrant career as a ballerina for 30 years, 20 of which would be as a Principal with The Royal Ballet and then return home as Artistic Director to a world-class company in Queensland, I’m not sure she would have believed it.”
“I have worked with the most inspirational dancers, choreographers and creatives in the ballet world, and the most beautiful part of my story now, is that I will be coming back to Queensland, where it all began,” said Ms Benjamin.
Leanne paid tribute to outgoing Artistic Director, Li Cunxin AO who is leaving Queensland Ballet on Wednesday 20th after 11 years at the helm. “Li, Mary and I have been friends for many years, and I want to pay tribute to what Li has built at Queensland Ballet,” she said.
“He has transformed the company, on and off the stage, with truly world-class facilities and an exceptional training Academy which further deepens its impact in our sector and community.”
“I loved my time with Queensland Ballet in 2019, coaching MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, and cannot wait to strengthen my connection with the dancers and the wider teams.”
“It’s an absolute honour to take on this prestigious role, and to be able to return to Queensland. I love Australia, and throughout all my travels it has always remained home,” said Ms Benjamin.
Mr Li welcomed the announcement and suggested that Queenslanders will be excited about the appointment. “Leanne brings an extensive experience on and off the stage, and I’m thrilled that I’m handing on my artistic guardianship to her,” he said.
“The last 11 years have been an absolute privilege and there is always a niggle around preserving one’s legacy. Leanne’s experience across stage, student pathways, and her passion for our Queensland community is going to stand Queensland Ballet is great stead as we move forward.”
“I know you’ll all welcome her with the same generosity and support you showed me when I first arrived all those years ago. Queensland Ballet is in inspired hands,” said Mr Li.
Ms Benjamin will commence in her role early next year. For more information about Queensland Ballet, visit: www.queenslandballet.com.au for details.
Image: Leanne Benjamin AM OBE – photo by Jason Bell