Arantxa Ochoa, the director of the School of Pennsylvania Ballet, is the latest to announce that she is leaving the ballet. Hers has been one of the most-recognizable faces of the company for the last 20 years, and her departure, announced Tuesday in a letter from executive director David Gray, is an exclamation point on a tumultuous year.
Ochoa will be moving to Florida in August to work at the Miami City Ballet School. Two others from Pennsylvania Ballet recently joined Miami City Ballet as dancers: former principal dancer Lauren Fadeley and corps de ballet dancer Amir Yogev. Fadeley's husband, former principal dancer Francis Veyette, was forced to retire.
More than 40 percent of the ballet's dancers have left the company in the last month. Twelve were let go by artistic director Angel Corella, who announced in April that their contracts would not be renewed, while others opted to leave on their own. Most chose to stay through the end of the company's season, which was Sunday.
In announcing his decision to let so many dancers go and hire replacements, Corella said in April that he was looking to build a troupe of versatile dancers who could perform the work of any choreographer. He also wanted dancers of similar heights for easier partnering.
Corella also hired two new ballet masters this year, Kyra Nichols and Charles Askegard, both former stars of New York City Ballet, to replace Zachary Hench and Julie Diana, who moved to Alaska last year.
Some of the dancers who've left have said that Corella, who joined in 2014, did not respect their style of dancing, and micromanaged their careers. They also said the company was now an uncomfortable place to work.
Ochoa joined Pennsylvania Ballet in 1996 and was a much-beloved principal dancer before she retired in 2012 and joined the school. Born in Valladolid, Spain, she knew Corella, also a Spaniard, before he became her boss.
Her husband, company photographer/videographer Alexander Iziliaev, was also previously a company principal dancer.
"It breaks my heart to tell you this, but I have decided to move on to the next chapter in my life," Ochoa told students and parents via Gray's letter. "There will always be a part of my heart that remains on Wood Street and at the Academy of Music, but my Spanish Soul has drawn me to a new challenge. I love you all very much, and I wish you only the best and most glorious careers as dancers."
Meanwhile, "artistic Director Angel Corella will be increasingly engaged in the work of the school," Gray said in his letter, "both teaching classes and working with the faculty to train students that will excel in a diverse repertory."
"In the short-term, assistant artistic director Samantha Dunster will be working closely with Arantxa and the rest of the faculty during the transition. The artistic staff is in the process of identifying the best potential leaders for the school, who will work closely with Angel to fulfill his vision."