A leading classical dancer of his generation, McKenzie was hired by ABT’s co-founder and director Lucia Chase.
He performed with many of the greatest artists of ballet’s boom era of the 1970’s and 1980’s and was appointed Artistic Director of American Ballet Theatre in October 1992, succeeding co-directors Jane Hermann and Oliver Smith. McKenzie’s leadership tenure represents more than a third of the Company’s history.
As an artist and director, his knowledge of both the contemporary and classical repertoire led to an expansion of ABT’s repertory. McKenzie has emphasized the theatrical and American qualities of versatility, diversity, and dynamism, that distinguish ABT from the other great classical ballet companies of the world.
Under McKenzie’s leadership, the Company has experienced unprecedented growth. Guiding the troupe into the 21st century, he identified new talent and extraordinary choreographers. He commissioned and presented new works by wide-ranging choreographers including Gemma Bond, William Forsythe, Jessica Lang, Lauren Lovette, Lar Lubovitch, Cathy Marston, Wayne McGregor, Benjamin Millepied, Darrell Grand Moultrie, Mark Morris, Helen Pickett, Alexei Ratmansky, Christopher Rudd, Pam Tanowitz, Sonya Tayeh, Twyla Tharp, Christopher Wheeldon, and James Whiteside, among others.
He has curated traditional choreography of the classics, lovingly revived ABT heritage works, and further extended the Company’s repertoire with acclaimed works by Frederick Ashton, John Cranko, Kurt Joos, Jiří Kylián, Kenneth MacMillan, John Neumeier, and Jerome Robbins.
McKenzie’s choreography for American Ballet Theatre includes the full-length classics The Nutcracker (1993), Don Quixote (1995, in collaboration with Susan Jones), and a new production of Swan Lake (2000).
Additionally, he spearheaded the ABT Women’s Movement, increasing the number of female choreographers working at ABT. Since its inception in 2017, a total of 27 new works by female choreographers have been premiered by the main Company and ABT Studio Company.
Since becoming Artistic Director, McKenzie has championed American Ballet Theatre’s education and training efforts, initiating the formation of the American Ballet Theatre Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School in 2004. The ABT JKO School has grown to an enrollment of over 400 students pre-pandemic, and ABT’s National Training Curriculum has over 1,600 certified teachers in 44 countries worldwide.
In 2009, McKenzie appointed Alexei Ratmansky as American Ballet Theatre’s first Artist in Residence, ushering in a new era of artistic innovation. To date, Ratmansky has created 18 new works for the company, furthering ABT’s mission “to create, preserve and extend the great repertoire of classical dancing.”
In addition to leading the Company on numerous international tours, including historic returns to Moscow and Havana, and first-ever engagements in Abu Dhabi, Australia, and Oman, McKenzie has overseen production for five broadcast films for PBS’s Dance In America series and the documentary ABT: A History by filmmaker Ric Burns.
In his 30 years as Artistic Director, Kevin has guided the careers of two generations of ABT dancers. Eight former ABT dancers currently hold Artistic Director positions around the world including Stella Abrera, Angel Corella, David Hallberg, Paloma Herrera, Susan Jaffe, Julie Kent, Maria Riccetto, and Ethan Stiefel.