Leanne Benjamin AM OBE
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.
Queensland Ballet Chair, Brett Clark:
“This exciting appointment has been made following an extensive global recruitment search, which attracted unprecedented interest from candidates all around the world. 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.
“As Vice Chair of the Board of Governors for The Royal Ballet Companies, Leanne has been influential in key sector developments relevant to The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, and The Royal Ballet School which translate across to us as we consider our cornerstones of Artistic, Academy and Community. This is indeed a unique qualification in our incoming Artistic Director, overlaying extensive on-stage experience working with ballet lighthouses such as Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Kenneth MacMillan, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Darcey Bussell and Carlos Acosta. She’s a formidable force, only retiring from the stage at the age of 49, as The Royal Ballet’s longest-serving ballerina.
“Leanne is an international speaker, international judge and comes with outstanding global connections that will build on Li’s legacy and all those who have gone before him, to take Queensland Ballet into the next chapter. 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,” Mr Clark concluded.
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.
Director of The Royal Ballet, Kevin O’Hare was on the selection committee.
‘I am thrilled for Leanne embarking on this next exciting venture and seeing her life coming full circle back to her roots in Queensland. Leanne has been an extraordinary force of the British ballet scene, lauded first as a ballerina and then as a coach and passionate advocate for dance. During all these phases of her career, I have hugely admired her artistry and work ethic and have loved working with her. Her roles on stage serve as a history lesson in the ballets that define The Royal Ballet, from the great 19th-century classics like Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty, to Frederick Ashton works such as The Dream and the dramatic masterpieces by Kenneth MacMillan including Manon and Mayerling, through to ballets created with today’s leading choreographers Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon. Most recently, Leanne’s gift to The Royal Ballet has been coaching our current generation of dancers in some of these roles; how wonderful that she now takes this flair and generosity to Queensland Ballet. And how special that she can build on the fantastic legacy of Li Cunxin whom both she and I so greatly admire. We wish Leanne and all the dancers and staff at Queensland a vibrant future,”” Mr O’Hare said.
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. 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,” she said.
Ms Benjamin is thrilled with the appointment.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be returning home to Queensland – as Queensland Ballet’s sixth Artistic Director. It’s an incredible honour.
“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,” she said.
She 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. 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.”
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. 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,” he said.
Leanne will commence in her role early next year.
“I’m mostly excited about meeting and working with the people who make up Queensland Ballet. I am impatient to meet our dancers, our artistic team, our students all those behind the scenes whose talents make everything possible, our audiences and all those supporters and believers without whom dancing just stands still. Ballet is a beautiful coming together of all these contributors and to be a part of this, as an artistic guardian, is a privilege.”
Leanne Benjamin Bio
After a dancing career that took her to the very top, Leanne Benjamin now uses her wealth of experience to nurture a new generation of dancers.
She was a principal of The Royal Ballet for 21 years, before retiring in 2013. She then began to coach for her former company and at major companies around the world including American Ballet Theatre and The Australian Ballet. She has also established the Leanne Benjamin Awards to support pre-professional Australian and New Zealand dancers wishing to study in the UK, and in 2023 launched the UK Young Classical Dancer Award.
Her expertise and knowledge make her much in demand as an international competition judge and motivational speaker.
Benjamin was born in Rockhampton, Australia before joining The Royal Ballet School at the age of 16. The following year, she won the Prix de Lausanne. Her exceptional talent was quickly recognised, and she joined Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet as soon as she left school. She was made principal dancer there in 1986, at the age of 22, before joining first English National Ballet and then the Deutsche Opera Ballet in Berlin, in both cases as principal dancer.
In Berlin, she met the renowned choreographer, Kenneth MacMillan; he invited her back to The Royal Ballet where she stayed until her retirement at the age of 49. By then, she had tackled virtually every leading role in the repertory, gaining particular acclaim for her performances of Swan Lake, Giselle, and Balanchine’s Jewels and in ballets by MacMillan such as Requiem, Mayerling and Manon, but also winning admirers in works by Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor. She was famous for her virtuosity but also for the drama of her interpretations of works, new and old.
Since leaving the stage, she has dedicated herself to communicating her understanding of the roles she performed to their new interpreters. She works regularly with the principals of The Royal Ballet, but has also coached at American Ballet Theatre, Houston Ballet, The Australian Ballet, Queensland Ballet and Scottish Ballet. Her passion for coaching springs from her respect for the integrity of the choreography but also from her belief that each dancer must find their own way into a role.
She carries this belief in the encouragement of young dancers into her private teaching and into her involvement in schemes that directly support them in their careers. Since 2013, she has been a patron of the Tait Memorial Trust, she chairs The Ballet Board and runs the Leanne Benjamin scholarship awards.
Benjamin sits as Vice-Chair on the board of Governors of The Royal Ballet Companies, overseeing The Royal Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet and The Royal Ballet School. She was awarded the OBE in 2005 and made a member of the order of Australia (AM) in 2015. Among the many accolades she received during her career are the De Valois Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance, and the Critics Circle Best Female dancer award which she won on two occasions. She represented Australia at the Coronation of King Charles III.
As a motivational speaker, she has addressed audiences in Britain and Australia on themes that include specific advice for dancers but also stretch well beyond her own profession, offering thoughts on women in society and culture in general. In 2021, she published her autobiography, Built for Ballet.