Beloved RNZB Former Artistic Director, Russell Kerr, Has Passed Away

Beloved RNZB Former Artistic Director, Russell Kerr, Has Passed Away

Russell Kerr ONZM, a legend in New Zealand Ballet, passed away in Christchurch last Wednesday, 23 March at the age of 92.

Kerr began dance as a young boy, due to medical advice that it would help his muscular rheumatism. After spending the 1950s dancing in Europe with well known dance companies such as the Sadlers Wells Ballet (now Royal Ballet), he returned to New Zealand where he was instrumental in the formation of the New Zealand Ballet Company.

Russell led the New Zealand Ballet from 1962 – 1968, created many productions for the Company over four decades, and brought both the rigor and the magic of professional ballet to generations of New Zealand artists and audiences. From 1978-1990 he led the Southern Ballet Theatre in Christchurch, but continued to be associated with and choreograph for RNZB.

Kerr received a QEII Arts Council Fellowship in 1977. In the 2000 Queen’s Birthday Honours, he was appointed an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to ballet and dance.

RNZB Board member and former dancer Toby Behan, whose personal connection with Russell includes many years with Southern Ballet and the creation and re-staging of Russell’s much-loved Peter Pan (1999) writes:

“Russell was a once-in-a-lifetime artistic genius whose influence extends well beyond our Royal New Zealand Ballet family, but which we also delightfully acknowledge as a cornerstone of our own identity and creative energy. A part of his unique gift lay in his extraordinary ability to simultaneously nurture and develop individual artistic talent, the standards and vision of the company as a whole, as well as respectfully developing the artform of ballet itself. As anyone who has worked in the studios with Russell will confirm, his own personal experience with some of the greatest names in ballet history was authentically passed on and built upon. The wonderful gift imparted to us by Russell is that his creativity is forever embedded – not only in our history, but also our future.”    

Over the coming weeks, RNZB will continue to pay tribute to Kerr’s life and legacy. Visit for more information.