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Robert “Bobby” Barnett, Artistic Director Emeritus of Atlanta Ballet

I was born in 1925, the son of a Ranching Family, Vera and Jim Barnett, in Okanogan, a small
town in the north central part of Washington State. At the age of five, the family moved to a
smaller town, Conconully, where we resided until my age of 12. We then moved to Wenatchee,
where I graduated from High School, at age 18 and received the gift of a letter from the
government to be a part of the service. I immediately joined the Navy and 10 days after my
graduation I was in a Boot Camp, in Farragut, Idaho, for training. My first duty of Service was in

California, in many Naval Bases finally being shipped off to the South Pacific and eventually to

I had studied Tap Dancing, as a youngster, into my High School days and at my arrival in Japan I
auditioned for a Liaison Unit, which was part of the Army in Tokyo, Japan, using all Gl's to
perform Broadway Shows, at the Ernie Pyle Theater. I was fortunate to work with an
accomplished choreographer, who took an interest in me and encouraged me to find a teacher
of ballet and seek a career in dance. I couldn't wait to follow that advice. Arriving home to visit
my family for a couple of weeks after mustering out of service, I was off to California, to find
that teacher, as all I knew of Dance was Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers and dancing in the movies. I
was lucky as the first teacher I found was according to Fredrick Ashton, the Director of the
British Royal Ballet, the University of the Dance, he told me when I worked with him several years
later. He recognized my training, which was still with me. That was Bronislava Nijinska. I was
guided to her by luck and my studies were paid for by the GI Bill. I took twelve classes a week
with her and after a year and eight months was invited to join the Original Ballet Russe by David
Lachine, which was performing in Barcelona, Spain, performing with the company until its
demise. I traveled to Paris thinking that a film of Lachine's "Graduation Ball" was to be filmed
and I was to be in it, however it never happened, but I studied with Lubov, Igorova, until I knew I
had to have enough of my money for my fare back to New York City and then left for home. I had
a friend in the City I was able to stay with while I auditioned for another job. I was able to make
that happen, until I could realize the dream job for me, which was to work for George Balanchine,
that opportunity happened in December of 1949, they were looking for one boy for their second
season. I went, but didn't have much faith in the idea that I would get that one place. Making up
my mind that if there was ever a time when I had to be aggressive, this was it and that I was.
However, nothing was said to anyone after the audition, so I went to the dressing room and was
preparing to get dressed and leave, when in walked Jerome Robbins, who said to me "where are
you going, you have a rehearsal", besides wanting to faint I redressed into practice clothes and
went for a rehearsal, at which time they did a run through of a ballet I had never seen, being
dragged about by a wonderful dancer, Barbara Walczak, who stayed and taught me the ballet,
after everyone left the studio. I was on stage two days later dancing in “The Guests”, Jerome
Robbins ballet and "Symphony In C", George Balanchine. In seventh heaven, even after almost
having a heart attack.

I remained in the Corp de Ballet for three and a half years and was then made a soloist, but the most important happening came in 1955, when a new girl joined the company, after we returned from a European tour and three girls had decided to stay in Europe, that was Virginia Rich, we were married in 1957 and together for over 60 years, having two sons together and proud grandparents of three grandson's. My Ginger, as she was known, was taken from me six years ago. I miss her everyday. In 1958 Dorothy Alexander, the founder of the Atlanta Civic Ballet in 1929, making it the oldest continuing performing company in the USA asked Ginger and me to come to Atlanta, as Principal dancers and Associate Directors of her company, as we were expecting our first son, it felt like the proper move, so we said goodbye to the New York City

Ballet and headed for a new adventure. Ms. Dorothy due to bad health retired from the company in 1961 and I was designated by her to be the next Artistic Director taking the company from non-professional to professional status, changing the name by dropping the Civic to only Atlanta Ballet. I remained as the director, until 1994 when I resigned. I continued as a freelance person, with the staging of Mr. Balanchine's ballets for the Balanchine Trust and working with Nancy Reynolds, the head of the Balanchine Foundation, retrieving parts of Choreography he did for me, or works that I had the pleasure of dancing, done for other dancers. I also have continued to teach and give back to young dancers seeking their own careers in dance, one of my greatest pleasures. I am now a proud grandfather Dear Pal, as they call me to the oldest Aaron, son of David and Jackie and Ryan and Austin, sons of Elizabeth and Robert Jr. My life in dance, with dance and dancers has been a joy and continues to be. I would do it all again, the same way, with all the same family and people that have crossed my path during these wonderful years. There are many and all very loved and I'm so grateful for their journey with me.

 Lifetime Achievement Award 2023 is presented to:

Robert “Bobby” Barnett

Robert "Bobby" Barnett | Dance Open America
Robert "Bobby" Barnett | Dance Open America
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