Obituary: Russell Kerr

23 March 2022

Russell Kerr, 1930 – 2022

Our beloved former Artistic Director, kaumātua and friend, Russell Kerr ONZM, died this morning in Christchurch, at the age of 92. Russell led the New Zealand Ballet from 1962 – 8, 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. We mourn his loss, but we are profoundly grateful for his long life and for the generosity with which he shared it with us all.

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 we will pay further tribute to Russell’s wonderful contribution to the Royal New Zealand Ballet and to New Zealand. For now, we offer our deepest sympathy to his family and many friends in the ballet world and beyond.

Gary Harris Philip Norman Toby Behan Russell Kerr - reviving Peter Pan in 2000s Russell with (from left) former Artistic Director Gary Harris, composer Philip Norman and Toby Behan, during the re-staging of Peter Pan at the St James Theatre in 2003.