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Get to Know: Gen Horiuchi

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Saint Louis Ballet’s artistic leader, Gen Horiuchi, has been an integral part of some of the most-watched dance productions in recent memory. The Tokyo native is known for his opening ceremony choreography at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, and before that, he enjoyed a long run as Mr. Mistoffelees in the Broadway, London and Tokyo productions of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. He studied with the legendary George Balanchine in New York City, and today, audiences enjoy his original choreographed works as head of the area’s only professional ballet company, a post he’s held since 2000. Horiuchi keeps active in his dance studio and at the 350-member ballet school where he continues to inspire performers of the future.

how slb has evolved … 
My first show as director was The Nutcracker in 2000 at the Playhouse at Westport Plaza. There were about 80 people in the audience, and I knew all of them! Today, we have 24 professional dancers, and we perform at Touhill and The Grandel Theatre. Our recent shows have drawn about 11,000 guests. Each season, I receive more than 200 applications from dancers wanting to audition, but I only can hire one or two at a time because no one wants to leave.


how i got involved in the olympics …

Keita Asari, the Tokyo producer of Cats, also served as producer for the 1998 Nagano opening ceremonies. I had worked with him, and he asked me to put together a cast of American and Japanese dancers to perform for it. I said yes right away! I held auditions in New York and Tokyo and hired 30 American and 50 Japanese dancers. Our main performance, the opening ceremony finale, was set to Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” and conducted by Seiji Ozawa. It included elements of Japanese culture like sumo wrestling and swordfighting.

how i stay ‘on pointe’ …
I work out in the studio, and I dance with the company once a year in a small role. I don’t want to distract anyone or try to compete with the Gen of 20 or 30 years ago! I also love teaching and rehearsing with the dancers. I think a lot of artistic directors stop performing, and that distances them from their people, but I love working among them. It’s easier for me to stage a piece or create something new when I stay closely connected to them.

what motivates me …
I’m always thinking creatively about everything—new pieces, guest choreographers, next year’s budget and spending, and how I can approach people and corporations for funding. My mental control comes from moving back and forth between administrative work and the artistic side. It’s always an interesting change of scenery for me.

how i unwind …
I actually relax by working. I’m in front of the computer a lot, working on short- and long-term planning for the ballet. It’s a big part of my love of life, so I don’t really feel like it’s work. I have a daughter who is almost 4, and I love taking her to school, events and the playground. In the past, my life was all ‘work, work, work’ … straight from home to the studio and back every day. Now, with my daughter, I feel like I can settle into the community and enjoy it more.

who mentored me …
I took advice from George Balanchine of the New York City Ballet: “If you ever take over a ballet company, make sure you oversee everything yourself.” He meant not just artistically, but the marketing, budgets and financials as well. That got me interested in the planning process, and I think it’s why the Saint Louis Ballet has continued to grow.

what i like to do …
I enjoy going to The Loop to eat. I like almost any kind of food, from Asian to Italian. I love Japanese food and would enjoy seeing more restaurants of that kind here. I also love the symphony, opera and Broadway shows at The Fox, and I’m glad that St. Louis makes those things accessible.

how i came to st. louis …
I had worked in St. Louis as a guest artist in the ‘90s, and a friend told me about a dancer here who had been injured and needed to find a replacement. I was living in New York and on a break at the time, so I agreed. It was when Mark McGwire was hitting home runs for the Cardinals, and I’m a big baseball fan, so I wanted to see this great baseball town. Later, I got a call from the Saint Louis Ballet board president, who said director Lyudmila Dokoudovsky had passed away and asked if I’d like the position. So I came back in the fall of 1998 and took over. There wasn’t much money, but I’d always had a dream to run my own company and school, soI wanted to give it a try.

what’s next …
The ballet has hired some new administrative staff. It’s a necessity because we are growing, and I can’t do it all myself! We also plan to do more performances with live music, a quartet or possibly a larger orchestra. In 2018, our schedule includes Love Stories for Valentine’s Day and Cinderella.

why i do what i do …
Both of my parents were dancers. They had a small company in Tokyo, and I began dancing early on with them and my brother and sister. It’s so important to get young people involved in the arts and expand the audience for dance. I hope my performers always see me as a mentor. I also love getting applause! As a dancer, you work and practice for months, but when you step on stage, it’s instant gratification.

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