Eugenia O’Brien, founder of Portland Ballet, announced her retirement before Wednesday’s performance of “The Victorian Nutcracker” at Merrill Auditorium.

She announced the news from the Merrill stage, and received an extended ovation from the audience.

O’Brien founded the company 35 years ago. A search for a new executive director has begun. Nell Shipman, O’Brien’s artistic collaborator, will become the company’s artistic director.