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Ballet Florida calls intermission on board meeting to decide future


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Ballet Florida weighs whether to shut down

"WEST PALM BEACH — Plagued by financial troubles and an inability to keep an executive director for very long, Ballet Florida finds its future on shaky ground.

Board members held an emergency meeting Monday. The topic: whether to continue on or shut down and stop the hemorrhaging.

Board members held off on making a decision and agreed to meet again today to further discuss their options."


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Bart, Cristian and other Floridians:

As a regional company in the shadow of the mighty MCB, what does this mean to you? Did the local community not support this company? In general, how good are they? Are they too close in proximatey to MCB? What caliber are they? I can only imagine the worry and upset for all who are involved with the company. Jobs are getting scarce in the economic enviroment.

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Thanks for posting that, Iwatchthecorps. The problems Ballet Florida is facing are not new. The fact that there are board members who wish to shut down the company, including selling its quite valuable studio property near West Palm's City Place shopping/entertainment area, is new to me at least. There's also the irony that this news was published one day after the company's very successful, highly praised production of Ben Stevenson's full-length Cleopatra -- a series of performances that made Ballet Florida look like a much bigger company and dance like a company that had been doing huge story-ballets for decades.

Here's a link to the review of Cleopatra by Sharon McDaniel, Palm Beach Post:


There are a lot of details that are not yet verifiable. And there are lots of theories about how the situation might have reached this point at this particular time. Much of this is outside the province of discussion on Ballet Talk. One thing that IS certain, however, is the important role that Ballet Florida plays in the arts community of this large, affluent, and highly educated part of Florida.

Ballet Florida is the biggest employer of full-time professional performers in Palm Beach County. The 24 dancers and 2 ballet masters, as well as the staff of technical people, reside here all year long. A number have family here It is not uncommon for them to retire here and to stay very close both to the company and to the local dance community as a whole. They also engage with the larger Palm Beach County community, several of them as highly regarded teachers. They are important role models (as well as occasional coaches) for the students (especially the pre-professional group) at Ballet Florida's own School, the local performing arts high school, and other academic dance programs.

For a small company, Ballet Florida's offerings have been remarkably ambitious. Each year they bring in and work directly with choreographers like Mauricio Wainrot, Trey McIntyre, Val Caniparoli, Thierry Maladain, Ben Stevenson, as well as coaches from the Balanchine Trust (Judith Fugate earlier this year, Sean Lavery at times in the past) and other organizations.

Palm Beach County -- like a great many localities throughout the US -- has no shortage of bussed-in shows from Broadway, or small modern dance companies, or troupes of Russians of variable ambition and quality. These serve a purpose. When the show closes, however, those performers get on their busses and move to the next town. Ballet Florida stays in town. The benefits of this are huge, and possibly not fully appreciated by those who have the resources and, I think, the cultural responsibility to keep this very vital company alive.

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Printcess, we were posting at the same time.

Miami has a much bigger, richer, and more high-powered Board which consists of reps from Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties, the major performance locations. MCB also has very big corporate sponsorship and a favorable deal with the City of Miami Beach, where it has its studio, as well as with the Arsht Center. (Miami -- along with Florida Grand Opera and the Cleveland Orchestra) is a constitutent member of the Arsht.

It's my impression that the audiences for the two copanies in Palm Beach don't overlap as much as you might think they would. MCB ignores Ballet Florida. Ballet Florida always has seemed to consider MCB as an interloper (especially with their competing Nutcrackers).

Ballet Florida has a repertory that I would call extremely effective given their size and the level of dancers. Their rep and MCB's overlap hardly at all. Ballet Florida is are best with contemporary choreographers like McIntyre, Caniparoli, Wainrot and not really best suited for Balanchine or the classics. They've been slowly phasing out some of the simpler choreography they did when they were starting out (Vicente Nebrada, for instance) and have acquired some very interesting new and more contemporary work, a good deal of it danced on pointe and ballet-based.

As to the quality of the dancers, there's no question that MCB's standard is closer to the high end of the barre. However, as an example of what dancres in small companies can achieve, Tina Martin and Markus Shaffer were invited to dance at the Benois de la Danse competition at the Bolshoi Theater this year. Other dancers, many trained outside the US, have a strong classical technique. Among them, Lorena Jimenez (Spain) and Fernando Moraga (Chile, Houston). Others came after having had successful times at other regional companies. Douglas Gawrljuk (Brasil) and his wife Marife Gimenez (Venezuela) were principals at MCB; Leah Elzner was a soloist at Cincinnati; Deborah Marquez danced with both Cuban National Ballet and Laura Alonso's Centro Pro-Danza; Jean-Hugues Feray was trained at the Conservatoire de Paris and danced principal roles at the National Ballet of Marsailles. Some of the most effective stage performers have spent most of their careers at Ballet Florida: Gary Lenington, Jennifer Cole, Stephanie Rapp, and Tracy Mozingo.

It's an interesting combination. One problem: as with many smaller companies, they don't get enough stage time. It's quite typical to see the company -- and I mean every dancer -- improve significantly between the opening night and the last performance of a 3-4 performance run. And the last program of the season is always better danced than the first.

The Ballet Florida Nutcracker is surprisingly effective and delightful -- a huge production, ingeniously stitched together from several versions by the Artistic Director Marie Hale. It's danced very well by the company dancers (almost everyone doing multiple roles), by advanced students from the school, and by a variety of retired and semi-retired dancers in the area. It almost sells out the large Kravis Center for 9 performances over Christmas. MCB's competing Nutcracker has always been scheduled very early in the season. In 2007 MCB was down to two at the Kravis, and they are actually dropping it from their Kravis season in 2008.

I've always wished there were more cooperation between the two organizations. In this case, Ballet Florida "won" the Nutcracker battle. And that raises a question -- whatever the Board decides, how can they sacrifice this very successful Nutcracker (which, by the way, depends completely on the participation of a team of professional dancers who are used to working with each other on a daily basis)?

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bart forwarded this Palm Beach Post for the Links today. I thought his gloss on the article was most interesting and worth adding to this thread. Thanks, bart.

bart writes:

This is a substantial rewrite from what actually appeared in the printed paper. That version went more heavily into a report from Charity Navigator, "a nonprofit watchdog group, which rated the company poorly for deficits (in 2006, a deficit of $100,000 on a $4.5 million budget), lack of adquate cash reserves, etc. The organization reported that BF's expenses increased by 3% in 2006, with revenue growth of only 1.3%.

An interesting aspect of this story (the part that is not online) is that Charlity Navigator has also been critical of Atlanta Ballet ($6.9 million in revenues for 2006, with loss of $646,455) and Pittsburg Dance Theater ($5.1 total revenue in 2006 with loss of $1.1 milliion).

Charity Navigator gave Ballet Florida and Pittsburg one star and Atlanta 2 stars. (No mention of how many stars are possible.)

I wonder why this information didn't make it online? Curious.

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