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The great philanthropists of ballet

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There are many people -- of few of them big names, a number of them more anonymous -- whose financial generosity to ballet (companies, dancers, etc.) has created companies and works, given employment to fine dancers, not to mention enriching our culture and all of us as individuals.

I thought it might be an idea to put together an Honor Roll of these men and women. Who are they? What did they make possible? What motivated them. Please don't worry about the significance: it can be a Big story or a relatively Small one. The point is that they made a lasting difference.

Note: I realize that individual philanthropy is less important in much of the world, where state subsidy plays a bigger role. But there have been great significant ballet philanthropists in Europe as well.

I'll start with one of the most interesting philanthropy stories I've hard in recent years. You probably don't know the name Fred Lieberman (1923-2008), unless you are familiar with the development of the cable television industry.

Only after his death this spring was it revealed that Mr. Lieberman was the donor who single-handedly made possible the creation of all-scholarship residential ballet school, Harid Conservatory (Boca Raton, Florida, USA) back in 1987.

Lieberman always insisted on strict anonymity. Few knew he was the man behind the creation of Harid, who was always referred to as "the Donor." There was also a mystery about origins of the name itself .... Harid ... a conjoining of the first few letters of his parents' names, Harry and Ida Lieberman. Hundreds of young students have graduated from Harid in the years since its founding, many going on to professional companies. I guess Marcello Gomez is the most famous.

It's the love of ballet that bowls me over. That, and the generosity, foresight, and consistency of support. And ... most surprising of all .. the insistence on anonymity. Now THAT's someone wonderful in this publicity-crazy world!

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Off the top of my head, I'd also have to add two foundations whose names I often see as fiancial supporters of companies and schools: the Rudolf Nureyev Dance Foundation and the Harkness Foundation for Dance. It's strange and wonderful to think of Nureyev and of Rebekah Harkness, both of whom have the impression of being rather self-centered during their careers, having such a broad based, beneficial effect on so many dance projects.

"Broad-based" seems to be a key here. This is not like the Ford Foundation, another major angel for ballet during the 60s, which gave a huge sum to Balanchine's New York City Ballet and the company's School of American Ballet, with significant amounts to 6 other regional companies, most with ties to Balanchine. In the process, the Ford foundation ignorning so many other companies. In my opinion, this worked out magnificantly for American ballet in general and not only for NYCB, but that's only because I personally value the Balanchine approach to ballet so highly. Supporters of other dance forms were less happy about the imbalance. For the way it looked from the perspective of the one of the struggling companies that found itself being left out, for a variety of reasons, see Sasha Anawalt's book, The Joffrey Ballet.

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What an educational thread this could be. It took me 10 minutes of Googling to come up with the name of a person I could only picture -- Ruth Page, dancer, choreographer, company founder AND philanthropist, who in 1970 established the Ruth Page Foundation in Chicago. The foundation's website says its current mission "is to promote Ms. Page's vision of dance as an innovative art form and to foster artistic excellence."

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though i agree, i think you would have to include miss page's husband, thomas hart fisher, who was more than just a helpmeet, but really a driving force behind getting her work seen and organizing the foundation.

Thanks for the correction, Mme. Hermine. I hope you'll say more.

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