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It's official: Ballet Florida has gone out of business


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After a long silence, Ballet Florida has announced that the company has folded, as has the school. There are plans being worked on to revive the school in a yet-to-be-determined location. Founder and Artistic Director, Marie Hale, is part of those plans, as are co-founder Lydia Swiadon, Ballet Mistress Claudia Cravey, and Ballet Master, Steven Hoff.

Two former members of Ballet Florida, ballerina Tina Martin and teacher Heather Lescaille have, in the meantime, opened their own ballet school -- Florida Dance Conservatory -- in new studios about a mile away from the old Ballet Florida building.


Debt-ridden Ballet Florida ceased operations in March after an agreement to sell its building to the city of West Palm Beach collapsed when Worth Realty claimed it was owed a $185,000 commission. The ballet is suing Worth Realty.

In June, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 500 sued Ballet Florida, claiming it was owed nearly $166,000 for wages, benefits and payroll service charges. The company's school, the Academy of Ballet Florida, shut down in June.

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Thanks, Alexandra and Cristian. I'm sadder than I expected, considering I knew several months ago that the only chose was closing. But in some ways am also admiring of how they managed to pull of so much, so well, for so long, given all the difficulties. Our member iwatchthecorps has also published a link to this story on the thread having to do with the effects of the economy on ballet companies. "The economy," however, is only part of this story.

This unfinished season was Ballet Florida's 23rd. It began several decades ago as a small company: a mixed bag of professionals, semi-pros, and students, performing occasionally in a strange tent-shaped auditorium in West Palm Beach known as the "Leaky Teepee." I wasn't here to see them then, but there are many people who look back on those times with a great deal of nostalgia.

Fast-forward to 10 years ago: Now they were fully professional, dancing Balanchine (and a couple by Peter Martins, too :wink: ) and working directly with serious contemporary choreographers like Mauricio Wainrot, ValCaniparoli, Trey McIntyre, Domic Walsh and with coaches like Sean Lavery and Steven Caras. The company paid a well-reviewed visit to the Joyce Theater in New York and performed at a summer festival in Sintra, Portugal. It commissioned new work and performed half of its performances in the 2000+ seat Kravis Center in West Palm, one of the 3 leading venues in south Florida. Before the reductions last year, it had become a 20+ member professional company.

It had for a while a strong board with deep pockets, then lost it, built up another one, and lost that too. Along the way, the company started to lose its direction and more and more of its subscription base. Management problems, philanthropic in-fighting, inconsistent and not always wise artistic choices, and a rather in-bred approach to staff, programming and publicity: all played a role.

The article does not mention the company's biggest artistic and commercial asset: the hugely successful Nutcracker production which filled the Kravis Center each December for 10 performances. It's a big, delightful and very shrewd production -- lots of work for professionals, lots of work for the older students in the company school, and lots of work for kiddies. I have no idea what will happen to that or who will take over the almost 2-week slot they used to have at the Kravis right around Christmas time. (Miami City Ballet already has a full schedule. They once performed the Balanchine Nutcracker at the Kravis, but never got the audiences that Marie Hale's version had.)

I have lots of wonderful Ballet Florida memories, mixed inevitably with the performances that were ... well, not so memorable. A couple of highlights are occupying my mind right now:

-- watching Mauricio Wainrot set his Rite of Spring and then seeing the complete work on stage, with Tina Martin as the Chosen One. (Martin performed this last year at the Benois de la Danse at the Bolshoi.)

-- a really wonderful Barber Violin Concerto (Martins), with Lorena Jimenez, Jean-Hughes Feray, Christina Hampton.

--Martin's Cinderella (Nebrada) and Lady of the Camelias (Caniparoli) and Juliet (Nebrada).

-- electricl performances of Caniparoli's Lambarena, with Mauricio Canete and Gary Lenington alternating the fast, high-jumping star turn

-- Maria-Angeles Llamas's all-out Lady Capulet and truly scary leader of the cult in Rite of Spring.

-- Everyone putting all they had into the light, charming dances of Baker's Dozen (Tharp)

-- Elemental Brubeck (Lar Lubovitch) with Dave Brubeck in the audience and Gary Lenington as the Man in Red

-- Christina Hampton and others conveying deep emotion entirely through dance, in Ben Stevenson's Four Last Songs.

There are lots more experiences to reminisce about. The visual memories and the feelings remain floating in the ether. They will continue doing so even now that the company itself has shut its doors. Thanks to all for a really good time. :D

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