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Christopher Stowell Resigns from Oregon Ballet Theatre 31 December

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I just received the following press release from Oregon Ballet Theatre:

November 28, 2012 – PORTLAND, OR.  Oregon Ballet Theatre Artistic Director Christopher Stowell has submitted his resignation to the Oregon Ballet Theatre board, concluding nine years at the helm of the organization.


From Christopher Stowell,

“After careful consideration and thoughtful reflection, I have submitted my resignation as Artistic Director of Oregon Ballet Theatre effective at the end of December. OBT’s Board of Trustees has determined that the organization must adopt a new business model and, after much thought, I have come to the conclusion that I am not the best candidate to lead OBT into that future.

To our dedicated audiences, I want to say thank you for your support of my work during my time at OBT. I believe that classical ballet, as an art form, has a great deal to offer this community and hope that you will continue to support OBT as an audience member and donor for many years to come. It has been the greatest honor of my life to work with everyone at Oregon Ballet Theatre. As I move on to new challenges and new frontiers, my experiences at OBT will go with me and for that you have my thanks.”   

Oregon Ballet Theatre Board Chair, Ken Hick, says of Christopher’s departure,

“The Board of Trustees of Oregon Ballet Theatre is greatly appreciative of Christopher Stowell’s superb artistic leadership for almost a decade. He has created a ballet company that represents our community in its highest and brightest light. During Christopher’s tenure, OBT has become a company of national renown and international reach. Never one to rest on past accomplishments, Christopher has always pushed the limits of his own abilities and has been a model to all our dancers of how to reach higher in every performance. The Board is excited for Christopher’s next step and wish him success in all his future endeavors.”


The OBT Staff and Board are working together to develop plans for assuring continuing top quality performances for the remainder of this Season and, with the help of key external resources, will determine how Oregon Ballet Theatre will move forward on its long term strategic plans.

This is not good news.

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Will this be another Ballet San Jose debacle? I'm worried that OBT just doesn't have the financial backing of enough donors and grant dollars to sustain a beautiful rep season with 30-35 full dancers and all the support staff required. What a sad time. I give Mr. Stowell credit for guiding the company through rough waters during the past 5 years.

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I too am shocked and saddened. I am able to go to Portland occasionally to see OBT, and I've always enjoyed it. OBT is a fine company. In my mind, I've given credit to Stowell for much of that. I can only imagine financial hard times.....which nearly always creates suboptimal strategies.

I have little doubt that Stowell will land on his feet somewhere. He's certainly well connected in both Seattle and San Francisco.

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Like most of us, I'm very curious to know more about the "new business model" that the board proposed, and that seems to be the straw on the camel's back for Stowell. I saw the company in October (and haven't written up my notes yet for BA) and thought they were looking very, very well -- this is an unwelcome change.

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Like most of us, I'm very curious to know more about the "new business model" that the board proposed, and that seems to be the straw on the camel's back for Stowell. I saw the company in October (and haven't written up my notes yet for BA) and thought they were looking very, very well -- this is an unwelcome change.

I'm immediately reminded of the San Jose Ballet fiasco with Nahat being forced out to no good end.

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From an article in the Oregonian:

"Harold Goldstein, the board vice chairman, echoed Hick's assertion that no dollar target is on the table. What's being considered, he said, is a business plan no longer built around an annual production budget but instead one that "explains for each ballet how we're going to pay for it. ... Maybe I'm pie in the sky, but I don't think money is going to be our problem."

Suggests to me they want every ballet to pay for itself, which we know never works when you're planning a season. You have to use some ballets to subsidize others.

Meanwhile the same article had this telling caption to a photo

Revered -- but expensive -- ballet classics such as "The Sleepy [sic] Beauty" (which featured Lucas Threefoot in this scene from Christopher Stowell's version in 2010) might be out of OBT's reach if it's [sic] budget is significantly reduced.

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Oh ouch, that's a really wince-inducing typo!

[btw - I'm biased, but I just wanted to say how proud I am of the arts journalists in Portland who are covering this -- this kind of fast-breaking, unexpected news is tricky to cover in any context, but they are doing an excellent job.]

This quote from Hughley's article

"And without adequate ranks, they might lose permission from The Balanchine Trust to perform George Balanchine works such as "The Nutcracker," which opens Dec. 8."

was particularly interesting to me, considering the timing of this announcement.

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I haven't heard that the board is planning to reduce the number of dancers right away, and if "Nutcracker" can't come closest to paying for itself, that's frightening in itself.

I can't help wonder if the season had opened with "Swan Lake" if the board would have gotten cold feet, although the underlying nerves must have been exacerbated when large donors from the major campaign didn't follow trough with additional donations (from the OAW article).

Portland is a small market to sustain the number of major arts organizations it has, and the younger demographic is a lighter donor base, traditionally.

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Former Principal Dancer and current OBT Director of Artistic Operations, Anne Mueller, has been named the Interim Artistic Director, per the company's Facebook page:

We are delighted to report that Anne Mueller, former Principal Dancer and currently the Director of Artistic Operations at OBT, has accepted the position of Interim Artistic Director at Oregon Ballet Theatre. As we look forward to a wonderful 2nd half of the 2012-2013 season, please join is in congratulating Anne on her appointment.

Best of luck to Mueller :flowers:

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I don't know the sports analogies, but in a smaller company like OBT, the artistic director is fully involved in daily life. Even if they do nothing to plan for the next season, they will give company class, stage and rehearse repertory, oversee the other crafts (sets, costumes, lights), work with staff on marketing and promotion, and generally act as a connection point for the organization. This spring they've got Swan Lake on the schedule, which they've done a couple times before, but is still a big undertaking. Stowell staged it the last time, and I don't know what the status of his works for the company might be without him as director. After that they've got an American music program with two premieres he's arranged for and a third work new to the company, and then an all-Balanchine program that I imagine he would have staged part of (not to mention that his mother has staged a great deal of the Balanchine the company has performed -- if they'd made arrangements for her to work on that program she most certainly will, but the relationship must certainly be different).

And that's just for the spring season on stage. I'm sure that Stowell has been making plans for the 13-14 season, especially if there are new commissions in play (and without him as the director, those projects are in limbo as well), but companies are already starting to make commitments to those schedules, thinking about dancer contracts, lining up partnerships with other organizations, writing and overseeing long-term fundraising applications, and on and on and on. Being without a leader for the next however many months, while a new board figures out what they want from the company and therefore from a new director, and then preparing and running a search for that director, would be a miserable way to try and run a dance company. Mueller, who was a lovely dancer and had a great career at OBT, is well-known and well-liked by the company and the community. She's taking on a difficult task, but I think she's up to the challenge.

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I don't doubt your point of view in the least -- while I like Mueller, and think she can pull this off if the gods are kind, I am frustrated with the short-sightedness of the board's decisions that puts all this in play. I've been very impressed with Stowell's work at OBT, and am frankly worried for the future of the company. I don't give a fig for how the board chooses to present their policies -- I think they've made a big mistake.

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