Why Dallas Can't Dance

Ballet Dallas may finally succumb to years of self-inflicted mediocrity

Clower says the board felt that bringing the Flindt name back might not be a good idea for a company that is trying to put its past behind it. Plus, he says, Flindt "wanted to come in as my equal."

But board president Donna Reed says the board never discussed the matter.
"I believe Thom had a grievance with Vivi Flindt," says Fran McNulty, a former Dallas Ballet board member who has no ties with the new company but has watched it struggle."He didn't want anyone who would be a threat, who could take him out of the limelight," she says. "We could have had something wonderful, and he turns away from all people who are excellent. How can you serve the people of Dallas if you're so self-serving?"

Kent Whites, a former Dallas Ballet dancer who was also a principal with Los Angeles Ballet, Fort Worth Ballet, World Company of Japan, and the Opera of Teatro Reggio Emilio of Italy, and taught and choreographed for a number of other companies, including Manhattan Opera Lincoln Center NYC, Ballet Du Nord de France and Puerto Rican Dance Theatre, was resident choreographer for Ballet Dallas for two years but eventually quit in disgust.

"It was a fiefdom and he [Clower] did not want to be challenged," says Whites. "Thom was threatened by me. But I didn't want his job; I just wanted to go in there and be the weirdo creative guy that I am. But the better my ballets got, the more he sat on me."

But even Whites has to begrudgingly praise Clower, if only for a stubbornness that has kept dance alive in Dallas.

"He's doing valid stuff in the sense of putting pieces on stage and paying artists," Whites says. "That's what it's all about."

Dennis Marshall, who flew up from Houston to teach master classes at Ballet Dallas for two summers, is teaching this summer in Brussels instead. Marshall, who danced for ten years with American Ballet Theatre and eight with San Francisco Ballet, says that he wanted to do more for the company, as ballet master, but Clower refused his help. Although money was never discussed, Marshall says Clower insisted that it was a financial problem.

"I said many times, 'I'm willing to work for whatever, but the bottom line is I want to help you,'" says Marshall in a phone interview from Houston.

"I wasn't interested in taking his job or anything like that; I was interested in teaching."

When Dallas Ballet closed in 1988, Thom Clower was out of a job. He'd been a corps member for 11 years, and when the company closed, he had risen to ballet master, help- ing artistic director Flemming Flindt produce and rehearse the ballets. Clower was an energetic dancer and teacher with a photographic memory for choreography, adept at setting other choreographers' works on a group of dancers; that is, recreating the choreography, staging, and direction of the production as the choreographer had originally intended.

But when the company finally failed, the 27-year-old dancer found himself working at a Blockbuster video store on Greenville Avenue to pay for insurance and gas for his tomato-red Chrysler convertible. To save money, he lived with his grandmother in Terrell, and drove the 45-minute trip back and forth each day.

Although Clower says he was approached by Atlanta Ballet, the State Ballet of Missouri and Garden State Ballet in Newark, New Jersey to join their companies as a member of the corps, he had quite a few injuries, and a couple more years of dancing was probably all his body had left.

And, for Clower, dancing was inseparable from Dallas and his family. As a boy, he would accompany his mother and sister to Miss Patty's Dance School in Mesquite, where the two took dance class twice a week in a garage studio at the back of the house. When they needed a boy to dress up in a cowboy costume for all the girls to dance around in a recital, six-year-old Clower got the part, and as a thank-you, was given tap, jazz and ballet lessons from Miss Patty. Soon, Clower was hooked on dance.

"I loved it," he remembers. "We used to do jazz to the Osmond Brothers and Michael Jackson."

George Skibine, the artistic director of Dallas Civic Ballet, spotted nine-year-old Clower at an audition and asked him to join his school. Upon graduation from Terrell High School in 1978, Clower did. By then the company was professional, and the name had been changed to Dallas Ballet.

When Skibine later died and Flemming Flindt was hired as the artistic director, Clower stayed on.

After Dallas Ballet folded in 1988, Flemming Flindt returned to Denmark; his wife, Vivi, stayed behind in Dallas with their three children, two of whom were still in school.

The ballet school associated with the defunct company survived, with Vivi Flindt as director. An accomplished dancer and teacher, Vivi, like Flemming, infused the school with a great deal of sophistication and style, along with the Danish Bournonville dance technique.

Ultimately, Ballet Dallas would be born out of the remnants of the Dallas Ballet school, then called Dallas Ballet Academy.

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