Why Dallas Can't Dance

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

Clower claims that Marshall, who wanted to be ballet master, and the others were turned down because they didn't fit in with his "vision" for the company, which he says is detailed in a ten-page document that he declined to make available. He'd only reveal that his vision is to "provide a professional, classical ballet company for Dallas, to present 19th-century full-length classics along with new choreography."

But Shelia Applewhite, who retired last April after dancing four years for Ballet Dallas, and also danced with Dallas Ballet and American Ballet Theatre, says the reason for Clower's shunning outside help has nothing to do with the company's "vision."

"He is threatened by people who have the potential of overshining him," she says. "He was afraid that they'd try to take his position, or that it would become evident to management that there were other people who are more capable of doing his job."

Yet Clower hired Jacob Sparso, another Dallas Ballet alum, whose credentials outshine those of anyone else in the company, including his own. Sparso, one of Flemming Flindt's proteges, began his training in Copenhagen at the age of 10 at the Royal Danish Ballet. When Flindt was hired in Dallas as Dallas Ballet's new artistic director, he brought Sparso with him. After the closure of the company, Sparso danced three seasons with the Royal Ballet of Flanders in Belgium and performed for the King and Queen of Belgium and the Queen and Prince of Denmark.

But personal reasons brought Sparso back to Dallas. Now, having danced three seasons with Ballet Dallas, he's tired of people asking him why he's still here.

"Sometimes it would be nice to get more exposure or be appreciated more, but I do my best regardless of dancing in Denmark, Waco, or Dallas," Sparso says over a cup of coffee. "Sometimes I think, why do I bother--it doesn't pay what it used to. But I love to dance."

Sparso says much of the criticism of Ballet Dallas is well-founded, especially that of highlighting the company's youthful inexperience. But the attacks on Clower are not. "He's done a great job," says Sparso. "He is a believer and he has enormous enthusiasm. I don't have a problem with Thom."

But in a way, Sparso's talent and experience are a problem for Ballet Dallas. As Sparso slides through the air in his grand jettes with cool confidence and grace, the contrast between him and the rest of the company is hard to miss.

"Our (Dallas Ballet) logo used to be 'World Class at every turn,'" says Sparso. "I know better than that. But we're trying to build something. I'm just saying, give it a chance."

Unfortunately, the city's high profile balletomanes have chosen not to wait and have turned to Fort Worth Dallas Ballet instead.

According to Bruce Calder, an ex-Dallas Ballet board member who is now president of the Dallas Supporters of the Fort Worth Dallas Ballet, the governing body for the company's Dallas performances, about three years ago he, along with arts supporters Sis Carr, Juanita and Henry S. Miller, Shelia Grant and Jeremy Halbreich, president and general manager of The Dallas Morning News, decided that Ballet Dallas simply wasn't doing a good enough job.

"It wasn't a company of enough talent and excellence to be representative of Dallas," Calder says. The group started having meetings, he says, to decide what could be done. It came down to either committing to help the struggling Dallas company or throwing it over for the well-established Fort Worth Dallas Ballet. A third option--merging the two companies--was explored at several meetings, but neither company was interested.

"We decided to go to Fort Worth rather than Ballet Dallas because Fort Worth was a much more professional company," says Carr, who began supporting ballet in Dallas in the 1970s with George Skibine's Dallas Civic Ballet. "They had danced in New York and Tokyo."

Calder and Carr admit, though, that attendance is still low at the 3,300-seat Fair Park Music Hall, where Fort Worth Dallas Ballet performed just two repertories and The Nutcracker this past season with only about a third of the seats filled, and they acknowledge it will be at least two to three more years before their organization is well enough known to fill the house.

In about the same time frame, the Ballet Dallas' new, self-described board president-elect says her company will be "the most successful, most well-renowned ballet company in the United States."

Leslie Ann Crozier, 36, who owns Crozier & Henderson Mortgage Services Inc., just joined the board in February, and now introduces herself as the incoming president, although she's not even been nominated for the position. Crozier's rhetoric and bubbling enthusiasm seem to veil an underlying naivete about the company she so passionately claims to embrace. But she's nothing if not enthusiastic.

"I'm making a pledge of surrounding myself with board members in the next 12 months and we'll commit to raising half a million dollars," she says. "In addition, if I raise an additional $250,000, then I told the dancers that they get to put on a private performance for the board and all of their friends."

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