By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
When the final crash was looming and money was not forthcoming from the usual suspects, our wonderful and appealing dancers hit the streets of Dallas with tin cups and raised a great deal of money and support from those we had ignored. Dallas Ballet had a wonderful new list of names and phone numbers of these new contributors, but failed to follow up and invite them into our closed tent. What a great opportunity we blew.
In the midst of this crisis time, a ragtag, thrown-together Moscow Ballet company played the Music Hall, and every seat was filled. No audience for ballet? Give me a break. The company had been hurriedly assembled in Russia from dancers from various cities. No known stars, but fairly accomplished classical dancers provided a ballet evening for folks from all around, dressed as they chose. That night, at a party we threw for the Russians and our dancers, a male lead dancer defected, leaving his motel and running across Central Expressway to the Tom Thumb at Meadow Road, where his few words of English caused a citizen to contact the FBI for him. He became a lead dancer with our ballet, while supporters bought him clothes, had his teeth fixed, and generally made him welcome. His first performance was sold out at the Majestic, and we thought we had a publicity opening to attract a larger audience. But his first Dallas Ballet paycheck bounced. That speaks volumes for the ineptitude of Dallas Ballet management, one of a long line of similar incidents of financial irresponsibility.
Now let's talk about the reign of Flemming Flindt as artistic director. He was recruited specifically to build a world-class company at a time when the big hitters were still writing checks to back up their mandate. His background may have included a turn as director of the Royal Danish Ballet, but as I learned after he got here, he was a real bottom-line-savvy guy, with a string of commercially successful ballets, plays, and musicals mounted all over the world. He became my friend, and I learned a great deal about the artistic and commercial side of the world of ballet, plus the sacrifices made by dancers, physically and financially.
The same moneyed leaders hired Dennis Healey to be the Ballet executive director, teaming with Flemming, who handled the artistic side. It was a successful team, and Dennis reduced the deficits and increased the support base. We actually were invited to appear at the Santa Fe Arts Festival. We were on our way. We began to attract the attention of New York and European critics with favorable reviews.
The same rich leadership insisted on a more classical repertoire, with less modern ballets, and that required a larger company, which they agreed to fund. It was assembled and trained well in the classical Danish Bournonville tradition, as well as the Russian and French schools of dance. Dennis managed so well, he was recruited to join a Dallas commercial real estate firm and left the Ballet. Almost immediately, the oil, banking, and real estate market sources of the leadership's funds dried up. Now, the board was demanding cutbacks, reducing budgets, and at the same time coming up with grandiose schemes for bigger and better productions.
As a new member of the executive committee, I was astonished to learn that Flemming Flindt was barred from attending our meetings because he was "too abrasive." Later, I learned he had told them the truth they refused to hear, so they exiled him. His position had always been to fit his production into what they could support, but his name went on what hit the stage, and he refused to put on inferior ballet just because it would be cheap. His production friends from around the world came to Dallas for minimums to provide staging and set design as well as original music. When a world-renowned set designer was given a very limited budget for a new modern production, he did a very simple and inexpensive set with red vinyl floor covering and simple drapes, which turned out well. Alas, his check also bounced.
In searching for a replacement for Dennis, they came up with a beauty. He immediately told them what they wanted to hear.
Our company was now being invited to tour Europe -- Copenhagen, Stockholm, Berlin, Madrid, Milan -- all expenses paid, but we had to fund the travel flights. We couldn't afford to transport the company even to Fort Worth now and had worn out our welcome with potential corporate underwriters, so these great opportunities had to be declined. Finally, we went out with a whimper, not a bang. We closed it down, putting a caretaker management in place to sell off the assets.
The lesson to be learned by Dallas dance companies should be to democratize their appeal, involve young people and their parents, and promote the dancers themselves, who are true athletes in the same sense as the Cowboys, the Mavericks, the Stars, or the Rangers. No more black-tie openings, please.
I want to commend Annabelle Massey Helber for her story on the state of dance in Dallas. She conveyed the "awful truth" in a constructive and insightful manner. It is a story that needs to be told and heard. My hope is that our fair city will now have an increased awareness as to the importance of supporting dance. This support can be brought to fruition on many levels: from attending a free dance festival to buying dance concert tickets; from advocating for a stronger and more widespread media presence to high-level private and public financial backing. Otherwise, our best and brightest dancers will continue to move on to other cities that more wholeheartedly embrace dance. Our emerging and established dance companies will disappear. May this article be the beginning of a call to action for Dallas to nourish this magnificent art form.
VP of Marketing