Trey McIntyre Project's farewell performance at Jacob's Pillow. PC Christopher Duggan.

They Founded Companies—Then They Moved On. Here's Why.

Starting and sustaining a dance company is not for the faint of heart. It often takes tremendous sacrifice in terms of time, energy and money. But it's not a life sentence. Arts organizations, like everything else, come to an end, and nothing could be more important to an artist's vitality than knowing when to call it quits. Even as the founder of a company, there is a graceful way to move on.


Why Stop?

For some directors, like Dance Exchange founder Liz Lerman, it's simply time to move forward. "I needed more freedom and the organization needed fresh vision and leadership," says Lerman, who left the company in 2011. Trey McIntyre ended his Boise, Idaho­–based troupe in 2015 to have time to expand his own artistic practice to include filmmaking and photography. "I gave every waking moment to that organization, and that is just not sustainable for a lifetime," he says.

McIntyre's company had achieved its aims, like building a base in a non-dance city and bringing dance into public spaces through spontaneous events. "For a nonprofit to end when its mission is completed is a great thing," he says. Sandra Organ Solis also felt she accomplished much of what she set out to do with Sandra Organ Dance Company (later renamed Earthen Vessels) during the troupe's 16-year run. "We fulfilled our mission, which was to educate and diversify the audience for dance in Houston," says Solis, who closed her company in 2014. "I saw that other companies were in place to continue our mission."

The Logistics of Leaving

McIntyre made the announcement several months before the company shuttered, leaving time to plan a farewell tour, give the dancers an opportunity to get new jobs and let the emotional dust settle. They enjoyed a tearful goodbye show at Jacob's Pillow, one of the first places where they performed.

"You can't imagine the number of loose ends that need to be taken care of in the dismantling of an organization," says McIntyre. "And there is a lot less help to get it done. The whole process took me about two years after the company had officially ended."

Lerman's situation was even more complicated as Dance Exchange owned a building, operated a school and ran several educational programs in addition to being a performance company. Lerman began to shift her position to other artists before she left, having them guide day-to-day programming and future visioning. This helped pave the road for a smooth transition, though the process took about 10 years altogether.

Second Chapters

Being free from board meetings, fundraising and keeping a flock of dancers engaged can allow founding artists to flourish in their new chapters. Lerman has started an academic career as an institute professor at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University, where she teaches classes on the creative process. She recently began research for her newest work, with the working title Wicked Bodies, slated to premiere in the next few years.

Having time to do something other than make dances can be a reward in itself. McIntyre's documentary Gravity Hero is expected to appear at upcoming film festivals, and he continues to work on his photography books and his blog on the artistic process. His dance work is still performed all over the country, including a new work for San Francisco Ballet in 2018. He says, "The gift to myself as an artist to be able to make my creative work my priority is remarkable."

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Courtesy Harlequin

What Does It Take to Make a Safe Outdoor Stage for Dance?

Warmer weather is just around the corner, and with it comes a light at the end of a hibernation tunnel for many dance organizations: a chance to perform again. While social distancing and mask-wearing remain essential to gathering safely, the great outdoors has become an often-preferred performance venue.

But, of course, nature likes to throw its curveballs. What does it take to successfully pull off an alfresco show?

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Dwight Rhodens "Ave Maria," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

Keeping dancers safe outside requires the same intentional flooring as you have in the studio—but it also needs to be hearty enough to withstand the weather. With so many factors to consider, two ballet companies consulted with Harlequin Floors to find the perfect floor for their unique circumstances.

Last fall, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre invested in a mobile stage that allowed the dancers to perform live for socially distanced audiences. "But we didn't have an outdoor resilient floor, so we quickly realized that if we had any rain, we were going to be in big trouble—it would have rotted," says artistic director Susan Jaffe.

The company purchased the lightweight, waterproof Harlequin's AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and the heavy-duty Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl, which is manufactured with BioCote® Antimicrobial Protection to help with the prevention of bacteria and mold. After an indoor test run while filming Nutcracker ("It felt exactly like our regular floor," says Jaffe), the company will debut the new setup this May in Pittsburgh's Schenley Park during a two-week series of performances shared with other local arts organizations.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Open Air Series last fall. The company plans to roll out their new Harlequin AeroDeck® sprung floor panels and Harlequin Cascade™ vinyl floor for more outdoor performances this spring.

Harris Ferris, Courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

In addition to the possibility of rain, a range of temperatures also has to be taken into account. When the State Ballet of Rhode Island received a grant from the state to upgrade its 15-year-old stage, executive director Ana Fox chose the Harlequin Cascade vinyl floor in the lighter gray color "so that it would be cooler if it's reflecting sunlight during daytime performances," she says.

However, for the civic ballet company's first performance on its new 24-by-48–foot stage on November 22, heat was less of a concern than the Northeastern cold. Fortunately, Fox says the surface never got icy or too stiff. "It felt warm to the feel," she says. "You could see the dancers didn't hesitate to run or step into arabesque." (The Harlequin Cascade floor is known for providing a good grip.)

"To have a safe floor for dancers not to worry about shin splints or something of that nature, that's everything," she says. "The dancers have to feel secure."

State Ballet of Rhode Island first rolled out their new Harlequin Cascade™ flooring for an outdoor performance last November.

Courtesy of Harlequin

Of course, the elements need to be considered even when dancers aren't actively performing. Although Harlequin's AeroDeck is waterproof, both PBT and SBRI have tarps to cover their stages to keep any water out. SBRI also does damp mopping before performances to get pollen off the surface. Additionally, the company is building a shed to safely store the floor long-term when it's not in use. "Of course, it's heavy, but laying down the floor and putting it away was not an issue at all," says Fox, adding that both were easy to accomplish with a crew of four people.

Since the Harlequin Cascade surface is versatile enough to support a wide range of dance styles—and even opera and theater sets—both PBT and SBRI are partnering with other local arts organizations to put their outdoor stages to use as much as possible. Because audiences are hungry for art right now.

"In September, I made our outdoor performance shorter so we wouldn't have to worry about intermission or bathrooms, but when it was over, they just sat there," says Jaffe, with a laugh. "People were so grateful and so happy to see us perform. We just got an overwhelming response of love and gratitude."

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz in Susan Jaffes "Carmina Terra," part of PBT's Open Air Series last fall.

Kelly Perkovich, courtesy Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre

February 2021