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.
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.
Lerman with Cassie Meador, current director of Dance Exchange
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."
There's a rare moment in Broadway's Hadestown where the audience is able to breathe a sigh of relief. The smash-hit success is not well-known for being light-hearted or easy-going; Hadestown is a show full of workers and walls and, well, the second act largely takes place in a slightly modernized version of hell.
But deep into the second act, the show reaches a brief homeostasis of peace, one of those bright, shining moments that allows the audience to think "maybe it will turn out this time," as the character Hermes keeps suggesting.
After songs and songs of conflict and resentment, Hades, the king of the underground, and his wife, the goddess Persephone, rekindle their love. And, unexpectedly, they dance. It's one of the most compelling moments in the show.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
There's always been something larger than life about choreographer Mark Morris. Of course, there are the more than 150 works he's made and that incisive musicality that makes dance critics drool. But there's also his idiosyncratic, no-apologies-offered personality, and his biting, no-holds-barred wit. And, well, his plan to keep debuting new dances even after he's dead.
So it should come as little surprise that his latest distinction is also a bit larger than life: The New York Landmarks Conservancy is adding Morris to its list of "Living Landmarks."
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.