Monday I got a call from Oakland Ballet artistic director Karen Brown asking me to attend a meeting the next morning at which the company had “important news” to announce. I went, naively hopeful that she was about to unveil a major new grant or sponsorship. The meeting was in a small conference room with only four journalists present, and the mournful atmosphere made it immediately clear that the news was bad.
Here’s my report in today’s Chronicle, in which I tried to provide some context for the bigger-picture history being lost:
Oakland Ballet, the spirited troupe once internationally acclaimed for rousing revivals of rare classics, announced its dissolution Tuesday. The decision comes after a critically lauded 40th anniversary season intended to mark the company’s comeback from financially troubled times.
“We’re all heartbroken about it,” artistic director Karen Brown said Tuesday in a meeting at downtown Oakland’s East Bay Foundation. “We chose to look at our situation realistically. And coming off of an artistically successful season, it was a hard thing to look at.”
Brown described the factors behind the closure as a “perfect storm.” Ticket sales at the company’s November shows fell $129,000 below target. The insolvent Calvin Simmons Theater, which Oakland Ballet had moved to for its fall season, is being closed by the city, leaving the company without a suitable home . . .
The dissolution came as sad news to many who followed the company’s storied past. Oakland Ballet began as a scrappy community troupe in 1965, but entered the annals of dance history when founder Ronn Guidi decided to mount neglected American classics and lost milestones from Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Working with legends like Leonide Massine and Agnes de Mille, and with key historical figures like the daughter of Bronislava Nijinska, he brought Oakland Ballet international renown for resurrecting major ballets with attention to detail and theatrical flair.
“This news (of the closure) wasn’t unexpected, sadly,” Guidi said, reached by phone. “My life’s work is not gone — the Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theater, the Royal Ballet and the Kirov all dance these works we brought back. Of course it’s disappointing to see the home where we brought them back to life disappear. But I do understand times change.”
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