Silicon Valley Ballet Shuts Down

Janice Berman on March 9, 2016
Lahna Vanderbush and Ihosvany Rodriguez performed in Silicon Valley Ballet's final program. Photo by Alejandro Gomez

Silicon Valley Ballet, after 30 years of comebacks from one near-death experience after another, is shutting down, this time apparently for good, it was announced on Monday. The company, established in 1986 as the San Jose-Cleveland Ballet, was felled by debts and taxes and pending legal woes, despite well-subscribed fundraising campaigns, the most recent of which, in 2015, averted a shutdown by a matter of days, raising $3.4 million. There have also been administrative woes, including a pending lawsuit.

The company has 32 dancers and a roster of part-time and full-time administrative personnel, all of who are out of work. A formal announcement from the company will be made later in the week, said board chairman Millicent Powers, who has been functioning as executive director since Alan Hineline departed, for “personal” reasons, after a brief tenure. Greg Perry, marketing director, also recently resigned, and Artistic Associate Karen Gabay, a former ballerina, was dismissed in February as a cost-saving measure.

The San Jose-based company, under the artistic direction of former American Ballet Theatre star Jose Manuel Carreno, returned in February from a successful, fully paid-for tour of Spain. Carreno’s three-year contract expires at the end of the season. After the tour, he was quoted in press accounts as saying the troupe was fighting for survival.

Artistically, the company has moved steadily upward, aided by a creative partnership with ABT that helped raise performance standards. Working with Associate Director Raymond Rodriguez, Carreno also brought in several excellent male dancers from his homeland, Cuba, and added Ommi Pipit-Suksun, a well-regarded soloist from San Francisco Ballet, to the roster of principal ballerinas.

Students of San Jose Ballet School waiting in the wings. Photo: D. Hayes

Its affiliated San Jose Ballet School, launched by founder and former artistic director Dennis Nahat when the company moved to San Jose, will continue, Powers said, as a “completely new and independent pre-professional ballet training school.” The school, with a new name (yet to be announced), will be owned and directed by the school’s current director, Dalia Rawson, fulfilling its obligations to its 250 students and parents as well as to enrollees in its intensive summer training program. Whether the school will continue beyond the end of the summer has not been determined.

During Silicon Valley Ballet’s bid to stay alive, Powers said, “we had one miracle after another. We did speak to a lot of very generous donors last week, but you need to be able to forecast and know where you are, and that fell short. It was through the fault of no one person.”

For the terminated dancers, whose contract stipulated 28 weeks of employment, the news of the shutdown is more than a shock. It comes at a critical time on the calendar. This is when companies nationwide audition and hire new dancers; Many contracts have already been given out, with the process generally ending around April 1. And if they can’t afford to go to the audition in person, the dancer-candidates need to be able to share videos of their performances with prospective employers. So far, according to the dancers’ union representative, Nora Heiber of the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA), the company hasn’t made these tapes available. Nor, she said, has the dancers’ transition fund, some $80,000 collected from the dancers to help them when they retire, change jobs, or study for new careers, been located. “They haven’t confirmed for us that it still exists, and we’ve asked them repeatedly about it,” Heiber said. Nor, she said, has there been a confirmation of the dancers’ rights to severance payments and continued health insurance under their contract, which does not expire until September.

“We care so much about them, but we have to be clear with all our stakeholders,” Powers said yesterday. “This is a heartbreaking situation for us. Our dancers are our calling card and our mission.”

No decision has been announced on whether the company will file for bankruptcy or make other arrangements with its creditors, which, according to a suit and countersuit filed in Santa Clara Superior Court, includes the IRS, over a failure to pay payroll taxes.

Silicon Valley Ballet’s most recent show, “Director’s Choice” at its home theater, San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, drew high praise from reviewers. Its final two shows of the season, “Bodies of Technology,” March 25-27, and choreographer Septime Webre’s full-length Alice (In Wonderland), April 29-May 1, have been canceled. The company website is down, and there have been no announcements as yet regarding ticket refunds.