Dance Alloy, Kelly-Strayhorn theaters to merge

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At an intimate reception tonight in the lobby of the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, leaders of the theater and of Dance Alloy Theater announced the two arts organizations will merge, the product of months of planning and discussion first made public in May.

"Ultimately, this is a really good fit for both organizations," said Francisco Escalante, chair of the board of directors of the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. "Our missions are similar, the goals that we have as organizations were similar. When we really looked at this in detail, we really felt this was a win-win for both organizations and for the arts in general in Pittsburgh."

Under the new business model, the Kelly-Strayhorn will handle the daily operations of Dance Alloy in Friendship and manage the Dance Alloy school, which has more than 70 students registered this fall. Dancers with the 36-year-old modern dance troupe, which suspended its fall mainstage season due to the pending merger, have been invited to teach classes at the school and explore performance and choreographic opportunities as part of the Kelly-Strayhorn's programming and series. But the dance company remains on hiatus.

Kelly-Strayhorn staff also hopes to utilize the Dance Alloy venue for rehearsals, programs and artist residencies.

Moving forward, the merged groups will be governed by a board of directors made up of both Kelly-Strayhorn and Dance Alloy representatives.

Dance Alloy approached the Kelly-Strayhorn last spring about the possibility of merging because Dance Alloy "over the past couple of years has had some difficult financial times and was challenged to evaluate the model that it had in place," said Cabot Earle, chief administrative officer and general counsel, who has sat on the Dance Alloy board since 2008.

But while talks were under way between board leaders, the past several months have been marked by rumors and bruised feelings among some longtime Alloy supporters who said they felt left out of the loop.

"We had gotten no communication from the company at all," said honorary board member Susan Gillis-Kruman, until she received a letter from Dance Alloy's board of directors in September. It said a merger was being explored and was expected to be completed by the end of the year. But it did not detail what would happen to the dancers and what exactly a merger could mean for the future of the troupe, she said.

"I'll just say we did the best that we could to keep people informed, and we were certainly focused on trying to see whether a merger would, in fact, serve the interests of the organizations," Mr. Earle said.

Ms. Gillis-Kruman has been involved with the company since its inception in 1976, when it was a collective of less than a dozen dancers. In time, the group's goal became "to have a first-rate modern dance company that did a variety of choreographers," she said. "The artistic director certainly choreographed, but the point was to bring in other artistic visions."

Once leadership was adopted to help guide the fledgling group, Ms. Gillis-Kruman and Elsa Limbach served as artistic directors, followed by Mark Taylor (1991-2003), Beth Corning (2003-09) and Greer Reed-Jones (2009-11).

Ms. Gillis-Kruman said she has felt disconnected from Dance Alloy's board and its overall direction since Ms. Corning's sudden dismissal. Some honorary board members approached Alloy leaders at that time to discuss their ideas about the long-term goals for the company, but talks weren't very fruitful.

"None of them seemed really receptive," Ms. Gillis-Kruman said. For her, it's still unclear what happened to the company the past couple years.

"The situation was one of economics," said former Dance Alloy managing director Susan Sparks, who was let go in April. "It was the difficult time and the cuts in the state and federal funding that really hurt us financially."

When Mr. Earle joined the board, Dance Alloy had "a cash reserve of some kind," he said. That resource has since been exhausted.

"I had a feeling that everything wasn't completely right and that we weren't doing amazing financially," said Jasmine Hearn, who performed with Dance Alloy during its 2010-11 season. Therefore, the announcement in late summer that there would be no fall season didn't come as a complete surprise to her.

"Some of us were completely shocked about how abrupt it was," she said. "If you find out so late, you would think that there would be some sort of period of transition, but it was more just a clean cut."

The board tried to keep dancers updated on developments throughout the summer through emails and meetings, Mr. Earle said.

Not finding out sooner about the company's definite fall hiatus hindered Ms. Hearn's ability to seek out and prepare for auditions for fall work, she said. But now she is developing her own pieces and prepping for the Staycee Pearl dance project's December production at the Kelly-Strayhorn.

"I wish that there had been a little more open communication" that could have helped relieve some unnecessary stress and tension, she said.

Sara Bauknecht:


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