Community ‘Shocked’ by Ballet San Antonio Upheaval

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Ballet San Antonio rehearses Balanchine. Photo by Tami Kegley.

Ballet San Antonio rehearses Balanchine. Photo by Tami Kegley.

San Antonio’s performing arts community was left reeling on Wednesday with the announcement on social media of the immediate departure of Ballet San Antonio Artistic Director Gabriel Zertuche along with the resignation of President and Executive Director Courtney Mauro Barker.

The duo did not delve into the specifics behind their abrupt decisions – neither did Ballet SA – but Barker stated her resignation was “Due to a series of board decisions that I can not support” in a Facebook post.

Ballet San Antonio confirmed their departures on Thursday. Neither Barker nor Zertuche could be reached for comment for this article by deadline.

Late Thursday, Ballet San Antonio Board Chair Christine Varela Mayer responded via a written statement confirming the organizational shakeup and announcing that San Antonio Symphony President David Gross will step in as “executive consultant” as the search for replacements begins.

“Ballet San Antonio will have no further comment,” stated a follow up email from a spokesperson.

These statements from Zertuche and Barker appeared on Facebook on Wednesday and have sparked a storm of reactions:

Ballet San Antonio Artistic Director Gabriel Zertuche

Gabriel Zertuche, former Ballet San Antonio artistic director. Courtesy photo.

Gabriel Zertuche:

“I am sad to announce that I am no longer the artistic director of Ballet San Antonio. Only a few short years ago, my wonderful colleague Courtney Mauro Barker and I embarked on a journey to ensure that San Antonio would have in place a nationally recognized ballet company. From Dracula to Sir Ben Stevenson’s Romeo and Juliet, from collaborations with the San Antonio Symphony, Opera San Antonio to The George Balanchine Trust, we were able to strengthen Ballet San Antonio’s repertoire and significantly grow our audiences in only three short seasons. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the incredibly talented and motivated Ballet San Antonio dancers, my artistic staff, and Courtney and her executive staff. We can be proud of our accomplishments. Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout my tenure with Ballet San Antonio. We have had a tremendous run.” 

Courtney Barker, executive director of Ballet San Antonio.

Courtney Barker, former president and executive director of Ballet San Antonio. Courtesy Photo.

Courtney Mauro Barker:

“Due to a series of board decisions that I can not support, it is with a heavy heart that I have resigned as President & Executive Director of Ballet San Antonio. I have thoroughly enjoyed building the professional ballet company in San Antonio alongside my incredibly hard-working staff, and especially the extremely talented Gabriel A. Zertuche. Together we have produced high-caliber ballet productions, and delivered free community performances and arts education for thousands of underserved youth. I am so grateful to all of the supporters, donors and volunteers and I am so proud of the amazing dancers. Thank you to all of my arts colleagues for your constant support. For now I look forward to focusing on my beautiful family and other endeavors.”

Former Opera San Antonio artistic director, Tobias Picker, who left mid-season after the production of “Salome” over alleged creative and budgetary differences, offered this pointed response:

“Dear Gabe, sadly, with Courtney Mauro Barker and your departures, San Antonio is now devoid of any significant artistic leadership. I will always recall our collaborations when I was with the opera with great satisfaction and joy. But, I do look forward to working with you in the future with other dance companies throughout the world!”

According to Mayer, “(Symphony President) Gross will continue to lead the San Antonio Symphony as president. … We thank Courtney and Gabe for their combined years of service and we wish them success in their future endeavors.”

The news of the reshuffle comes just two weeks before the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is set to celebrate the start of its second year of operation and less than two months before Ballet SA’s 2015-2016 season begins in early October.

In an additional statement, it was confirmed that “rehearsals for the upcoming production of Swan Lake have begun and leadership has been identified to conduct these. Ballet San Antonio will be working to identify an interim artistic director until a permanent artistic director is named.”

Zertuche and Barker are often credited as the spark plugs that propelled Ballet San Antonio from a somewhat sleepy regional company to a company on the rise. Since 2012 this creative and executive team not only oversaw the transition into the new Tobin Center as a prominent company in residence but they also created alliances with major forces in the ballet world such as Sir Ben Stevenson, who also serves on the advisory board for the company. It is Stevenson’s “Swan Lake” that the company is currently in rehearsal to premiere in October.

Under their guidance, the company successfully gained permission to dance Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations” from the Balanchine Trust – which is no small feat. They have also seen to it that the company works tirelessly with underserved communities offering free performances and classes at no cost to Boys and Girls Club of San Antonio. This public program was selected last fall as a member of the American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) Project Plié program. Ballet SA’s company outreach manager Danielle Campbell Steans was awarded a full scholarship to the ABT national teaching training program in support of their work here in San Antonio.

One thing remains certain: the exit of these two professionals leaves a major gap to be filled.

 

*Featured/top image: Ballet San Antonio rehearses Balanchine. File photo by Tami Kegley.

 

Related Stories:

Ballet San Antonio Takes Artistic Leap Forward

Ballet San Antonio Rises to a New Challenge With Balanchine

Romeo & Juliet: Game Changer for Ballet San Antonio

Ballet San Antonio Brings ‘Romeo and Juliet’ to The Tobin

Ballet San Antonio’s ‘Dracula’ Takes Flight at The Tobin

21 thoughts on “Community ‘Shocked’ by Ballet San Antonio Upheaval

  1. What are we — the ticket-buying supporters of SA’s locally produced music and dance — to think is behind this startling news about SA Ballet?
    I’d still like to know why Tobias Picker left Opera SA. Picker’s reputation as a composer and director is what put Opera SA on the opera world’s radar….and when he left, the radar went SA-silent.
    And let’s not forget that two successive CEOs of SA Symphony left in 2012 and 2013 after difficulties with the symphony board of directors.
    And in 2008 the symphony board was responsible for firing conductor Larry Rachleff — amidst protests from many symphony musicians and supporters.
    Who are on the boards of these organizations? I can’t help thinking they are they know-it-all Texans who insist their ideas are the ones that fly — causing the artistic staff to flee. Do they know anything about the respective art they are controlling? Most board members are chosen for their ability to raise funds, admittedly a crucial aspect of any arts organization’s success. Why does SA chronically lose top-notch artistic directors? Maybe the business arm and the artistic arm of each board should be separate.
    (And I remember a highly respected SA Symphony conductor some decades back whose contract was not renewed, even though the SA Sym. had glorious seasons under his baton and included adventurous works in its programs rather than the tried-and-true-but-still-sorta-tired warhouses. The story I heard was that the board was upset that the conductor was living with his girlfriend without benefit of marriage.)
    (And when the SA Symphony was “trying on” guest conductors prior to signing S. Lang Lessing, I remember items on the audience questionnaire (which I assume was approved/generated by the symphony board) about the conductor’s APPEARANCE! Now that strikes me as a criterion generated by some small minds.)
    It seems to me that this is another example of SA being its own worst enemy.

  2. I went to several of the new ballet company’s perfs last year. I was blown away by the high caliber of the dancing. And being given permission to perform a Balanchine work was very significant — and they did a very good job of it.
    I wonder if the SA Ballet will be able to attract and keep fine young dancers with the new artistic leadership as it has with Zertuche and Barker.

  3. Not surprised. Have we forgotten how the board removed the former artistic director and founder Mayra Worthen? In reading the article I am taken aback by the comment that the company was a “somewhat sleepy regional company”. As a former collaborater with Ms. Worthen, I take offense to that comment. Let’s bring her back.

    • Mayra Worthen has a ballet company — Ballet Latino San Antonio (formerly Ballet Hispanico de San Antonio). No offense is intended toward Ms. Worthen, and the successes of Zertuche and Barker do not in any way diminish her professional accomplishments. However, it is undeniable that under the leadership of Zertuche and Barker, Ballet San Antonio made amazing strides in two short years.

  4. You can see world-class dance in San Antonio through the local presenter ARTS San Antonio. From September 2015 through March 2016, you can experience Don Quixote by Sahrdaya, CARMEN.Maquia by Ballet Hispanico, The Nutcracker by Mejia Ballet International, Fiesta Mexicano Americano! by Los Lobos and Ballet Folklorico Mexicano, Band of the Royal Marines and Highland Pipers and Dancers and the innovative multimedia production Mr. and Mrs. Dream. To buy tickets, affordable season subscriptions or to view performance videos, visit ArtsSA.org.

    • ArtsSA.org does a wonderful job of bringing touring companies to San Antonio. However, Ballet San Antonio belongs to San Antonio. The goal of Barker and Zertuche was to build the foundation for a truly world-class ballet company for our city. They were succeeding and this development is a set-back. How the company recovers from this blow will be the true testament of their staying power and ability to continue to grow. We will be watching.

  5. @John –
    Changes like this are happening to a variety of nonprofits and not just arts ones. There has been upheaval over the past number of years with a variety of organizations , but it seems to have really increased this year. Nonprofit staff should be treated as employees of a company (which is what a nonprofit is and should operate as such), with performance reviews and plans for improvement if there are personnel issues. It would be interesting to see what the boards and even their legal counsels have to say and how many put this into practice. Many times board are acting autonomously and their own personal self-interests and community stature come into play into what should be business decisions. For instance, they might insist that their friends or relatives get contracts or jobs with the nonprofit, both of which are huge conflict of interest and leads to integrity issues. The Rivard Report should perhaps do an investigative piece on the state of nonprofit management and their boards in San Antonio.

    If the nonprofit sector is in turmoil with top management turnover, and especially if that turnover is kept quiet or secretive, the community suffers with inconsistent programs and services. (Never mind the reputation of the organization and the individual.) This, in turn, affects bringing corporations to town. Companies look at the nonprofit sector as it is an important part of the overall community. With upheaval and turmoil in regards to the professional staff, this reflects on the ethics and business practices of the community as a whole and companies will avoid bringing their business to town. We need transparency for all of our nonprofits since it is the individuals in the community that support them. One nonprofit is an anomaly, but multiple ones each month is a symptom of a larger issue.

  6. Leadership changes can be very stressful and transitions take time. Wishing the best for the company. Meanwhile, I encourage everyone to attend other local performances. I love all of the groups being brought onto our city’s stages, but don’t forget about the home grown talent.

    • I would like to stress that the very fine talent that exists at Ballet San Antonio doesn’t cease to exist with the untimely exit of Zertuche and Barker. To my knowledge, ballet mistress Amy Fote is still at the helm in the ballet studio and her influence over this company of very fine dancers in the year that she has been with the company has been significant. Their performances have become richer under her guidance. The dancers deserve to be seen and supported in their upcoming performance of “Swan Lake” which is being set on the company by the incredibly talented Dominic Walsh. The board of directors of Ballet San Antonio have some explaining to do, but the company doesn’t deserve to be punished for the board’s apparent misstep. I will be at “Swan Lake” and look forward to transparency from the board of directors. We shall see.

      • Yes, but principal dancers Jayson Pescasio and Sarah Pautz’s (!!!) departures preceded this bad news, and I don’t see last year’s fantastic soloist Yosvani Cortellan on the company roster either. What happened there?

        • Ah ha! We were not aware of these departures, and this is the first I am hearing of it. This is a very good question. It seems that a press release of some sort issued by Ballet SA would have been in order. I am always open to having a conversation – on or off the record…

          • I stopped in to the Conservatory the week of Aug. 10th to ask about classes for my child. Sarah Pautz was teaching class and Jason was taking. I was told that they had decided to leave and were headed to Alabama Ballet. The mood was somber and nothing more was said as to why. I don’t know of Yosvani’s situation, but his wife is teaching at the Conservatory. She may be willing to speak with you if you want to do more research on this. I think that the public deserves to know whatever the story is. Sarah and Jason were committed to the company and they have a following. I am certainly an enthusiastic fan of all three artists, as well as Gabriel Zertuche. Sarah was expected to perform the white/black swan, no? She is in all of the promotional photographs. Something very serious must have happened for them to leave. The company and especially its directors seemed to have been doing EVERYTHING right last year. They were a first-class company. These very poor decisions by the Board seem like self-sabotage. How very very sad for the city–we are the losers here. These artists, and directors will go on to do great things elsewhere.

  7. Everyone seems surprised but ask the 30% turnover of dancers (including two principal dancers and one first soloist). Everything has happened in the company in the past few years that would make any human resource department cringe. The board had their reasons. Make a few phone calls. The evidence might just frighten the local San Antonio community.

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