"Dance Theatre is not shutting down," said founding director Arthur Mitchell. "We are taking a hiatus with the company, to stop and assess where we are."
At a press conference this morning, officials emphasized the legacy and still-strong reputation of the groundbreaking African-American ballet troupe, and spoke of a hiatus as the best way for the company to stabilize its finances and continue performing on an international level.
"Yes, we could scale down to ten or 15 dancers. We could do a lot of stop-gaps, but we've existed in a way we need to continue to exist," said Dance Theatre choreographer Robert Garland.
The company's school and other educational programs will continue operating during the coming season. Restructuring efforts will focus on securing future funding and finding a successor for Mitchell.
Mitchell, a former New York City Ballet dancer, founded Dance Theatre in 1969 with $25,000 of his own money and remains its public face, but his administration of the group has drawn criticism recently. Mitchell and other company officials admitted that it was time for the company to hire an executive director to help run the organization, while Mitchell concentrates on artistic direction.
"We've got something so valuable that we want to build it and institutionalize it into something that will last beyond any one person," said board member Rodney Slater, an attorney who served as Secretary of Transportation in the Clinton Administration.
Mitchell said the theatre is forming a seven-member advisory team, and that the company would sell unused property in Harlem to repay its debt. He named Chase Bank, the Carnegie Foundation, and the Ford Foundation as possible future donors.
Ballet Master Keith Saunders said some of the company's dancers will teach at the Dance Theatre school when it reopens on October 2. Other dancers have found work with other dance companies in New York, he said.
Members of the company will perform, as scheduled, next week at City Center's Fall for Dance Festival.
Mitchell estimated that the restructuring would take several months, and said that he remains optimistic about the future of the company. "You have to remember that this began in a garage in Harlem," he said. "Most people when they get successful, they leave the community. We decided at that time, we would stay there."