There have been several signs recently indicating the dire situation facing the Ohio Ballet. Last December budget woes forced the company to cancel the six performances of its Winterfest Program planned for Cleveland and Akron in February. In April, the company announced it was also canceling its spring season. The troupe's web site, www.ohioballet.org, currently consists of no more than a splash screen displaying, in total, one image and 32 words.
Jeffrey Graham Hughes, who has been artistic director since 1999 when he took over from Heinz Poll (who led the Ohio Ballet to national prominence), is currently the company's only employee. He and his wife, ballet mistress Pamela Reyman, have pumped their own money into keeping the company afloat. The Beacon Journal writes that the city has also donated $1.6 million to the company over the past few years.
The paper lists diverse reasons behind the company's troubles, which include declining audiences and shrinking corporate and foundation funding post-9/11, difficulties with the transition to new management, board infighting, ineffective fundraisers and some unsuccessful programming choices.
According to the paper, the relationship between Hughes, a former Cleveland San Jose Ballet and Joffrey Ballet dancer, and the company's dancers, got off to a rocky start. In spring 2000, a group asked the board to demand Hughes's resignation; the request was refused.
Hughes told the Beacon Journal that Poll "worked from a base of fear and I work much more from a base of cultivation and encouragement. That can be a detriment. I've had mature dancers in the last several years, so that hasn't been an issue. But in the beginning, there were people that weren't mature, and they needed that base of fear."
Other problems reportedly ensued when the board's campaign to reduce debt led to personnel being cut.
Ohio Ballet was founded in 1968 and operates on a $1.2 million budget. It uses free studio and office space provided by the University of Akron, where the 12-member company is in residence.