As the dancers took the stage at the Music Under the Stars event last Sunday, few in the crowd knew the backstage controversy that nearly overshadowed the event.
It was the inaugural act of the newly formed Ballet Theatre of Toledo, supported by parents who broke off from the Toledo Ballet Association after it was announced the contract of artistic director Nigel Burgoine would not be renewed.
Anne Marie Getz, Burgoine’s wife, left her post as principal dancer and instructor for Toledo Ballet to head the Theatre. Burgoine, who had been with Toledo Ballet for nine years, cannot instruct or choreograph, due to a non-compete agreement binding him until June 2006.
“I had been with the Ballet for 35 years; taught for 20,” Getz said. “I didn’t feel like I could stay with an organization that let my husband go.”
Burgoine and Getz said they are thrilled the parents felt strongly enough to create a new company.
“We are so pleased with what they have accomplished. It’s brought tears to our eyes on many occasions,” Getz said. “The generosity of the parents is unbelievable.”
The Theatre was offered a temporary studio in the Catz Dance Academy in Maumee. Getz said the company will soon be incorporated as a non-profit organization and will sign a lease on a new site.
Burgoine said he and Toledo Ballet did not agree on the move to employ an executive director and to become semi-professional. He has to take a backseat to his wife for now but said, “next year will be a whole different story. I’ve got some real gems that have never been seen before in Toledo. Classical productions, but very big.”
Planning their first performance for Music Under the Stars was not without controversy. Toledo Free Press acquired several documents from attorneys representing both companies, one from Toledo Ballet threatening litigation. In this document, legal counsel for Toledo Ballet named Burgoine and several parents, stating all were in breach of duty or contract. It included an 11-page complaint dominated by a threat to submit to the Lucas County Common Pleas Court.
“We believe that it is possible to reach an agreement regarding these disputed matters that allows the parties to go their own ways, while preventing unfair competition,” stated an Aug. 4 letter from Toledo Ballet attorney Joseph Thacker to Joseph Albrechta, legal representation for the Theatre.
In another letter, dated Aug. 23 from Albrechta to Margaret Lockhart (of Thacker’s firm), Albrechta disputed Toledo Ballet allegations that Getz had taken intellectual property, namely dance steps.
“Toledo Ballet Association does not own the exclusive rights to any ballet steps,” the letter said. The letter also said the Music Under the Stars performance was videotaped for the Toledo Ballet to review.
“We felt we needed to go in a different direction. We did not renew [Burgoine’s] contract,” read a statement released by Toledo Ballet Association, made by Debbie Monagan of Communica.
“Since this showdown, I’ve gotten more involved,” said one parent, who asked to remain anonymous due to the threatened litigation, which he said could jeopardize the many years his child and other students have put into ballet. “When it came to light they weren’t renewing Nigel, this was devastating. I know from my daughter, Nigel is the ballet. Why on earth would you get rid of him?”
Many of the parents supporting the Toledo Ballet took issue with the change in the code of regulations and the attempt to go semi-professional, the father said.
“How do parents pay for professional dancers?” he asked. “Then an executive director? It just didn’t seem right.”
The father said he joined more than 100 people who turned out for the annual meeting in June to protest Burgoine’s non-renewal.
“It was awful, we had kids crying. There was an enormous outpouring of parents. [Toledo Ballet’s board] basically just thumbed their noses at us,” the father said.
Attempts to try to become part of the board left concerned parents “elected but still outnumbered,” the father said. “We met again and decided the only way around this was to start our own company.”
The Toledo Ballet’s letter asserted the parents who were elected then left to form another company breached their duty and caused harm. The company requested full disclosure of the elected parents’ actions to start up the new theatre.
Another parent, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “I was a long-standing supporter of Toledo Ballet, Anne Marie and Nigel. I was voted in as a board member, but it’s my understanding we didn’t become board members.”
This parent also asserted she made her decision to leave Toledo Ballet based on her child. “My child has been dancing for 11 years. The students form close friendships and a passion about their ballet,” she said. “Nigel and Anne Marie are the only professional ballet teachers providing the highest classical training; we weren’t moving to New York City for ballet.”
Last Sunday’s performance meant more to the parents and dancers than the Music Under the Stars let on.
“It’s very unfortunate that the parents, in support of their children, had to do something like this,” the mother said.
“It was a wonderful, tears-in-your-eyes kind of performance,” the father said. “I suppose the girls have felt it too, but they danced wonderfully.”