"I'm still healing," choreographer Eliot Feld told Back Stage after announcing a year-long suspension of his professional dance company, Ballet Tech. "People feel bad, people feel sorry, and some people feel it's a real loss. One sustains a dance company out of internal will, by insisting on its being. They're very expensive to run and the competition is extraordinary. You build a castle out of sand and if you don't keep protecting it, or can't any longer, the tide comes in and it disappears."
After directing dance companies of his own for over 30 years, on Mon., April 28, Feld sent a detailed letter to the dance community explaining his decision to fold the Ballet Tech performance company for the 2003-04 season. Feld has suffered radically diminished financial support due to the general economic climate, affecting both his earned and unearned income, while his principal funder, the LuEsther T. Mertz Charitable Trust, reduced Feld's grant to $350,000, which would cover only 8% of his 2004 expenses. (In 1994, by comparison, the trust granted Ballet Tech $822,290, covering 24% of expenses.) Rather than try to stretch his funding to maintain both the performing and educational operations of Ballet Tech, Feld has chosen to devote all of his resources to his New York City Public School for Dance.
"I had a choice," Feld explained. "I could have suspended the school instead of the company, but you can't really tell children to 'take a year off.' So I made what I thought was the responsible choice." Each year, about 30,000 third- and fourth-graders audition for the Ballet Tech school, a unique public school and training facility funded jointly by the New York City public school system and the Ballet Tech Foundation. Between 800 and 1,000 children are selected to take an introductory course in ballet dancing. At the end of the year, the most interested and talented children are invited to attend the Ballet Tech school full-time. Located at 890 Broadway, the school offers intensive ballet training along with the requisite academic classes for students from fourth grade through high school. "And everything is tuition-free," Feld said. "The students pay for nothing."
It costs Ballet Tech just under $2 million a year to run its school. "I feel we really need to protect it," asserted Feld. "The tradition of ballet is wholly contingent upon the dance education of those we would have be our heirs," he wrote in his letter, "and I propose that the evolution of that tradition is stunted when the necessary training at the requisite age is unavailable to any element of the population."
Relieved of the responsibilities of running his professional troupe, Feld will now devote his energies completely to the school. He has also made it clear to his company's dancers that if they want, they can work there with him in some capacity. "And remember, this is only a suspension," Feld emphasizes. "And I hope it will only be for a year."