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DANCE. Since the turn of the century, dance as a performing art has had a steady growth in Cleveland. Cleveland's initial exposure to dance was through international touring artists who performed in local theaters. Over time, Cleveland created support for dance through patrons of the arts, local arts organizations, colleges, and universities. Today there is a wide selection of dance performances available to Cleveland audiences. Both ballet and modern dance have joined the other arts as active components in the rich cultural fiber of northern Ohio.

Ethnic, social, and recreational dance has always held an important place in Cleveland's multicultural setting, but it was not until the beginning of the 20th century that dance became recognized and supported as fine art. The growth of business and industry in Cleveland created a base to support a variety of cultural arts. During the first 25 years of the century, Cleveland's financial awakening led to the establishment and rapid growth of music, dance, theater, literature, and the visual arts. This support was manifested in the founding of institutions such as Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland OrchestraCleveland Institute of Music, and Cleveland Institute of Art. Also, as a result of this cultural blossoming, a local audience developed for both ballet and modern dance.

Two local personalities were instrumental in the development of this Cleveland dance audience: Cleveland's cultural visionary, Adella Prentiss Hughes, and local arts impresario, Giacomo Bernardi, who brought to the city the most famous dancers and dance companies of the time. Anna Pavlova, the renowned ballerina of the early 20th century, appeared in Cleveland five times between 1910 and 1922. The internationally famous Diaghilev Ballets Russes appeared in Cleveland in 1916 during their first U.S. tour. The company returned in 1917, featuring the spectacular premier danseur, Vaslav Nijinsky.

During the time these Russian dancers were making a considerable impression on American audiences, the revolutionary American modern dancer, Isadora Duncan, was making an equally significant impact on the ballet of Imperial Russia. As an American in Russia at the turn of the century, Duncan influenced Pavlova, Fokine, and Diaghilev and established her reputation throughout Europe as a new creative force in dance. It was Anna Pavlova who convinced Sol Hurok, the national impresario, to book the tour that first brought Duncan to Cleveland. Duncan's solo performance at Public Auditorium attracted an audience of 9,000. In 1923, the year after Isadora performed in Cleveland, Doris Humphrey appeared with the Denishawn Co. at Keith's Palace, linking the city with the pioneers of Modern Dance in America. The trailblazing performances of Anna Pavlova, Diaghilev Ballets Russes, and Isadora Duncan were integral to the emergence of dance in Cleveland. Several generations of performers, teachers, choreographers, writers, patrons, and presenters trace their roots back to these early dancers.

By the early 1920s, the local audience had developed enough to support the first dance classes and schools in the area. A character dancer with Pavlova, Russian-born Sergei Popeloff began teaching ballet at his studio in Cleveland's Carnegie Hall and continued to train dancers for over twenty years. He founded the first Cleveland Ballet (also knows as the Popeloff Ballet) in 1935. In 1925, a group of wealthy society women brought Russian dancer Nicholas Semenov, a former dancer with the Bolshoi and Diaghilev companies, to teach at the Martha Lee Dancing School. Four years later, Semenov opened his Russian Imperial School of Ballet in Cleveland's Carnegie Hall. In 1932, as a protest against what he considered the ugliness of modern dance, Semenov committed suicide by leaping into Niagara Falls. Following Semenov's death, a group of parents brought Serge Nadejdin to take his place. Nadejdin, a graduate of St. Petersburg Imperial School, was Pavlova's contemporary and Semenov's teacher. For 25 years he operated the Serge Nadejdin Imperial Ballet School in the Hippodrome Building.

During the 1930s, as the arts flourished in Cleveland, dance found new audiences and continued support of area patrons, local dance schools, and involvement in schools both at the high school and collegiate level. In 1930, Adella P. Hughes engaged Doris Humphrey and her partner, Charles Weidman, two foremost exponents of American modern dance, to perform at a dinner party at the home of Mrs. William Mather. The following year, Humphrey and Weidman were invited to head the new modern dance department at the Cleveland Institute of Music, which was the first at any music school in the country. Busy with their company, they recommended their student and friend, Eleanor Frampton. Frampton taught at CIM until 1942, when she became director of dance at Karamu House. Writing for the Plain Dealer for 35 years, she was also Cleveland's first dance critic.

In addition, 1931 brought two other international pioneers: Martha Graham, American high priestess of modern dance, and Mary Wigman, German expressionist modern dancer, to perform at the new Severance Hall. Also in 1931, Eleanor Buchla, the first local dancer to gain a large audience, began performing her own choreography. Her dances were a highly musical mixture of modern dance and Hungarian folk dance. A strong proponent for dance in the schools, she not only opened Cleveland's first modern dance studio but also began a dance curriculum in the city's summer playgrounds. Buchla was instrumental in cultivating the first Modern Dance Association, which was founded in 1934. Seventy-five dancers started the organization to promote local talent and to sponsor dance concerts by outside artists. Eleanor Frampton was elected chair and Buchla and Margery Schneider, a dance instructor at Oberlin College, were on the executive committee. From 1936 to 1942, Marjorie Witt, who had studied modern dance under Schneider at Oberlin, directed a group of African Americans at the Playhouse Settlement. In 1939, as the Karamu Dancers, they performed at the New York World's Fair.

Ballet also continued to flourish in the 1930s, and several new schools and groups emerged. Madame Bianca (Froehlich), a native of Austria and former prima ballerina with the Metropolitan Opera Company, opened a ballet school in downtown Cleveland. She presented many ballet programs striving to organize a local civic ballet. In 1945, Marguerite Duncan, New York-trained and a former Popeloff student established her school and founded Cleveland Civic Ballet Company, the first nonprofit dance company in Cleveland. In 1983, the name was changed to North Coast Ballet Theatre.

During the years of World War II, there were no significant developments in dance, as out country focused on the war effort. The 1950s brought a fresh surge of energy and interest for dance through the 78 dance studios, 8 downtown, offering a variety of dance classes to Greater Clevelanders. One of them, Ruth Pryor's Ballet Russe, brought Alex Martin to town in 1954. English born and trained, Martin had danced in the Sadler's Wells Ballet. In 1958, he opened his own studio, Cleveland Ballet Center, and founded the Cleveland Ballet Center Company, a nonprofit, semi-professional group that joined the National Regional Ballet Association. In 1963, this company merged with Dance Horizons Inc., a company formed in 1960 by a group of local dancers led by John Begg. Begg, a Canadian, had danced with De Basil Ballet Russe, Metropolitan Opera Ballet, and on Broadway. He arrived in Cleveland in 1959 to teach at Ruth Pryor's studio. The new company became the Ballet Guild of Cleveland.

In 1956, another generation of Cleveland dancers formed the Cleveland Modern Dance Association (CMDA) to further the study and appreciation of modern dance as an art form. This organization was the driving force for modern dance in Cleveland for the next 25 years. In 1961, Mark Ryder, former Martha Graham dancer, was brought to build a dance program at the new Jewish Community Center in Cleveland Heights. During his 4-year stay, Ryder organized the first Cleveland Dance Festival, establishing an esprit de corps among dancers. In 1961, Joan Hartshorne, a Jose Limon dancer, became dance director at Karamu, where she carried on the Humphrey-Weidman tradition until 1981.

In the late 1960s, Jan and Ron Kumin founded the Fairmount Center of the Creative and Performing Arts, which spawned Fairmount Theatre for the Deaf and Fairmount Spanish Dancers. In 1969 the Dance Theatre of Kathryn Karipides and Henry Kurth and the Case Western Reserve University Modern Dance Company was created to give students an opportunity to work in a professional-like company, and to build a dance department at the university. For 10 years it offered Cleveland audiences highly theatrical dance productions. Kelly Holt, at the time a member of the Erick Hawkins Dance Company and a regular guest artist with the CWRU company, joined the faculty in 1975. The graduate dance program, housed in Mather Dance Center (formerly Mather Gymnasium), awarded its first MFA degree in 1975.

In 1973, Alex Martin of the Ballet Guild of Cleveland turned his attention to his studio, the Cleveland Institute of Dance in Shaker Heights. His partner, John Begg, directed his efforts to teach at the Cleveland Music School Settlement, Karamu, and Cain Park. Begg was the artistic director for Canton Ballet from 1971 to 1976, returning to direct the dance department at Fairmount Center for the Creative and Performing Arts in Cleveland Heights. Meanwhile, in 1972, Ian Horvath, a Cleveland native, and Dennis Nahat, a colleague at American Ballet Theater, acquired Ruth Pryor's studio, then located at Masonic Temple. By 1976, with support from the Cleveland Foundation and the Ballet Guild trustees, they established the Cleveland Ballet School and the second Cleveland Ballet. During the 1970s Cleveland revived Playhouse Square to house the performing arts. CMDA moved downtown to be a presenter and in 1979 became known as DanceCleveland. In 1976, Alice Rubenstein, a CMDA member, founded Footpath Dance Company, Cleveland's first professional modern dance company. Several other companies sprang up but survived only briefly. In 1986, Tom Evert, a Cleveland native who had danced in the Paul Taylor Company, started a company to showcase his choreography. Another grass-roots company, the Repertory Project, was formed in 1987 by Susan Miller and Colleen Clark to bring to Cleveland the work of a variety of contemporary choreographers. In 2014, the third Cleveland Ballet was founded by Puerto Rican-born artistic director Gladisa Guadalupe and her husband, Ukrainian-American businessman Michael Krasnyansky. Based at Playhouse Square, it is currently (as of 2019) the fastest growing ballet company in the nation.

From Pavlova's first performance in 1910 to the present wide variety of dance classes and performances available in Cleveland, dance has become an enriching artistic element integral to the cultural network of the city. In 2019 local companies included the Cleveland Ballet, Tom Evert Dance Company, Mary Verdi-Fletcher's Cleveland Ballet/Dancing Wheels, North Point Ballet, and a regular visitor, Akron's Ohio Ballet. Several dozen ethnic and folk dance companies and a number of liturgical dance groups enrich the community. CWRU, Cleveland State University, and Cuyahoga Community College continue to support dance. Touring companies are presented by DanceCleveland, Playhouse Square Center, Tri-C, and Cain Park. Smaller companies and solo artists are presented by the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Public Theater, and Mather Dance Center. Cleveland's influence on the fine art of dance goes far beyond its borders, with many artists who trained here now performing, teaching, and creating work throughout the world.

Judith Diehl, Diehl Consulting Services

Kathryn Karipides, Case Western Reserve University



Cleveland Ballet refers to three ballet companies in the city's history. The first Cleveland Ballet (alternatively known as the Popeloff Ballet) was incorporated in 1935 by Russian émigré dancer Sergei Popeloff and became inactive in 1942. The second ballet, created in 1972 by Dennis Nahat and Ian Horvath, lasted in Cleveland until 2000 when it moved to San Jose, and eventually closed there in 2016. The third and current ballet was formed in 2014 by Ukrainian-American businessman and Odessa native Michael Krasnyansky and his wife, Puerto-Rican born artistic director Gladisa Guadalupe. This current Cleveland Ballet, based at Playhouse Square, has earned critical acclaim and is now (as of 2019) one of the fastest growing ballet companies in the nation.

A character dancer with Anna Pavlova, Sergei Popeloff had been teaching dance in Cleveland since 1921. Based in Cleveland's Carnegie Hall, Popeloff's Cleveland Ballet was officially incorporated in 1935 and held its first performance in February of that year. Entitled A Russian Fantasy, this performance was a two-day winter recital and art exhibition at the Higbee Children's Theater, sponsored by the Woman's Hospital. In April of the following year, the company appeared alongside the new orchestral group, the Clevelandaires, for a joint performance at Severance Hall. Richard Rychtarik, the Prague-born set designer for the Cleveland Play House, the Cleveland Orchestra, and eventually, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, was officially named the set designer for the ballet that same year. Earlier, Rychtarik had won acclaim for his set designs on the American premiere of Dmitri Shostakovich's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District in Cleveland, performed by the Cleveland Orchestra under the conductorship of Artur Rodzinski. The ballet had a very successful run in the city during the late 1930s and early 1940s and was widely praised by Cleveland's leading newspapers. Herbert Elwell, the Music Critic for The Plain Dealer, noted that the ballet demonstrated great potential to be one of Cleveland's major cultural institutions. However, despite its promising start, the company became inactive by the beginning of 1942. That year, Popeloff began teaching dance at Billy Tilton's Dance Studio in the Hippodrome. After World War II, he returned to independently teaching dance, this time at Playhouse Square, from 1946 to 1952. However, by this time, Cleveland Ballet company performances had completely ceased. Although active for only six full years, the original Cleveland Ballet laid the foundation for its successors.

In 1972, the second Cleveland Ballet was formed by Dennis Nahat and Ian Horvath. Its first public performance was staged at the Hanna Theater on November 16, 1976. Within a few seasons, taped music was replaced by the Ohio Chamber Orchestra, and in 1981 the company presented its first full-length ballet, The Nutcracker, which quickly became an annual Cleveland holiday tradition. Full-length productions of Coppelia, Romeo and Juliet, and Swan Lake were added to the repertory. The company became known for its eclectic style, performing these standards of the classical literature alongside many modern works. In 1984, Horvath resigned as co-artistic director, leaving Nahat solely responsible for the company as well as for the direction of the School of Cleveland Ballet. The same year, Cleveland Ballet moved to a permanent home in the State Theater in Playhouse Square. In 1986 it established a co-venture with a second base in San Jose, California, where the company became known as San Jose Cleveland Ballet. Its greatest triumph came as a featured ballet company during the 1990 Edinburgh Festival performing The Overcoat with the late Rudolf Nureyev. Despite generous support from institutions and individuals, financial problems forced the company to seek innovative methods of survival. Following a successful campaign in 1992 to retire $4 million of debt, Nahat arranged a partnership with Atlanta Ballet and Ballet Nuevo Mundo de Caracas in which the two companies would share productions and dancers. The Ballet continued to struggle financially throughout the 1990s. After a failed tour of the costly 1999 production of a new evening lenggth ballet, Blue Suede Shoes, and subsequent financial crises, the organization's board of trustees made the decision to cease operations in September 2000, just prior to the organization's 25th anniversary. Artistic director Dennis Nahat and several other members of the company moved to San Jose where, in 2004, they continued to perform as the San Jose Ballet. Nahat was ousted by board chairman John Fry in 2011 amid internal tensions. In 2013, after an interim period led by Raymond Rodriguez and Wes Chapman, José Manuel Carreño became the new artistic director of the company, which assumed the name Silicon Valley Ballet. However, despite this promising new start, the ballet was unable to overcome its financial difficulties and permanently closed in 2016.

The current Cleveland Ballet was the vision of Gladisa Guadalupe, a ballet dancer and alumna of the School of American Ballet in New York, where she studied under George Balanchine. She co-founded the new ballet with her husband Michael Krasnyansky in 2014. Its first performance in October 2015, Past. Present. Future., was held at the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square. The performance proved to be a commercial and critical success and paved the way for the ballet's next performance in spring 2016, Coppélia, choreographed by Ramón Oller. This show received rave reviews and performed to sold-out houses. The ballet built on these initial successes with subsequent successful performances, offering a mixed repertoire of the classic and the modern. It also re-introduced regular holiday performances of The Nutcracker, a seasonal tradition in Cleveland. In 2017, the ballet became a resident company at Playhouse Square. Now entering its fifth season, the fast-growing ballet is quickly emerging as a major player on Cleveland's cultural scene.

Updated by Pietro A. Shakarian

The Ohio State University

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