Building a residency Ailey project puts dance in Baltimore to the test


TONIGHT, when the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at a sold-out gala fund-raiser at the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, supporters will toast the evening as a prelude to the company's residency in Maryland. They will also cross their fingers that they can pull it off.

Assembling a successful residency will depend on the generosity of public and private sources of money during precarious economic times. The prospect of losing grants and dancing dates to the internationally famous dance troupe also leaves some Baltimore dancers nervous about the residency's effect on the local, struggling dance scene.

When it was announced last fall that the Ailey company would come to the state for a three-year residency of teaching and performing, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation of Maryland was established to raise money to support the residency and to supervise workshops, school and community center demonstrations, master classes, the development of new works, statewide performances by the company's junior troupe and a summer dance camp for underprivileged youth.

The foundation hopes to raise $2.5 million for the three-year residency. "I think it's a challenge, but I'm very, very optimistic about it. Our early requests have been met," says Ann McIntosh, the foundation's executive director.

So far, the Maryland State Arts Council has contributed $110,000 to the foundation's general fund. The Abell Foundation has donated $100,000, Super Pride food chain has donated $25,000 and the Rouse Co. has committed $10,000 to the Ailey residency.

But with a late start, the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation has had to play a fast game of catch up to follow through with this year's planned schedule of events.

The concert series, which begins tonight, was curtailed from a week of performances to three concerts as a precaution against a sweep of demoralizing empty houses, says McIntosh. The foundation still had to pay the Ailey company for a week its time in Baltimore, McIntosh says. "We hope to come close to breaking even. I don't know if we will," McIntosh says.

In addition, a five-week stay originally planned for January through February, has been reduced to three weeks and postponed until late April and May to allow time for fund-raising as well as for scheduling purposes, McIntosh says. Once the Mechanic concert series, which is sold out, is over, fund-raising will begin in earnest, she says. The foundation plans to target minority Maryland businesses for support.

Those who will host performances by the Ailey junior troupe must also scurry to raise funds and will compete for the same pool of money available from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation for hosting dance companies based outside of Maryland.

"Presenters have to go into it a little bit blind, hoping all these little pieces of money will come through," says Michael Braun, executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, based in Baltimore. "And in times, particularly like they are now, with your corporate support money falling off, it can be hard."

Kathy Wildberger, whose PATH dance company is accustomed to shaky financial fortunes, raises questions about the effect the Ailey dance company will have on the local dance scene. Last spring, Maryland dancers and the Maryland State Arts Council met to exchange ideas about how the residency, then it its planning stages, could involve local dancers. So far, Wildberger says, she has not heard from the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater Foundation about any of those ideas.

Wildberger is also concerned that in what is already a small market for dance, performances opportunities will be closed to her. Wildberger cites the Columbia Arts Festival, where her troupe performed last summer and where Alvin Ailey is performing this year.

Dancer Eva Anderson, leader of the only area black dance company, says, "I hope [Alvin Ailey's presence] will increase the dance audience, increase the interest in dance from those people who give money to the arts, and would give it to all arts, and to me,"

"In terms of professional dancers, I think the impact on students in the community is going to be great, because they have a lot to gain from working with the professionals in the Ailey company," says Claire Braswell, manager of the Downtown Dance Company.

"Whether any of us are losing funding especially because of Ailey, or because foundations and corporations are cutting back, it will be hard to say," Braswell says.

Addressing fears that fund-raising efforts will clash with those of smaller dance companies, McIntosh says, "Honestly, there will be very little overlap," as the foundation seeks contributions from the "ethnic business community." Although the foundation has not yet had the time to touch base again with local dancers, McIntosh says that there are "ideas floating around, including a master class for local dancers and open rehearsals, when possible."

Other advantages for local dancers have already accrued, according to Carol Fox-King, public relations officer for the Maryland State Arts Council. The $110,000 earmarked for the Ailey residency came as part of a $2.4 million increase in state money for the arts. That increase included additional money for small and mid-size dance groups, Fox-King says.

The amount of money allotted for dance groups increased from $800,000 to $1.6 million, according to Fox-King. "The fact that Alvin Ailey decided to accept our offer elevated the status of dance in the state. That's why we're so happy to have them come here," she says.

As the Maryland residency takes shape, the foundation will be looking toward Kansas City, Mo., where a successful Ailey residency -- now extended to a year-round program -- has been in place for six years.

In Kansas City, the residency was founded on the need to improve racial relations in the city, and enrich artistic and educational life there.

The Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey has an annual budget of approximately $300,000. The foundation was careful not to touch anybody else's funding, says Joette Pelster, executive director of the Kansas City Friends. "We are very sensitive to it, and cognizant of it. If were were not sensitive, [other dance and arts groups] might have an argument," she says.

Allan S. Gray, president of the Friends of Alvin Ailey, says that from the beginning, his foundation has avoided another potential pitfall. "We stressed partnership from the very beginning, and have worked very closely in the artistic community, with the state ballet, the Folly Theater, City in Motion, (a modern dance company), various grass roots cultural organizations as well as the majors in the community. By having a company [like the] Ailey organization in the community, there are a lot of residuals. The benefits far outweigh any perceived negatives of a company coming in," Gray says.

The Maryland residency will grow," Gray says. "I can assure the people of Maryland that with the proper support and nurturing, the relationship can grow and develop. [You are] only limited by the vision of the community."

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