Anne Bass, one of Fort Worth’s leading arts patrons, has been getting a lot of press this year-and not all of it over her impending divorce from Cow-town billionaire Sid Bass. Take the case of the Fort Worth Ballet, which will open its season this month with, supporters hope, little or no sign of the upheaval that racked the young organization this summer.
In June, the ballet’s co-artistic directors, Nanette Glushak and Michel Rahn, were let go after their contracts expired-one week before the company was to perform at the San Antonio Festival in one of the troupe’s first major touring engagements. General consensus has it that Anne Bass, who’s pumped more than $500,000 into the company in the last three years and who serves on the ballet board’s executive committee, was the subtle pressure behind it all.
Three years ago, the ballet had collapsed into bankruptcy When Bass appeared on the scene, prepared to coax a phoenix from the ashes. She brought in Gulshak and Rahn from New York to head her newly opened Fort Worth School of Ballet and td give her private lessons. The pair were soon asked to direct the Fort Worth Ballet, although they remained on Anne’s personal payroll.
Then, last summer, they were let go. “We just had a series of problems we couldn’t resolve. It’s not that they didn’t do a good job artistically,” says board president Bruce Petty. What it boils down to is that Glushak and Rahn wanted to expand beyond the company’s Balan-chine-based repertoire-a move supported by audience surveys. Although Balanchine’s short, abstract pieces brought the com-pany critical acclaim, they weren’t bringing in paying customers.
That direction didn’t sit too well with Anne or the board. To replace Glushak and Rahn, the board whisked in Paul Mejia, highly touted choreographer for the Chicago City Ballet and a former protégé of Balanchine’s.
Hired on June 12, Mejia had just one week to prepare the troupe for its summer San Antonio performance-which had been canceled and then reset after the dancers decided to go. The ballet played San Antonio, but drew mixed reviews.
“In San Antonio, everybody was talking about the past,” says Mejia. “The past doesn’t do us any good. The people of Fort Worth, instead of worrying about the past, should be very happy they have a company at all, and they should support it.”
Ironically, season ticket sales increased as the turmoil was played out in the papers day after day. (Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Katie Sherrod suggested the company go ahead and just rename itself the Anne Bass Ballet.) By August, ticket sales were up 19 percent over last season, due also to an intense telemarketing campaign, according to Andrew Raeburn, a consultant who oversees administrative details at the ballet. Raeburn was hired in 1982 to perform the same sort of smoothing-over operations at the Van Cliburn Foundation-after that organization suffered a rift with Anne Bass.