The Kelly-Strayhorn Theater and Dance Alloy Theater have announced that talks are underway to explore a merger of the two groups. Noting an emphasis on commonality, with a commitment to the Penn Avenue Arts Corridor and a commitment to dance, a negotiation committee has been formed. In addition to that, both also share a heavy commitment to emerging artists and education.
At this point, many questions remain. First, who began the negotiations? DAT has had a history of financial problems, something that appeared to crop up lately as the staff was trimmed and a scheduled 35th anniversary concert at the August Wilson Center was moved to the DAT studio in Friendship. KST, on the other hand, seems to humming along with a variety of professional and community presentations, including its newMoves Festival, in which coincidentally, DAT was the only major company not to participate.
They are only blocks apart, making the merger logistically sound. KST has some space problems for its administration, so DAT’s large, airy studios and office space could be a natural extension.
But will DAT lose its integrity? As Pittsburgh’s oldest modern dance company, it deserves plenty of respect. Recent events show that it has lost that internal drive, however. Two years ago, the board that Beth Corning put together suddenly fired her. That board elected not to conduct a national search for an artistic director, as had been the policy over the past several decades, but to select Grier Reed-Jones, then DAT’s education director, as the replacement.
However, Ms. Reed-Jones also heads the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble. Despite her undeniable qualifications (Dayton Contemporary Dance Company, CAPA, independent choreographer), many in the dance community consider this a conflict of interest. But the DAT board, mostly corporate figures except for former artistic director Mark Taylor, seems to hold the reins.
In a best case scenario, KLT will emerge as a mini-Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, which has embraced a number of smaller Pittsburgh organizations under its umbrella (Pittsburgh International Children’s Theater, Wood Street Galleries, Jazz Live! and even, well, the Pittsburgh Dance Council, which has been able to maintain its identity through the uncommon efforts of Paul Organisak).
The above and other questions remain to be answered. Hopefully the dance community will respond, either on Facebook or CrossCurrents. Stay tuned…