The Rise & Fall of the Harkness Ballet
The Mystery of the Death of the Harkness Ballet by Robin McCain
People often ask “Whatever happened to the Harkness Ballet?”
This is a question we intend to explore in our film “An American Ballet Story” and we invite your participation in our efforts to uncover the real story. So far we’ve interviewed over 40 people who were associated with the Harkness – principal dancers, soloists, members of the corps, trainees, students, teachers and staff members.
Some thoughts on the reality of running a dance company:
We’ve visited quite a few dance companies and dance schools over the years – they aren’t always big name organizations with international recognition. Many are very small, with only a few dedicated core members who put their entire personal resources into starting something up from scratch. Few of them have high enough visibility to be significant beyond their local community. Yet it is possible to start small and grow into something significant. It is also possible for an organization to die – loss of a key member, poor artistic direction, poor financial management, inadequate fundraising efforts, unforseen expenses, etc.
Dance is inherently a high risk occupation. All it takes is one injury to stop a performance, forcibly retire a dancer, or blow the budget. Dance training hasn’t always been focused on injury prevention – in the words of dance teacher and former co-director of the Harkness Ballet School’s Maria Vegh “You have to last long enough to become famous”.
Our documentary project “An American Ballet Story” began in 2010. We were invited by Augusta Moore to videotape Maria Vegh (former co-director of the Harkness Ballet School with David Howard) over 13 weeks teaching Ballet to young teens at ODC School in San Francisco. We were also asked to produce a DVD of Maria's somatic approach to teaching Ballet.
We created a 3 part project - a website, an instructional DVD (completed in 2014, now self distributed), and are now working on the documentary film.
As we began research we found fragmented pieces of the story and decided that the best way to do research was to begin interviewing the people who were there. Recently we have been in conversation on camera with Maria Vegh, Larry Rhodes (Juilliard), Finis Jhung (Flower Drum Song, Billy Elliot coach), Ben Stevenson (Texas Ballet Theater, Mao's Last Dancer), Cheryl Clark (A Chorus Line, Chicago, Pippin) and other Harkness Ballet vets of the '60's and '70's who are very interested in telling their stories of that special time and place. Their memories will form the backbone of the film.