Stage: Wednesday, June 01, 2005
Gary Wortley, TBT’s new executive director, sees national potential in his company.
Selling Big D on Dance

On the way to making TBT world-class, the company’s new executive director must first win over Dallas.


The past 10 years have been rough for the 40-plus-year-old Texas Ballet Theater. Artistic decline eroded the box office, and at one point dancers were “furloughed” — there wasn’t enough money to make payroll.
Five years ago, the board of director’s executive committee made a do-or-die decision and pledged more than $1 million to get the company out of hock. The long-time artistic director of the highly esteemed Houston Ballet, veteran choreographer Ben Stevenson, was brought in to energize the company’s creative juices, and the result has been magical. TBT has blossomed into a major ensemble with an operating budget of about $5 million.
Riding this bucking bronc on the administrative side has been executive director David Mallett, who gave notice he was moving on last year when the company appeared to have found solid footing. His replacement, Gary Wortley, took over this week. An affable, energetic man in his middle years, Wortley worked more than 20 years in executive management positions with Electronic Data Systems in Dallas. But his heart is in the arts. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in flute performance from Boston University and the University of Texas, Wortley was principal flutist with the Richardson Symphony and managed to squeeze in performances with the Dallas Symphony and the old Dallas Ballet Orchestra. His daughter, Erin, studied with Tuzer Ballet in North Dallas, a small studio company with a strong program, and he did some managerial work there on a volunteer basis. The director’s wife, conductor Constantina Tsolainou, heads music activities at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church and formerly directed the choral program at Southern Methodist University and the Canterbury Choral Society.
“I see the work as that of a facilitator,” Wortley said, adding that he believes in “letting the artistic director do his or her job without worrying about the business end of things,”
His perspective is unlike that of some administrators. Friction between executive directors and artistic leadership is fairly common. Lines of authority blur, and turf battles sap everyone’s strength. (The Boston Ballet went through three artistic directors last year in this sort of struggle.)
Though based in Fort Worth, TBT (formerly known as Fort Worth-Dallas Ballet and earlier as Fort Worth Ballet) has always talked about reaching all of North Texas. The change of name to Texas Ballet Theater last year and an increase in the number of Big D performances shows that TBT is putting its money where its mouth is. The hiring of Wortley, a native Dallasite and current Big D resident who plans on living there and commuting a couple of times a week to Fort Worth, also shows that TBT is serious about expanding into the whole region.
Wortley has a lot of work ahead of him. Audiences in Dallas haven’t been growing much. Swan Lake sold out Bass Performance Hall but was poorly attended across the turnpike. The same with Cleopatra, which had sizable audiences here yet fizzled in Dallas. The Dallas Morning News reflected the general apathy by not even mentioning the production in the days leading up to its opening.
One of the problems is a lack of facilities. TBT maintains offices in Dallas but has no school or rehearsal space there, which restricts local participation, and the city’s performance venues are limited. State Fair Music Hall, a veritable barn that seats 3,500, is too big for optimal viewing and not always available. McFarlin Auditorium is cramped and tucked away on the SMU campus. The Majestic Theater downtown is a jewel for small-scale shows but has no orchestra pit. The situation will ease a bit when the new Dallas opera house opens — four years from now.
Wortley said he’s ready for the challenge. “I think we can become an important regional company,” he said. “And why stop there? Why not the Southwest? Or even national? We have the potential.”
This kind of enthusiasm is reflected in the recent revamping of the company’s board of directors to include a management team headed by two chairs (Jeanne Marie Clossey of Dallas and Kathleen Stevens of Fort Worth), presided over by a president (Fort Worth’s Robin Arena). All are big-league cultural and social hitters. The group has already flexed its muscles: At a recent fundraising party at Meacham Field in Fort Worth, Nancy Hamon of Dallas plunked down $100,000 for the top table and another board member supplied his private 737 jet to shuttle partygoers from Dallas. The event grossed around $750,000 for TBT.
Artistic director Stevenson is unstinting in his praise for the new arrangement. “We have an amazing board,” he said. “And not many artistic directors can say that. I’ve never felt more secure in having a board behind me, and I go back a ways.”
Though he just officially began work, Wortley is already thinking of ways to expand the company’s reach. “I see my job as being an advocate for dance,” he said. “To educate an audience and create a love for dance.” l

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