Arts & Theater

Big changes announced for Sacramento Ballet

Sacramento Ballet at their new home: Clara Midtown

​Sacramento Ballet artistic director Ron Cunningham gives a tour of the dance company's new home: The E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts - the former Fremont School for Adults--was renamed Clara Midtown on April 6.
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​Sacramento Ballet artistic director Ron Cunningham gives a tour of the dance company's new home: The E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts - the former Fremont School for Adults--was renamed Clara Midtown on April 6.

The Sacramento Ballet board of directors has announced the company’s 2017-18 season will be the last for co-artistic directors Ron Cunningham and Carinne Binda.

Board president Nancy Garton told The Sacramento Bee the board has formed a search committee with the intent of filling the position of artistic director sometime this spring.

Husband and wife Cunningham and Binda are contracted to the ballet through the 2017-18 season, which ends on June 30, 2018. It will be their 30th season with the organization. They will be named artistic directors emeritus of the Sacramento Ballet.

Garton said after numerous discussions over the past several years, “The consensus of the board was that it is time for us to look to Sac Ballet 2.0 so that we don’t one day wake up and say, ‘Oops! the parade passed us by.’ ” She noted the organization was 63 years old and Cunningham is 75. “I think it’s responsible on the part of the board to create a succession plan.”

Cunningham and Binda are not entirely on board with the plan for them to leave the company that they built together.

“No, we’re not ready. We’re not at all ready,” Binda said.

The couple acknowledged the board is well with its rights to make the change and that they are not fighting it. They just want their position known.

“We are not retiring; we are not resigning. The board has decided that they need a transition,” Cunningham said. “We want it clear that it’s the board’s decision.”

The ballet was founded by Barbara and Deane Crockett in 1954. Cunningham was hired as artistic director in 1988 and Binda joined him in Sacramento the next year. They were named co-artistic directors in 1991. The company has grown and gained national acclaim for Cunningham’s artistic leadership and original choreography as he melded programs of classic and contemporary works.

Binda has grown and developed the ballet school, which now has nearly 400 students and has been instrumental in training the company’s dancers. The ballet employs 28 dancers and 10 full-time staff members. Its 2017-18 budget was $2.76 million, Garton said.

Sacramento City Councilman Steve Hansen worked closely with the ballet through several financial challenges and its transition into residency at E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts.

“There’d be no Sacramento Ballet without Ron and Carinne Cunningham,” Hansen said. “ I think we as city owe them a great debt of gratitude for their service and all that they’ve done to create dance as a prominent art form in the region.”

Garton said the search for a new artistic director will be “a process” with the whole organization having some level of involvement.

“We’re looking for someone who will have the technical skill on the classic side as well as the ability to identify and stage newer choreography,” she said.

How Binda’s responsibilities with the ballet school will be handled has not yet been clarified. Garton suggested the school’s administrator and principal may each absorb some of duties.

“The thing for everyone to remember … is this in no way reflects on the quality or quantity of the work that Ron and Carinne have done with the organization,” Garton said. “It is a statement about what the organization needs to do for the future.”

For the time being Cunningham and Binda are embracing the present.

“We’re going to move forward and do the best season we can to our ability as we have done for 29 years,” Cunningham said. “We will continue to do that. It’s difficult to have built a company from scratch and be separated from it. That reality has not totally hit us yet.”

Binda said the move to the CLARA studios, 10 years in the making for them, now feels bittersweet.

“We’re finally in our home, in a place where we can see this is the springboard to take the company to the next level,” she said. “We’ve been waiting so long for this moment, and instead, it’s our final moment.”

Marcus Crowder: 916-321-1120, @marcuscrowder

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