Starting and sustaining a dance company
is not for the faint of heart. It often takes
tremendous sacrifice in terms of time, energy
and money. But it’s not a life sentence. Arts
organizations, like everything else, come to an
end, and nothing could be more important to
an artist’s vitality than knowing when to call it
quits. Even as the founder of a company, there
is a graceful way to move on.
For some directors, like Dance Exchange
founder Liz Lerman, it’s simply time to move
forward. “I needed more freedom and the
organization needed fresh vision and leadership,” says Lerman, who left the company in
2011. Trey McIntyre ended his Boise, Idaho–
based troupe in 2015 to have time to expand
his own artistic practice to include filmmaking
and photography. “I gave every waking moment to that organization, and that is just not
sustainable for a lifetime,” he says.
McIntyre’s company had achieved its
aims, like building a base in a non-dance city
and bringing dance into public spaces through
spontaneous events. “For a nonprofit to
end when its mission is completed is a great
thing,” he says. Sandra Organ Solis also felt
she accomplished much of what she set out
to do with Sandra Organ Dance Company
(later renamed Earthen Vessels) during the
troupe’s 16-year run. “We fulfilled our mission, which was to educate and diversify the
audience for dance in Houston,” says Solis,
who closed her company in 2014. “I saw that
other companies were in place to continue
THE LOGISTICS OF LEAVING
McIntyre made the announcement several
months before the company shuttered, leaving
time to plan a farewell tour, give the dancers
an opportunity to get new jobs and let the
emotional dust settle. They enjoyed a tearful
goodbye show at Jacob’s Pillow, one of the
first places where they performed.
“You can’t imagine the number of loose
ends that need to be taken care of in the dis-
mantling of an organization,” says McIntyre.
“And there is a lot less help to get it done. The
whole process took me about two years after
the company had officially ended.”
Lerman’s situation was even more compli-
cated as Dance Exchange owned a building,
operated a school and ran several educational
programs in addition to being a performance
company. Lerman began to shift her position
to other artists before she left, having them
guide day-to-day programming and future
visioning. This helped pave the road for a
smooth transition, though the process took
about 10 years altogether.
Being free from board meetings, fundraising
and keeping a flock of dancers engaged can
allow founding artists to flourish in their new
chapters. Lerman has started an academic career
as an institute professor at the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State
University, where she teaches classes on the
creative process. She recently began research
for her newest work, with the working title
Wicked Bodies, slated to premiere in the next
Having time to do something other
than make dances can be a reward in itself.
McIntyre’s documentary Gravity Hero is
expected to appear at upcoming film festivals,
and he continues to work on his photography
books and his blog on the artistic process.
His dance work is still performed all over
the country, including a new work for San
Francisco Ballet in 2018. He says, “The gift
to myself as an artist to be able to make my
creative work my priority is remarkable.” n
Larry Keigwin recently announced that his
troupe, Keigwin + Company, is moving to a
project-based structure starting this season.
Were you moving into more project-based work already?
Yes, this transition has been brewing for
two years. I don’t see it so much as leaving
my company as streamlining it. The new
structure will provide flexibility to embark
on a variety of projects, commissions and
performance opportunities while departing
from the traditional dance-company model.
It will enable me to scale up or down as
needed to suit each project’s needs.
What will you get to do now that you
It’s a chance for me to get more specific
with projects. It’s a chance for me to take
a breath and create space for inspiration.
It’s also a chance for me to think differently
What will you be glad not to do?
I don’t have to keep the rep up and
running. But honestly, it’s not about
eliminating anything, but harnessing the
How did the dancers take the news?
I had prepped them. They have been very
supportive. They want to see me inspired
and invested in new projects that excite
company founders shut
down their troupes
BY NANCY WOZNY