Ballet of the Dolls faces hardship, hiatus

SHEILA REGAN | Updated 4/16/2014

The dance company cancels the rest of its season; artistic director Myron Johnson is in the hospital.

Members of Ballet of the Dolls on the Ritz Theater marquee.

Minneapolis dance troupe Ballet of the Dolls is going on hiatus for the rest of the 2013-2014 season, canceling two productions it was to perform later this year. The news comes after financial difficulties for the innovative, irreverent company, as well a personal health crisis for artistic director Myron Johnson.

“The financial picture is grim,” said Michael Rainville, chair of the board of directors for Ballet of the Dolls as well as the Ritz Foundation.

The two canceled productions are “The House of Good Repute: The Norma Wallace Story”and “Nina and Klaus: White Punks on Dope.” According to Rainville, the Dolls will “regroup” over the summer and potentially return in the fall to become a tenant of the Ritz Theater, which has been their home base since 2006. The northeast Minneapolis theater will continue as a venue with other groups performing as scheduled.

Johnson is currently staying at Hennepin County Medical Center after what he characterizes as a breakdown. “Over the course of the last couple of years, from cutting staff and cutting budgets and trying to maintain the theater, it ended up that I was doing it all and feeling responsible for everything,” Johnson said. “I hit a wall and the anxiety and the stress just really hit me. I’m really grateful I had the wisdom to get in the car and get help — I wasn’t doing myself any good and I wasn’t doing the theater any good. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve really stopped.”

Earlier this year, Dolls managing director Maggie FitzGibbon was fired, after her predecessor Michael Romens was let go last summer. “[FitzGibbon] was learning as she was going — she’s a really smart girl but wasn’t able to handle all of it,” Johnson said. FitzGibbon did not comment on the story.

Johnson has run Ballet of the Dolls for 28 years, “and I’m proud of that,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it has to stay going along if it’s not going good.”

The board is developing a job description for how the Ritz Theater should be managed, which will include more separation from Ballet of the Dolls. According to Craig Harris, who served as executive director of both the Ritz and the Dolls from the 1990s until 2006, the Ritz Foundation was created to be the official holding company for the building. The concept of having two organizations, Harris said, was to support Ballet of the Dolls as the anchor organization, which would reside in and manage the theater. “There was so much public funding for the building, including from the Sheridan neighborhood, that it was decided that it was better for it not to be dependent on the success or condition of a single entity,” he said.

Johnson said that ultimately the two organizations have been functioning as one. According to Johnson, a lot of the funds that went to opening the building in 2006 were under the Ritz Foundation, but Ballet of the Dolls was paying for them, “because there really was no foundation,” he said. Costs added up “to the tune of $6,000 to $8,000 a month just in loan interest that should be going to programming. It was a lot for a little dance company to try to maintain.”

According to Rainville, the Dolls’ board of directors has had ultimate decision-making power. It is also responsible for $400,000 in various mortgages for the theater.

Rainville called the structure between the two organizations difficult. “Myron is an artistic genius,” he said, “but he’s not able to drive the bus.