Dance Succession Planning

Fascinating piece in Bloomberg about how modern dance companies, often organized around a single choreographer’s work, can sustain themselves when that person has left the scene. Mark Morris has embraced a time capsule approach, creating works that won’t be performed for decades.

From the article by Pia Catton

“Choreographer Mark Morris just finished creating a new dance in February. And, if it’s anything like the roughly 150 works that made him a darling of the performance world, it will be breathtaking. But this particular piece of modern dance won’t be presented next season. In fact, it won’t be performed for years—maybe 20, possibly 30. It’s intended to give the Mark Morris Dance Group fresh material long after its innovative director is gone.

The Metropolitan Opera as it was in its original home on Broadway. Big changes in artistic leadership, during fraught times, are happening.

Morris, 61, isn’t in ill health. But the idea to save some works for the future came up when Nancy Umanoff, the executive director of his 38-year-old company, was exploring ways to preserve the choreographer’s legacy. That includes not only his body of work, but also a popular school, numerous outreach programs, and the seven-studio Mark Morris Dance Center—which helped anchor Brooklyn’s downtown arts district. In 2017 the company had revenue of $5.5 million from performances.”

Although I long (and happily) out of the arts management game, I do remember how difficult transitions were in any arts organization. The creative impetus of the founder(s), even when it’s not the actual content, as with Morris’s works, is so often the beating heart of an organization that it’s hard to imagine it without it. Yet, if it is to survive, some “what happens after me?” is an essential question.

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