San Antonio’s performing arts community was left reeling on Wednesday with the announcement on social media of the immediate departure of Ballet San Antonio Artistic Director Gabriel Zertuche along with the resignation of President and Executive Director Courtney Mauro Barker.
The duo did not delve into the specifics behind their abrupt decisions – neither did Ballet SA – but Barker stated her resignation was “Due to a series of board decisions that I can not support” in a Facebook post.
Ballet San Antonio confirmed their departures on Thursday. Neither Barker nor Zertuche could be reached for comment for this article by deadline.
Late Thursday, Ballet San Antonio Board Chair Christine Varela Mayer responded via a written statement confirming the organizational shakeup and announcing that San Antonio Symphony President David Gross will step in as “executive consultant” as the search for replacements begins.
“Ballet San Antonio will have no further comment,” stated a follow up email from a spokesperson.
These statements from Zertuche and Barker appeared on Facebook on Wednesday and have sparked a storm of reactions:
“I am sad to announce that I am no longer the artistic director of Ballet San Antonio. Only a few short years ago, my wonderful colleague Courtney Mauro Barker and I embarked on a journey to ensure that San Antonio would have in place a nationally recognized ballet company. From Dracula to Sir Ben Stevenson’s Romeo and Juliet, from collaborations with the San Antonio Symphony, Opera San Antonio to The George Balanchine Trust, we were able to strengthen Ballet San Antonio’s repertoire and significantly grow our audiences in only three short seasons. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the incredibly talented and motivated Ballet San Antonio dancers, my artistic staff, and Courtney and her executive staff. We can be proud of our accomplishments. Thank you to everyone who has supported me throughout my tenure with Ballet San Antonio. We have had a tremendous run.”
Courtney Mauro Barker:
“Due to a series of board decisions that I can not support, it is with a heavy heart that I have resigned as President & Executive Director of Ballet San Antonio. I have thoroughly enjoyed building the professional ballet company in San Antonio alongside my incredibly hard-working staff, and especially the extremely talented Gabriel A. Zertuche. Together we have produced high-caliber ballet productions, and delivered free community performances and arts education for thousands of underserved youth. I am so grateful to all of the supporters, donors and volunteers and I am so proud of the amazing dancers. Thank you to all of my arts colleagues for your constant support. For now I look forward to focusing on my beautiful family and other endeavors.”
Former Opera San Antonio artistic director, Tobias Picker, who left mid-season after the production of “Salome” over alleged creative and budgetary differences, offered this pointed response:
“Dear Gabe, sadly, with Courtney Mauro Barker and your departures, San Antonio is now devoid of any significant artistic leadership. I will always recall our collaborations when I was with the opera with great satisfaction and joy. But, I do look forward to working with you in the future with other dance companies throughout the world!”
According to Mayer, “(Symphony President) Gross will continue to lead the San Antonio Symphony as president. … We thank Courtney and Gabe for their combined years of service and we wish them success in their future endeavors.”
The news of the reshuffle comes just two weeks before the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is set to celebrate the start of its second year of operation and less than two months before Ballet SA’s 2015-2016 season begins in early October.
In an additional statement, it was confirmed that “rehearsals for the upcoming production of Swan Lake have begun and leadership has been identified to conduct these. Ballet San Antonio will be working to identify an interim artistic director until a permanent artistic director is named.”
Zertuche and Barker are often credited as the spark plugs that propelled Ballet San Antonio from a somewhat sleepy regional company to a company on the rise. Since 2012 this creative and executive team not only oversaw the transition into the new Tobin Center as a prominent company in residence but they also created alliances with major forces in the ballet world such as Sir Ben Stevenson, who also serves on the advisory board for the company. It is Stevenson’s “Swan Lake” that the company is currently in rehearsal to premiere in October.
Under their guidance, the company successfully gained permission to dance Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations” from the Balanchine Trust – which is no small feat. They have also seen to it that the company works tirelessly with underserved communities offering free performances and classes at no cost to Boys and Girls Club of San Antonio. This public program was selected last fall as a member of the American Ballet Theatre’s (ABT) Project Plié program. Ballet SA’s company outreach manager Danielle Campbell Steans was awarded a full scholarship to the ABT national teaching training program in support of their work here in San Antonio.
One thing remains certain: the exit of these two professionals leaves a major gap to be filled.
*Featured/top image: Ballet San Antonio rehearses Balanchine. File photo by Tami Kegley.