By Steve Sucato for Pointe + Magazine
With roots that can be traced back to 1966, Ballet Arkansas has had an off-and-on history as a professional dance company. During a period in the 1980s, the company had some paid dancers and an academy, and it presented tours by Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolf Nureyev, Miami City Ballet, and others. “But it was really in 2009 that the organization affirmed its commitment to focusing on cultivating professional talent,” says Michael Fothergill, the company’s executive and artistic director.
Fothergill, a former principal dancer and choreographer with Alabama Ballet, took over Ballet Arkansas in 2017, succeeding Michael Bearden (now the School of Dance director at The University of Oklahoma). At the time, the organization was financially in the red with an inconsistent performance record and no affiliated school, only ballet camps and intensives.
“There weren’t many sources of revenue to support the talent we had,” says Fothergill. “That’s not to say that best efforts weren’t made to make that possible. We had a great board of directors and a community that was very supportive of arts organizations. I saw a lot of opportunity to engage new donors and re-engage past ones to get them excited about the company.”
Since then, Fothergill has doubled Ballet Arkansas’ annual operating budget from $500,000 to over $1 million. He has also eliminated the company’s debt, and increased the number of company dancers from 11 to 15, along with their salaries and benefits. Ballet Arkansas currently presents five to seven bills annually and has residencies at three performance venues. In 2022 he and his wife, associate artistic director Catherine Fothergill, founded an affiliated school, Ballet Arkansas Center for Dance.