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Oregon Ballet Theatre's Stowell To Leave At End Of Year

OPB | Nov. 29, 2012 6:07 a.m.

The artistic director of the Oregon Ballet Theatre, Christopher Stowell, has submitted his resignation. He says he’ll leave at the end of the year.

OBT Dancer, Mia Leimkuhler, and Artistic Director Christopher Stowell at a costume fitting for Stowell's "Swan Lake."

OBT Dancer, Mia Leimkuhler, and Artistic Director Christopher Stowell at a costume fitting for Stowell's "Swan Lake."

Blaine Truitt Covert / Courtesy OBT

Stowell has been at the helm of OBT for nine years.  He’s overseen significant artistic expansion, taking the company around the nation and to South Korea. He’s also helped stage several classics like Swan Lake, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Carmen. Eloise Damrosch, the executive director of the Regional Arts Council, says he’ll be sadly missed. 

She explained, “Everything that I’ve heard is raves about what he has brought to the ballet. The level of performance, creativity, discipline of the dancers. He’s attracted some really good people. And I think he’s an excellent artistic director.”

Christopher Stowell

Christopher Stowell

Joni Kabana / Courtesy OBT

Walter Jaffe, the head of another Portland dance company, White Bird, offered similar praise.  But Stowell isn’t leaving for another job, and may help out with a  transition to new leadership. 

He says the new Board of Trustees wants a new business model — a model, he says he’s not the best candidate to lead.

Stowell said, “I’m not the right person for that shift. I came here in 2003, as the result of a shift. Wanting to be a more classical, larger company with a greater variety of repertoire. And now I think it’s a new chapter in the ballet’s history. It’s going to look at changing its structure, its size and scope and examine what size of ballet company and what aesthetic is right for Portland now.” 

Asked specifically whether that means a smaller company and staff cuts, Stowell was unsure. 

Artistic Director Christopher Stowell rehearses for George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker in 2003.

Artistic Director Christopher Stowell rehearses for George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker in 2003.

Blaine Truitt Covert / Courtesy OBT

He said, “I don’t know that that is necessarily part of the plan. I can say honestly that … the discussion is around the size of the budget and there are things that go immediately hand in hand with that. That would likely change the size of the organization itself.”

In 2009, OBT had to cut its budget by 28 percent.  But the ballet says an audit of its books last year showed increased revenue, lower debt and a budget of almost five and a half million dollars. 

George Thorn is a consultant who works with arts and culture organizations in Oregon. He says most non-profits in the area seem to have weathered the economic recession and are now waiting for the recovery to kick in.

Thorn said, “If an organization was in relatively balance pre-recession, with hard work, they’re working their way through the recession. If an organization was greatly out of balance pre-recession, the stress within the organization would be 10 fold.”

Many arts organizations in Portland are looking forward to financial help from the “Schools and Arts Together” ballot measure that voters just passed.  

In a statement, board chair of the Oregon Ballet Theater said the trustees are greatly appreciative of Stowell’s artistic leadership and wish him success in the future.

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