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Sarasota Ballet moves to Asolo arts center

A buzz word in the arts nowadays is collaboration, the idea being that organizations have to team up to survive a perilous climate for culture.

On Friday, collaboration came to the Asolo Center for the Performing Arts in Sarasota, with the announcement that the Sarasota Ballet is moving into a wing of the complex.

The ballet is joining forces with occupants of the other wing of the center, the Asolo Theatre Company and the Florida State University/Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training.

Gil Lazier, dean of FSU's School of Theatre, called it "a win-win-win situation."

In exchange for a home, the ballet is paying $1.7-million to FSU, which owns the center, and the Asolo. About $700,000 will go to the school's scholarship fund, and more than $600,000 will go to the Asolo to pay off the theater's debt. The rest will go to center operations.

The ballet had been planning to build an office and rehearsal building in Sarasota for $2.4-million. It will pay rent at the center.

Starting in September, the ballet will perform at the complex, as well as at Van Wezel Hall and the Sarasota Opera House. Artistic director Robert de Warren said the Asolo stage would be suitable for modern ballet but not large classical works.

Howard Millman, producing artistic director of the Asolo, said he thinks the deal will solve the problems of the theater, which has been living on the financial edge in recent years. "We'll be debt-free," he said.

What's in the deal for FSU? An arrangement that puts the center "on a sound financial basis," Lazier said.

Lazier said having FSU's graduate acting program 300 miles from the Tallahassee campus is not a problem.

"It's like the relationship between a medical school and a teaching hospital," he said. About 30 students are in the three-year program.

The deal has been in the works since January. "You cannot imagine the bureaucratic morass we had to fight our way through to marry the Asolo, the ballet and FSU," said Roy Palmer, vice president of the Asolo board.

It is the latest in a series of rescue operations at the $16-million complex, which opened in 1990.

The Asolo Theatre has continued to struggle, with staff changes, a cash-flow crisis that nearly shut it down this past season and mixed artistic results.

Millman was cautious about predicting ballet-theater joint ventures onstage. "We're going to learn to live together before we get married," he said.

Friday's announcement came with a mix-up about the center's name. Earlier, FSU said the name would change to Florida State University Center for the Performing Arts. The ballet company's 1996-97 season brochures include that name. Now the change is on hold.

"It's taking longer than we thought," Lazier said.

Another name is vanishing from the center, that of Burt Reynolds over the door to the former film conservatory in the wing to be occupied by the ballet.

Reynolds had pledged $1-million to the Asolo. The actor fulfilled only part of the pledge, however, and the sides exchanged lawsuits.

On Friday, Millman said the dispute had been resolved recently. "No money was exchanged," he said, estimating that $750,000 of the pledge was unmet.

"We decided to start fresh."