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Sarasota Ballet considers taking new partner: FSU

The Sarasota Ballet may soon have a new dance partner, Florida State University.

FSU and the ballet company are negotiating the terms of a formal relationship. One proposal would merge the ballet with the FSU Sarasota Dance Center, a new entity to be run by the Tallahassee university.

However, the two institutions might ultimately decide to work together only occasionally.

"We're discussing how we might collaborate with FSU, or merge, or what have you," said Bill Jacobs, the president of the ballet board. "There are a wide range of options. We're getting closer, but we're not there yet. It's difficult to bring the missions of an educational institution and a performing arts company together."

Last year, the Legislature passed a bill giving FSU control of Sarasota's state-owned Ringling Museum of Art. The legislation also established the FSU Ringling Center for Cultural Arts.

The center, still in the planning stages, is supposed to develop academic programs in art, theater and dance. The proposed FSU Sarasota Dance Center, which would include modern dance and educational components, would be part of that mission.

"We're trying to determine if there's a way of combining our program with that of the Sarasota Ballet," said Jerry Draper, dean of FSU's School of Visual Arts and Dance.

"If it becomes one program, there would be an overall executive director for all the components. But Sarasota Ballet would likely have its own artistic director."

FSU operates the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, where the Asolo Theatre Company and the ballet perform. FSU is a longtime partner of the Asolo.

FSU pays $400,000 in salaries of top Asolo officials, and the university and the Asolo collaborate on a master's program in acting.

FSU isn't planning to create a master's program in dance in Sarasota, said Libby Patenaude, chairwoman of FSU's dance department. "We have a master's program in Tallahassee that's firmly rooted. It doesn't make sense to duplicate it."

She said FSU is considering establishing a program in Sarasota that would preserve and reconstruct masterworks in the modern dance field that haven't been properly documented.

"I'm talking about a generation of choreographers in their 70s and 80s whose work hasn't been properly preserved," she said. "We'd also hope to work with emerging choreographers and those in mid-career. This could have national implications in terms of preserving dance for future generations."

The ballet's Jacobs said an affiliation with FSU could help reduce administrative costs and offer fundraising advantages. "But there are concerns about preserving our autonomy and identity," he said.

Jacobs expects any relationship with FSU to be determined at the ballet's board meeting in May. "By then, we need to either agree on something or decide to go about our own business," he said.