Two of Portland’s Biggest Dance Companies Penned a Letter Expressing Concern Over the Departure of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s Artistic Director

The letter praises Kevin Irving’s artistic leadership and asks OBT for clarity regarding his resignation.

Oregon Ballet Theatre in 2017 (James McGrew)

The sudden resignation of Oregon Ballet Theatre’s artistic director has caused widespread confusion in Portland’s dance scene. Now, two of Portland’s biggest dance organizations are asking for answers.

WW has obtained a copy of a letter, signed by the leaders of White Bird and BodyVox, expressing concern over the ousting of Kevin Irving, the Oregon Ballet Theatre’s longtime artistic director.

“The precipitous dismissal of Kevin and the inadequate explanation on the part of the Board of OBT has led the public to assume the worst about all participants involved,” reads the letter. “This has been damaging to the stature of the organization in the eyes of donors, supporting foundations and the public.”

Authored by White Bird co-founders Walter Jaffe and Paul King and BodyVox co-founders Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland, the letter praises Irving’s artistic leadership and asks OBT for clarity regarding his resignation. The letter is addressed to OBT board chair Allison Lyneham and executive director Thomas Bruner.

“In order for our community to move forward, it is imperative that you change the public narrative around Kevin’s departure,” it reads. “Everyone wonders what happened, and in the absence of clarity, rumors abound.”

Reached for comment, OBT executive director Thomas Bruner replied, “We appreciate and respect Paul, Walter and White Bird, and Jamey, Ashley and BodyVox, and our partnership. Any correspondence between us is between us.

“We are excited about the year ahead, and are busy getting our dancers back in the studio, students enrolled in OBT School, and education programs back onsite in public schools.”

Jaffe and King told WW that they had no further comment to provide.

“We stand by the letter,” King told WW.

Jamey Hampton and Ashley Roland have not yet responded to WW’s request for comment.

Announced last June, Irving’s resignation came as a shock to longtime supporters.

Confusion deepened when Oregon Arts Watch reported that Irving wrote in a letter to friends and supporters that the board asked for his resignation, effectively ousting him from the organization. Nicolo Fonte, the company’s resident choreographer and Irving’s husband, resigned the same week.

“A company that asks its AD to resign after he remarkably managed the worst 14 months for the arts’ community in a century,” Fonte wrote in an email to the company, “The AD that saved the company from demise and brought it to such vigorous health, the AD that is attentive to the issues that are plaguing the American society at this juncture in history, all with the dedication to the art of ballet and its practitioners and to the community of Portland that Kevin has shown for eight successful seasons, is a company that I cannot support as its Resident Choreographer.”

Then, earlier this week, OBT announced that it had changed the schedule for its upcoming season, replacing all of Fonte’s works that were previously on the bill. Bruner told WW that the shows were removed because OBT and Fonte were unable to agree on contract terms by deadline.

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