Kinetics' pas de deux attempt with dance schools flops Ballet director leaves in theater dispute

September 13, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

A tempest in a tutu.

That's the state of affairs between the 400-student Kinetics Dance Theatre, a nonprofit Ellicott City group, and a former school director who has broken away to form her own ballet academy.

The tiff has left some members of the Howard County arts community shaking their heads over a dispute involving some of the county's most prominent dancers.

It all started last spring, when Donna Harrington-Payne and Kinetics Executive Director Dorothy Fried proposed running two schools under the auspices of Kinetics.

One school was to have focused on classical ballet and be based in the Columbia studio where Ms. Harrington-Payne taught ballet before joining Kinetics in 1991.

The other was to have continued Kinetics' emphasis on modern dance and jazz and be based at the Ellicott City headquarters of Kinetics.

But the arrangement quickly unraveled, Ms. Fried said, when Ms. Harrington-Payne began mailing information on classes without asking permission from Kinetics' board of directors.

Ms. Harrington-Payne also ran advertisements for the Ballet Royale Academy without mentioning its sister school at Kinetics, called the Contemporary School of Dance.

"She was getting too independent," Ms. Fried said. "I simply wishshe had said to me, 'I would like to leave Kinetics.' "

The upshot: Last month, the Kinetics board of directors unanimously rejected the plan for two separate schools under the umbrella of Kinetics, fearing that the separate ballet academy would be too independent.

"We felt we couldn't accommodate [Ms. Harrington-Payne] as an independent contractor under us," said board member Janet Martinez.

Ms. Harrington-Payne, who now is running the 300-student Ballet Royale Academy in Columbia without any affiliation to Kinetics, tells a different story.

"We had a mutual agreement that we were very happy to maintain two schools," Ms. Harrington-Payne said of her former partner, Ms. Fried. "I think [the board] cared about financial matters, but that's pure speculation."

Ms. Harrington-Payne said she acted in accordance with her written contract with Kinetics.

Tensions have been building for the past two years, as Kinetics tried to operate its Ellicott City dance studio and Ms. Harrington-Payne's Columbia studio as one school.

Ms. Harrington-Payne was supposed to supervise all dance classes, but couldn't because they were offered at two separate locations, Ms.Fried said.

But Ms. Harrington-Payne contends that she had no administrative staff to help her perform her duties.

"Supporting staff is extremely important in running an organization," Ms. Harrington-Payne said. "For me, the support staff was lacking."

There were differences in philosophy as well.

"She wanted to do a lot of commercial competitions, whereas the board is more interested in choreography, presentation, and performances," Ms. Fried said.

But Ms. Harrington-Payne said she does not enter her students in any local or regional competitions, participating only in a quadrennial international competition that is taking place in Bulgaria next summer.

"My commitment is not to numbers [of students], not to money, but to students," Ms. Harrington-Payne said.

"The focus [of Kinetics] is to build a very, very strong company," she said. "My emphasis is on nurturing professional dancers that are able to perform at any level."

The whole affair saddens Mary Toth, executive director of the Howard County Arts Council, who said there is enough room in the county for both dance programs.

"Donna is a superb teacher, and Dottie [Ms. Fried] runs a superb program," Ms. Toth said. "This is unfortunate. Sometimes these things are inevitable. A lot of businesses break up because one partner doesn't see eye-to-eye."

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