- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

NEW YORK - The Dance Theatre of Harlem School, which closed earlier this year because of poor finances and lack of insurance, will reopen Saturday with a new executive director.

Laveen Naidu will assume the executive position when the 35-year-old school reopens, spokeswoman Ellen Zeisler said yesterday.

The South African-born Mr. Naidu enrolled on a scholarship in 1989, rose to principal dancer at the ballet company and later became an administrator.

“Really more than anybody, he knows the executive side of DTH and after many in-depth conversations, [founder] Arthur Mitchell needed a partner who has certain skills and abilities to move the company in the future,” Miss Zeisler said.

The Dance Theatre of Harlem School, founded by Mr. Mitchell and the late Karel Shook in 1969, provides training in classical ballet and related arts. The school is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Dance and is listed as an institution of higher learning by the New York Department of Education.

The school closed six weeks ago after a lack of funding and the cancellation of its insurance rendered it inoperable.

Miss Zeisler said the school has since found new funding, new insurance and new direction with the help of Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, who developed a business restructuring of the school, pro bono.

Mr. Kaiser has an unequaled track record of rescuing troubled dance companies. Over the past decade or so, he has brought back from the brink of financial disaster the Kansas City Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and American Ballet Theatre.

“Just after the DTH school closed, I talked with Arthur about the problems and offered my help,” Mr. Kaiser said yesterday. “We started working together, and then with Laveen Naidu, to try to address these problems rather quickly. The things we did were to write a strategic plan, start to build a new board and, most importantly in the short run, to raise some money. Over the past four weeks, we raised close to $2 million for the school.

“During this process, I was very impressed with Laveen’s skills, and he has now become the new executive director. We were able to add six new people to the board and put together a new management team for the organization. I’ll continue to consult for the organization for the next year on a pro bono basis.”

Mr. Kaiser said his efforts were an outgrowth of the work the Kennedy Center was doing to help about 25 minority arts organizations become more stable.

“This is the largest company that was in trouble, and it seemed an appropriate one for us to be working with,” he explained. “Of course, we have the company here every year, and we have an outreach program with the school, which will continue again here this January. So, it was a wonderful opportunity to work in an intensive way, and I think we’ve made some real progress over the past month.”

Mr. Kaiser also noted that he was helping raise $3 million to get the company reopened next year under a different management plan.

“The way the organization was structured in the past, everyone including the executive director reported to Arthur,” he said. “As part of this new structure, both the executive director and the artistic director report to the board, which is a more standard structure for dance companies. It’s the way I had it at Ailey and ABT. We believe that’s going to help make more of a balance in the decision-making at DTH, and hopefully attract more money.”

Based in part on wire service reports.

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