In a surprising move, Stephanie Ziesel has stepped down as executive director of Ballet San Jose.
Ziesel, who led the cash-strapped troupe through a difficult period of restructuring, has managed the financial operations of the ballet for the last five years. Ziesel, who could not be reached for comment, oversaw the troupe through a turbulent stretch during which it dismissed its founding artistic director, Dennis Nahat, and reshuffled its board of directors. Ballet officials sang her praises but would not comment on the specifics behind this parting of the ways.
"I have nothing but gratitude for Stephanie and all she has contributed to the ballet," said board chairwoman Millicent Powers. "This is a small organization, and every single person counts for a lot. We wish her the best."
This move comes fast on the heels of significant budget cuts at the ballet. The 28-year-old troupe, which has long struggled with finances, had to eliminate some performances and scuttle its live orchestra earlier this season (the Symphony Silicon Valley was back with the orchestra this weekend, however). Those trims were intended to save an estimated $125,000.
The cuts were made in response to a rise in red ink. The ballet, which formed a partnership with New York's acclaimed American Ballet Theatre in 2012, has suffered some financial setbacks this season. The traditional holiday cash cow, "The Nutcracker," missed ticket goals by an estimated $75,000 and some key donors have dialed back their support of the company.
Nevertheless, the ballet dances on. The company is concluding its season this weekend with a production of Roland Petit's "Carmen," which features new artistic director José Manuel Carreño, a former star with American Ballet Theatre, dancing in the role of Don José.
The ballet will then take its show on the road for its first European tour with "Carmen." Starring Natalia Osipova and Ivan Vasiliev, former Bolshoi Ballet notables, the production will travel to London and Moscow in addition to a run in Costa Mesa.
"This is a dream come true for us," said Powers of the tour. "It sounds quite grand, but we are being very fiscally conservative about it."
Behind the scenes, ballet officials hinted they have already made some progress in the search for Ziesel's replacement.
"Jose has an amazing Rolodex," said Powers, "and I'm sure we will have some exciting news on that front soon."
Powers pointed to the tour as a sign that things were looking up for the company: "We don't have all the answers but we are feeling quite positive."