Springfield Ballet Company's board president, artistic directors resign from posts

Steven Spearie
State Journal-Register
Lauren Pumphrey, left, Elise Greene, Emma Faulkner, Caroline Dahlquist and Jane Hart, right, are part of the ensemble for the Springfield Ballet CompanyÕs return to the stage at the UIS Performing Arts Center for the production of Rockballet-Emerge on Saturday, October 2nd at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The board president and the artistic and associate directors of the Springfield Ballet Company have resigned less than a month before its biggest production is set to return a year after COVID-19 wiped it out.

Julie Ratz, only the second artistic director since the company was formed in 1975 from a merger of two other dance companies, resigned Friday.

Late Monday, associate director Gina DeCroix Russell made her resignation formal. She has served with SBC in a variety of posts.

Julie Ratz, the artistic director for the Springfield Ballet Company, discusses the details of her resignation from the SBC this past Friday after a meeting with SBC board president Sami McElwee and vice president Matt Maslowski. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

According to a statement from the SBC board, the dispute with Ratz centered around the business side of the company, not the artistic direction. It was not clear why board president Sami McElwee quit Monday afternoon.

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The resignations come as the SBC prepares for production of "The Nutcracker," at the Performing Arts Center at the University of Illinois Springfield Dec. 10-12. It is the ballet company's primary fundraiser and a community staple during the holiday season.

Scott F. Raper has been named SBC's interim executive director.

Ratz, who has been the ballet company for 30 years including 25 years as full-time artistic director, resigned after meeting with McElwee and vice president Matt Maslowski.

Russell said board members contacted her late Sunday night asking if she would stay to help put on "The Nutcracker." Russell said she initially agreed to stay but a short time later told them she wouldn't and later resigned outright.

Russell worked 20 hours a week with the company.

Saturday, Ratz cleared out her office at Hoogland Center for the Arts.

Grace Luttrell Nanavati, SBC's former artistic director, said she spent several hours Sunday talking to various people about Ratz's resignation, including McElwee.

Nanavati said she asked to attend Sunday's board meeting when Ratz's resignation was accepted, but she was declined.

Nanavati said she wanted to see if the board, with Ratz and Russell and former board members "could find a leveling, stabile ground to not disintegrate this company."

The SBC board meets again Tuesday.

Springfield Ballet Company associate director Gina DeCroix Russell, left, discusses the situation around the resignation of SBC artistic director Julie Ratz, right, this past Friday after a meeting with SBC board president Sami McElwee and vice president Matt Maslowski. On Monday Russell also resigned from her position. [Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register]

A statement issued from the SBC's board said it was "shocked and surprised" that Ratz resigned Friday but added that it was "indebted to Ms. Ratz and all of staff and volunteers who ensure the SBC productions are of the highest quality. The work of the artistic staff and dancers are a credit to the greater Springfield area community."

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The letter added that while the board had "no issues with the artistic direction of the company," there had been disagreements "between the artistic staff and the board regarding the business side of the organization. Volunteer not-for-profit boards and staff do not always agree, but it is the responsibility of the board to listen to the staff and then discuss the best course of action for the organization.

"SBC’s board has been no different. While we’ve disagreed, we always tried to continue to work through the difficult issues to find a resolution that was good for the organization financially and for the dancers."

Ratz was in SBC's first production of "The Nutcracker" as a seven-year-old soldier in 1975.

The company was formed by merging the Copper Coin Ballet with the Ballet Concert Group.

Ratz started its other notable production, "Rockballet," in 1994, inspired by Joffrey Ballet's program set to music by Prince.

SBC has 24 company dancers and 24 trainees.

Contact Steven Spearie: 217-622-1788,,