Ohio Ballet History
Heinz Poll Artistic Director
Tom Skelton Lighting Designer
Co-Founded The Chamber Ballet, later Ohio Ballet in Akron
Ohio Ballet was founded by Heinz Poll and lighting designer Tom Skelton in 1968. While it was originally a student company drawn from Poll’s classes at the University of Akron, the group turned professional in 1974. In 1977, the company made an appearance at Jacob’s Pillow.
Ohio Ballet repertory leaned heavily on Poll’s own contemporary ballets, of which there were more than 60. The company also acquired works by major choreographers like George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, Laura Dean, Pilobolus and Paul Taylor, and he staged revivals of seldom-seen pieces like Kurt Jooss's "Big City" and Antony Tudor's "Judgment of Paris," and Ruthanna Boris's 1951 "Cakewalk."
Poll had a successful career as principal dancer and choreographer with the National Ballet of Chile. In the ’60s, stints as dancer and teacher in France and New York led to a position in Akron. Heinz Poll had determination and uncompromising artistic ambition. Poll along with the indispensable help of his partner, Thomas Skelton, a veteran Broadway lighting designer, formed an eight-member student ensemble, The Chamber Ballet. It then became the Ohio Chamber Ballet and the fully professional and widely acclaimed Ohio Ballet. Through all the unexpected twists of his adventurous life, one constant is clear: Heinz Poll’s total dedication to dance.
In Akron, he developed Ohio Ballet into one of America’s most polished, respected, and widely traveled chamber dance troupes. Heinz Poll was known as a committed teacher and a company director who welcomed good dancers whose bodies were considered wrong for ballet. He took a chance and saw the raw talent within the dancer and molded it into pure artistry.
Ohio Ballet toured 44 states and several countries, including Italy and Mexico. The company danced as part of the first American Spoletto Festival in Charleston as well as the Spoletto Festival in Italy. Tom Skelton lit the American Festival.
Writing in The New York Times in 1981, Anna Kisselgoff described Mr. Poll as "a ballet choreographer with a modern-dance sensibility." Ohio Ballet served as an instrument for his meticulously worked, plotless classical choreography, including the lyrical "Summer Night," set to Chopin; the poignant "Scenes From Childhood," danced to Schumann; and "Eight by Benny Goodman," an exuberant big-band piece that mixed ballet and ballroom dancing. But Mr. Poll had a darker artistic side, evident in works like "Songs Without Words," a Holocaust ballet set to the Mendelssohn score, and "Tristeza," created for Ellen Kogan, a mesmerizing spinning solo that recalled the suicide of Dore Hoyer, the German Expressionist dancer.
He retired as artistic director in 1999.
- March 18, 1926
- Heinz Poll was born in Oberhausen, Germany, and was a champion ice skater before he became a dancer. His experience on the rink imbued him with a love of speed that he expressed in his athletic baroque ballet, Cascade (1985).
- After World War II, he studied dance at Jooss’s Folkwang School in Essen, and began his professional career at the Municipal Theatre in Goettingen. He later became a principal dancer with the Berlin State Opera Ballet.
- Heinz joined the National Ballet of Chile as a dancer, ballet master, and teacher. The company’s tradition of bringing serious programs to indigenous people in remote mountain villages served as the model for Ohio Ballet’s Summer Festival of free outdoor performances.
- Poll joined Ballet de Jeunesse Musicales de France as ballet master. Two years later, he came to the United States as a guest artist with the Chilean company. He performed in the American Dance Festival the following summer and stayed in New York to teach at Thalia Mara’s National Academy of Ballet.
- With lighting designer Thomas Skelton, Poll founded Akron’s first professional company, The Chamber Ballet, which became Ohio Chamber, and eventually became Ohio Ballet in 1974.
- The story behind the name change was that the Tour Company said that Ohio Ballet would sell better than Ohio Chamber Ballet. Tom and Barbara knew that Heinz would say “no” that Ohio Ballet was pretentious. So, Tom and Barbara got on separate phones and begged, insisted, really worked on Heinz, who finally just said to do it — but he really disliked the whole idea.
- Even before the company went professional, they danced with the Cleveland Orchestra in a series known as “Key Concerts” for Children which was taped for public television.
- Poll was awarded the OhioDance Award
- Barbara Schubert becomes General Manager, then Associate Director of Ohio Ballet
- Tom Skelton died
- Poll received the Cleveland Arts Prize
- Poll received The Ohio Arts Council’s Governor’s Award
- Poll retired from his position with Ohio Ballet. Poll conferred a number of his ballets to former Ohio Ballet dancers and to his music director shortly after he retired.
- Heinz Poll died in Cleveland Heights in his home at age 80.
- Heinz Poll wrote his memoir after his retirement 2000-2005. “A Time to Dance, The Life of Heinz Poll” was published in 2008, by University of Akron Press. This memoir was edited by Barbara Schubert with a foreword by Jennifer Dunning.
- The Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival was established to honor the legacy of the legendary founding Artistic Director of Ohio Ballet. Free public performances by respected Ohio dance companies, each presenting a unique dance experience, reflect the common thread of Poll's commitment to the highest artistic standards.