The Story


We are investigating one of the great art mysteries of the 20th century.  What happened to the Harkness Ballet -  a company that produced 2 international touring companies, a youth ballet and its very own theater. Its training program sent more dancers into the world of professional dance than any other company of its time.  And yet the name “Harkness” has been almost totally eliminated from books on dance history.


The dancers, choreographers, composers and designers were pioneers and experimenters.  Themes of sexual repression, homoerotic love, tribalism and even the aftermath of rape were explored by some of the most famous choreographers of the time.  All of the work and much of the music was original.


Founder REBEKAH HARKNESS gave opportunities and scholarships to dancers and students no matter their race, heritage, body shape or background.  She arranged and composed music, designed pointe shoes and established a foundation that still supports dance today.


Yet she was hated and maligned by powerful New York critics who sought to destroy her -  particularly critic CLIVE BARNES.  Barnes had a personal agenda and never let up. Was it because Rebekah was rich and powerful as well as a woman?  Was he attacking her personal taste and life style or the fact that she withdrew funding from the Joffrey Ballet which he loved?  Was his influence so great that audiences were led to take sides?


Events start to unfold year by year, dance piece by dance piece.  Conspiracy theories and chaos from within are uncovered while the daring of the pieces and the excellence of the dancers emerge as shining stars.  In the meantime the bottom dropped out of Rebekah’s fortune.  Cutbacks, economizing and even the attempt to finally solicit public funding failed.  The world had clearly changed.


Rebekah died in 1982. Several of the key artists carried on with other companies creating a post Harkness dance world while the Harkness’ own accomplishments were buried behind hard to access archival walls. Our team has spent over 3 years recovering hidden video treasures.


More questions arise.  How does funding effect art?  Who owns art – the creator or the funder?  Does art criticism determine success or is it FAKE NEWS? Did the walls at the sumptuous Harkness House actually have ears?

Director's Statement


I grew up in New York City but didn’t dance or see dance performed until my late teens.  At some point I became obsessed with Ballet and ballet dancers and studied not only the art form but everything I could learn about it.  In 2010 ODC SF hired our video company Cinematiks to film a 13 week workshop taught by Maria Vegh, the former co-director of the Harkness School.  It turned into a large project which included the creation of an interactive study guide for Ballet on DVD.  Maria talked incessantly about the Harkness Ballet and what it had accomplished in the world of dance.  I looked it up – and there was almost no mention of it in any of my dance history books and yet they had danced at the White House and performed for Princess Grace.  Who was this Harkness Ballet and why has it been left out and forgotten? Research led us back to the days of the Ballet Russe and key characters began to emerge in the worlds of dance, politics, journalism, Broadway, music, visual art and design – characters both living and dead.  Could something so influential just disappear off the face of the earth?  For me the mystery deepened and a story of conflict, jealousy, misogyny and feud started to form.  What happened and what does it mean to artists working today?

Leslie Streit - writer, director, co-producer


Streit’s 2005 feature film, God Wears My Underwear, a documentary-narrative hybrid, ties the 1940s Jewish Holocaust to the 1950s genocide in Tibet. It was screened at several international festivals, including XXVII Festival Internazionale Cinema e Donne, DNA Film Festival in Toronto (won Best Film), WCFF, M-SPIFF, NYIIFVF and IFFS. Her short films have been screened at international festivals and broadcast on KTEH (PBS). Honors include Selected Artist at the Hong Kong Arts Biennial 2002, a 2009 Webby award and several screenplay awards. Streit co-produced the historic VD2001 widely recognized as the first dramatic series on the web with support from Intel Corporation and several other Silicon Valley tech companies. As co-producer with Robin McCain, she was awarded the right to use the prestigious ".p.g.a." title for her 2014 film Elly and Henry, which is distributed by Espresso Media International and currently appears on Amazon and Amazon Prime. In addition to An American Ballet Story, Leslie is producing and directing an experimental documentary The Ghost Stories Project, an anthology of personal encounters with the supernatural.

Lee Gurst music director


Lee Gurst is an accomplished percussionist, conductor, and composer. He has performed with world class conductors in many symphony orchestras, concert bands, and chamber ensembles - among them Leopold Stokowski and the American Symphony.

While still a student at The Juilliard School, he began to work in a wider range of music genres - from numerous original Broadway and off-Broadway productions - Man of La Mancha, Funny Girl, The King and I (revival), Dames at Sea, and more - to live and studio work in Rock and Pop music.

He has been heard and seen on recordings, TV shows, and concert tours with artists ranging from Jimmy Dean and Eartha Kitt to Richie Havens and Bette Midler. His greatest visibility came in his years as drummer, percussionist, and music director with Barry Manilow, for whom he also worked as his production supervisor and creative director. With Barry, he played and conducted dozens of TV shows and specials and hundreds of live performances in the U.S. and Europe. His studio work on Barry's many hits earned him 13 Gold, Platinum, and Double Platinum records.

As a composer, his works include commissioned scores for The Harkness Ballet, The Pittsburgh Ballet Theater, and others. In addition to coordinating the music for An American Ballet Story, Lee will also be composing original music for the soundtrack.

Robin Elaine McCain – co-producer


McCain is a pioneer in applied multimedia, computer graphics and theatrical productions. She is a member of the Producers Guild of America (PGA) where she has served as a board member of PGA NorthWest and on the PGA Documentary and Nonfiction Committee.


McCain has also been a member of USITT, Bay Area Video Coalition and Film Arts Foundation/SFFILM. She also co-produced and starred in the online comedy cooking series, The Evil Auntie Show, winner of a 2009 Webby award and co-produced VD 2001 recognized by many to be the first dramatic series on the web.


McCain co-produced the 2014 documentary Elly and Henry, currently appearing on Amazon and Amazon Prime, about the architect of the first solar house in America and received the Producers Mark, p.g.a., for her work.  In addition to An American Ballet Story she is co-producing The Ghost Stories Project about ghost sightings in California.


Adam Streit – editor


Adam Streit's credits include films - Margaret Cho: Assassin and God Wears My Underwear.


For television he worked on Fox Movie Channel’s Hour of Stars, USA Cable Network's Arrest & Trial, Lifetime TVs Unsolved Mysteries, My Network TV/Fox telenovellas, and several projects for Spike TV.


He was also an editor on the Daytime Emmy nominated The Doctors (CBS Television). As a freelancer he has worked for NuContext where assignments included promos for Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Lifetime TV’s Project Runway.  Adam edited the hit Hallmark series Who Let The Dogs Out and Elly and Henry, a feature documentary which currently appears on Amazon and  Amazon Prime.


At present he works for Pilgrim Studios, a television production company based in North Hollywood, on the TV miniseries Days that Shaped America and the popular Street Outlaws now appearing on the Discovery Channel.


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Photos courtesy of Harkness Foundation for Dance, New York Public Library, mickey (Michele) morgan, Milton Oleaga, Elisabeth Carroll

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An American Ballet Story  The Rise and Fall of an International Sensation